World Languages Frequently Asked Questions
Updated: March 2017
Note: “World Languages” and “Foreign Languages” are terms used interchangeably.
RCW 28A.230.090 authorizes the State Board of Education (SBE) to establish state graduation requirements. SBE has established credit requirements and a “High School and Beyond Plan” in WAC 180-51-067 that describes the graduation requirements for the Classes of 2017 and 2018, and in c for the graduating Class of 2019 and beyond. A comprehensive chart of Graduation Requirements shows specific credits needed based on the student’s year of graduation.
World languages is not a state high school graduation requirement for the Classes of 2017 and 2018, but are a part of the 24-credit graduation requirement framework for the Class of 2019 and beyond, as described in WAC 180-51-068. The two world language credits in the 24-credit graduation requirement framework are flexible credits and are not considered core subject requirements. Instead of world language, students may use the two credits as Personalized Pathway Requirements. Personalized Pathways, and Personalized Pathway Requirements are defined in WAC 180-51-068:
The intent of the world language graduation requirement in the 24-credit framework is to encourage all students to consider taking at least two credits of world language. However, if the student wants to use two credits as Personalized Pathways Requirements instead of world languages, they may do so. The courses the student choses as their Personalized Pathway Requirements should align with their education and career goals, and be part of their High School and Beyond Plan.
Local districts and tribal schools may have their own local requirements, which could include world language.
Admission requirements at all Washington state public four-year colleges and universities and many private four-year institutions specify a minimum of two world language credits in the same world language. See the Washington Student Achievement Council’s college admissions webpage.
The Washington Student Achievement Council states that two credits are required in the same world language, Native American language, or American Sign Language.
Some postsecondary institutions require more than two credits of world languages for admission. Students should check with the institutions they might be interested in attending for further information about entrance requirements and college graduation requirements in world language.
The sample world languages competency/proficiency-based credit policy was developed by a collaboration of the State Board of Education, the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). WSSDA hosts an model policy on their website that is available to subscribers. You can also find the WSSDA Sample Policy and the WSSDA Sample Procedure on the OSPI World Languages Competency-based Credit website.
A sample policy and procedure was developed to encourage districts to explore competency-based credit. The three organizations combined their resources to create a rigorous and fair process to assess world language skills that students have acquired outside of the classroom setting. This practical guidance provides a road map for districts seeking to grant World Languages Competency-based Credit and offers an alternate pathway for students to earn recognition, credit, and greater flexibility in their school schedules.
The State Board of Education’s (SBE) competency-based credit rule allows high school credit to be awarded upon: (b) Satisfactory demonstration by a student of proficiency/competency, as defined by written district policy, of the state's essential academic learning requirements (learning standards). (WAC 180-51-050)
Additional information about competency testing and credits for world languages is available on the OSPI world languages webpage. A general resource for competency-based crediting, Competency-Based Crediting Handbook: An Implementation Guide for School Districts, is available on the SBE graduation requirements webpage.
The State Board of Education (SBE) used Gates Foundation funding to convene a World Languages Advisory Group of world languages high school and college teachers. The Advisory Group advised the SBE about: 1) the level of competency (i.e., minimum level of language proficiency) students would need in order to earn competency-based credit; 2) the manner of assessment that would be appropriate; and 3) the skills (e.g., speaking, reading, writing, and/or listening) in which competency would be expected.
The SBE also conducted an assessment study to compare the proficiency of high school students with two years of language study to that of college students with two academic quarters of college study. Washington’s data was then compared to national data. The study was not intended to be representative of all students but rather to give the Advisory Group data that could serve as a catalyst for discussion. The study found similarities between Washington and national data. For instance, writing scores were generally higher than speaking scores, and speaking scores were higher than reading scores. The Advisory Group used the data, as well as a review of selected other states’ policies (Connecticut, New Jersey, and Utah), to recommend the proficiency levels needed in Washington state to award competency-based credit. In July 2010, SBE passed a resolution encouraging districts to implement the policy and utilize the practices necessary so that students may demonstrate world language proficiency.
Although these decisions are ultimately up to the district, the sample policy and procedure recommend that students demonstrate proficiency across a variety of language skills, including speaking, reading, listening, and writing. It is important for students who already speak a language fluently to also read and write in the language in order to earn world language credits.
The sample policy and procedure recommend that districts identify nationally-available proficiency assessments to administer as the basis for awarding credit for proficiency. This is the most cost-effective, fair, and consistent way to make decisions about proficiency. See also the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) World Languages Competency-based Credit website for systematic guidance on testing, including OSPI-approved testing agencies and the languages those agencies assess.
In general, proficiency assessments should be aligned to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines. ACTFL uses a proficiency scale from Novice (low, mid, high) to Intermediate (low, mid, high) to Advanced (low, mid, high), Superior, and Distinguished. Most K–12 language learners perform at the Novice or Intermediate level depending on the time (years) and intensity (types of program delivery) of their study. Students who are native or heritage speakers or have attended K–12 immersion programs may reach the ACTFL Advanced level by graduation in some skills.
The Standards-based Measurement of Proficiency (STAMP), developed at the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon and offered to schools and districts through Avant Assessment, is an example of a nationally-available standards-based assessment. STAMP and WorldSpeak offer tests for the following languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Tagalog (Filipino), and Vietnamese. For other languages, there are a number of nationally-recognized assessments; such as the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) and Writing Proficiency Test (WPT) offered through Language Testing International. Additional assessment options are also available, such as ALTA Language Testing and the American Sign Language Proficiency Interview (ASLPI). For the most current list, see OSPI’s World Languages Competency Testing and Credits website.
Districts may opt to proceed with Custom Testing for less commonly taught and tested languages that do not have a nationally-recognized proficiency test. This Custom Testing approach is organized between the district and the Washington Association of Language Teachers (WAFLT). WAFLT works with the assistance of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) World Languages program, Center for Applied Second Language Studies, and the involvement of local and national language experts. For more details, see OSPI’s World Languages Competency Testing and Credits website.
The standards for awarding credits in world languages were established after examining actual proficiency data collected at the national level and in Washington. The performance standards are set sufficiently high for awarding credit without being unrealistic. Generally, students who seek World Language equivalency credit will demonstrate a performance level similar to the top 15%–45% of students in a traditional high school world language class. Performance variables include, but are not limited to, the type of language studied and the native language of the learner.
In general, for native speakers of English and after two years of high school classroom language study, students of French or Spanish are more likely to reach higher proficiency levels than students studying two years of Chinese or Japanese. Some students earning equivalency credit for a World Language (as opposed to credit offered in association with “seat time”) may demonstrate higher proficiency in the language than some students who earn World Language credits through the traditional classroom setting. Proficiency is impacted by the extent of the student’s exposure to the language and the intensity of that learning experience.
The world language credit equivalency policy applies more to English Language Learners (ELLs) who acquired a world language outside of school. The impact on world language classes for the majority of students in Washington high schools is minimal. Schools with a large number of ELLs may find that competency-based credit in World Languages: a) increases the student’s motivation to develop their reading and writing skills in that language, b) motivates students to formally study their home language in school or through online courses, c) encourages more attention on the student’s study of English in order to potentially qualify for the Seal of Biliteracy, and d) provides an opportunity for credit retrieval for migrant students.
Regardless of a student’s demographic and language background, earning World Language equivalency credit outside of class may allow for more flexibility in the student’s high school schedule to pursue other areas of interest depending on the student’s post-high school plans. Additionally, students may choose to enroll in additional World Language classes to enhance their education and transcript, depending on their Career and College plan. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction developed a World Language: College and Careers Goals reference chart to assist stakeholders in planning for the future with World Languages in mind.
The State Board of Education (SBE) and the Washington Student Achievement Council (WSAC), discussed the practical implications of competency-based credit. WSAC revised its “Minimum College Admission Standards,” also known as, “College Academic Distribution Requirements” (CADRs), in 2014 to state: “Two credits must be earned in the same language…. Schools may award credit based on a district-approved competency assessment consistent with the SBE sample policy and American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Guidelines.” For more details, please read the World Language CADRs.
Highly competitive four-year colleges and universities like to see three to four years of high school world language study, including World Language Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses. Competency-based credits will appear as a grade of "P" (pass) on the high school transcript and not factored into the student’s overall Grade Point Average. Students who qualify for credit for their language proficiency would be seeking to do so early (e.g., end of 8th grade/9th grade) giving them time for additional study of the same or a different language in high school. In addition, we may expect that colleges will begin to shift their focus from seat-time credits to demonstrated proficiency. Students with evidence of language proficiency (through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction-approved assessment results) may find that to be an advantage.
Generally, it is assumed that to develop standards-based literacy skills in a language requires some formal “in school” study. This may be accomplished, for example, by attending language classes in school, private tutoring, or completing established online coursework.
Yes. In fact, OSPI and SBE would encourage them to do so in order to reduce costs and increase opportunities for students. In addition, districts may want to participate in Washington World Language Assessment Days to offer students opportunities to take the nationally available language proficiency assessments and receive a certificate of recognition from OSPI and SBE.
Information about how districts may host a World Language Day may be found on OSPI's website.
Districts are expected to set the fee for offering assessments for competency-based credit. The community may choose to provide financial support, for example, to cover the cost for students to take the assessments in a given language (or in all languages). This is an excellent way to support students who are not native speakers of English but have developed proficiency in their heritage (home) language. In addition, community involvement and support may encourage students to learn a second or third language beyond English.
There is a field for competency-based credits on transcripts. See OSPI Bulletin 013-12, the Washington State Standardized High School Transcript Frequently Asked Questions, and the High School Transcript Developer/User Guide. The school registrar notes credit information on the student’s transcript according to guidelines provided by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Student Information. For the latest updates, see the CEDARs Manual instructions.
The Seal of Biliteracy is an achievement award enacted by Washington to recognize students who have attained strong proficiency in English and one or more other world languages by high school graduation. The Seal of Biliteracy is a special notation that appears on the transcript and diploma of the graduating senior. It is a statement of accomplishment that signals evidence of a student’s readiness for career and college and to engage as a global citizen. Governor Jay Inslee signed the Washington State Seal of Biliteracy bill into law on March 27, 2014. As of the summer of 2016, nearly 4,000 Seals of Biliteracy have been awarded to Washington state high school seniors. More information may be found on the OSPI Washington State Seal of Biliteracy webpage.
High school credit may be awarded for certain courses taught in middle school if the student or their parent or guardian requests it, and the course meets the requirements of RCW 28A.230.090(4).