Beyond Words - Language Blog

World Language Competency Credits Empower High Schoolers to Honor Their Cultural Heritage

More than 40 million people in the U.S. speak a language other than English in the home. This data, courtesy of the 2011 American Community Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, should indicate a growing comfort and acceptance among young bilingual Americans and their peers. The reality, however, is that many students prefer to distance themselves from their cultural backgrounds in order to better fit in with their classmates. Particularly for high school students carving out their identities and sense of self, the balancing act of family life and peer acceptance does not always tip in favor of preserving one’s heritage.

Schools across the state of Washington are addressing this concern in an exciting new way. The World Language Competency Credit Program, established in 2012, offers students in grades K-12 the opportunity to receive high school and college credits by demonstrating language proficiency. The nationally-recognized seal of bilingualism is intended to reward students for the knowledge they already possess, as well as to provide them with valuable language credits as they start their undergraduate education. In a broader sense, the aim of the World Language Credit Program is to encourage young Americans to strengthen their communication skills and multilingualism as global citizens.

Testing is available for a variety of languages, from the most prevalent ones like Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, to the less common Burmese, Tagalog, Swahili, and many more. According to data gathered in 2013, students across the state of Washington earned 4,841 total credits, with 40% of students earning the maximum number of 4 credits. Spanish accounted for 67% of the languages tested, with Vietnamese, Mandarin, Arabic, and Russian as the top languages after that.

ALTA Language Services is proud to participate in the World Language Credit Program by partnering with Washington schools to offer testing services for more than 65 of these world languages. If you think the students in your school district would benefit from the World Language Credit Program, contact ALTA Testing to learn more.

The World Language Credit Program is part of a larger education initiative called the Road Map Project. Through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the project represents a collective, community-wide effort to improve student achievement in South King County and South Seattle. As an important component of the project, the World Language Credit Program benefits students in a number of ways. It encourages students to honor their cultural heritage by emphasizing the value of speaking their native language. Moreover, it fosters camaraderie within and among different cultural communities by giving visibility to the diverse array of languages spoken in the United States. In a practical sense, the program also helps demonstrate to young Americans that knowing another language is a powerful advantage, professionally and academically. By presenting their unique qualifications to universities in the form of these nationally-recognized language credits, bilingual students can enhance the strength of their applications and gain a strong head start as they continue their educations.

Students who are interested in receiving high school and college credits for their language skills can determine their eligibility by answering the questions below, which are provided by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. If the student can confirm the following statements in a language other than English, then he or she may be able to earn between 1 and 4 credits following the official assessment.

• I can understand ideas on familiar topics expressed through phrases, short sentences, and frequently used expressions. [Listening]
• I can understand the main idea and some details in simple texts that contain familiar vocabulary. [Reading]
• I can exchange information with another person about familiar tasks, topics and activities. [Person-to-Person Communication]
• I can use a series of phrases and sentences to provide basic information about familiar topics. [Spoken Production]
• I can write simple descriptions and short messages and request or provide information on familiar topics. [Writing]

Interested applicants can then select their language(s) from a pull-down menu and view the types of tests and testing providers available for their choice. Students also have the option of retesting if they are not satisfied with a particular score.

College students currently enrolled at the University of Washington also have the opportunity to earn language credits through the UW Language Learning Center. The criteria are akin to those for the statewide program, though testing is available only for languages not taught at the university and for students in their first two years of undergraduate study. Testing is conducted on a quarterly basis, and more information, as well as practice tests, can be found here.

Are you a teacher or administrator who is interested in bringing the World Language Competency Credit Program to your school district? Find policy and procedure guidelines here for setting up a program to help students earn credit toward high school graduation and college entrance. There is a great deal of flexibility in structuring the program, which means that districts can choose their own testing providers and payment plans according to their individual needs and preferences.

ALTA Language Services is a national leader in Language Testing for government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of all sizes. We’re an approved language testing provider for the U.S. State Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Defense. Find out more about our Language Testing Services here, or call us at 404.920.3832 to learn more about bringing the World Language Competency Credit Program to your school district.