Merced area students earn multilingual distinction

Seventy-three high school students from throughout Merced County have some extra bragging rights.

These students are fluent in English and another language; they have earned a Seal of Multilingual Proficiency, which requires top performances on six tests.

The Seal of Multilingual Proficiency is proof students can use to better market themselves for career choices after high school, according to Francisco Romo, English-learner coordinator with the Merced County Office of Education.

“It’s one thing to say that you are bilingual or multilingual,” Romo said. “And it’s another thing to show proof verifying that you are; the Seal of Multilingual Proficiency does that for students.”

The county schools office received 321 letters of intent for the program from Atwater, Buhach Colony, Delhi, Dos Palos, Golden Valley, Hilmar, Le Grand, Livingston, Los Banos, Merced and Pacheco high schools. The event will be expanded to other schools next year.

From these, 214 “linguafolios” were submitted and 137 were scored as proficient. Those students were invited to take part in oral interviews and writing tests in November at the county schools office. From the 118 students attending this part of the event, 73 became finalists.

Students had to demonstrate their English skills and pass the high school exit exam, Romo explained. There were four other assessments, two oral and two written, to demonstrate fluency in English and the target language.

The written tests were the equivalent of rigorous Advancement Placement essays and the interviews also required demonstrations of fluency.

“The essays were read by three or four people,” Romo said. “You had to be on your A game. That’s quite a feat.”

The 73 students were judged proficient in English and several languages, including Spanish, Hmong, Hindi and French. One student was proficient in English, French and Spanish.

Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools, said state Department of Education data from last July shows there are 15,442 students in Merced County who speak a language other than English, representing 27.4 percent of overall enrollment. They are classified as English learners at their home schools.

“This is a great opportunity for students competing in an increasingly competitive global economy,” Gomes said. “It’s a nice distinction. The United States is one of only a few countries where the vast majority of the population is not bilingual.”

Students receiving the seal were honored Thursday evening at a reception at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater. Their accomplishment will be listed on their student transcripts.

Introduced two years ago by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, AB 815 is a verification of linguistic proficiency.