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'Biliterate' California high school graduates up 30 percent

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56142 full

A record number of graduating high schoolers achieved an academic standard known as "biliteracy," jumping from 19,000 students last year to 24,513 in 2014, according to the Califoria Department of Education.

Being biliterate is more than being bilingual.

"Biliteracy means that a child or an adult would have the ability to speak, read, write and communicate in at least two languages or more," said Jan Correa, Executive Director of the California Association of Bilingual Education. "Its not just the oral communication. Its having the academic ability to succeed in at least two languages."

The students received a gold-seal on their diploma - a biliteracy seal. The California Department of Education introduced the seal in 2012.

According to the CDE, for 2014:  

Of the total number of gold seals, 74.49 percent were for Spanish, 9.81 percent for French, 3.88 percent for Mandarin, 1.97 percent for Japanese, 1.19 percent for German, and 0.29 percent for Cantonese. Altogether, students earned the seal for demonstrating proficiency in some 40 languages, including American Sign Language.

Students who achieve biliteracy come from public schools that offer an immersion language education from Kindergarten. KPCC reported an extensive series on how this kind of education works in California

After the heated battles decades ago when bilingual education was outlawed, mainstream appetite for dual-language education is growing in California. The Los Angeles Unified School District recently announced that it will be opening three new dual-language programs in elementary schools in the district. The new programs will be at MadisonNightingale and Hooper elementary schools.

A dual-language program often begins with 90 percent of the kindergarten day taught in the "target" language, with just 10 percent of time spent teaching in English. In first grade that ratio changes to 80-20, and so on until 4th or 5th grade when the ratio is 50-50.

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