Stephany Sipes

Heritage Language Learners In Texas

Stephany Sipes is the World Language Coordinator in Plano, Texas, and a language educator for 13 years.

As World Language Coordinator in Plano, Texas, I oversee the curriculum and instruction of more than 12,000 students.

Our team of outstanding teachers believe passionately in our mission of ensuring that our students are able to effectively communicate in more than one language and be successful participants in the world community.

When I assumed the role as World Language Coordinator two years ago, three key pieces of education policy were coming together to have positive impacts on our program.  These three pieces were updated state standards for world language, the implementation of new graduation requirements, and legislation for the Seal of Biliteracy, known officially in Texas as a Performance Acknowledgement in Bilingualism and Biliteracy.  However, I discovered a problem – not every student had open access to be able to meet the graduation requirements or earn the Performance Acknowledgement if they were coming into the State of Texas late in their high school experience.

For students who participated in our core language programs, they were able to take our courses, earn world language credits, and potentially earn the Texas Performance Acknowledgment for Bilingualism and Biliteracy based on their performance in the courses. However, there are thousands of heritage language speakers of languages other than the five languages taught in Plano.  For these students, they must enroll with at least two years left in high school in order to take one of our offered language courses, earn the required two credits for graduation, and potentially earn the Texas Performance Acknowledgment for Bilingualism and Biliteracy. At the time, there was no other way within our district for these bilingual students to receive credit or demonstrate their proficiency in their heritage language.  It was an unnecessary roadblock for far too many of our students.

The Solution To The Problem

So we set out to find a solution. And we did. It centered around Texas’ Credit by Examination policy and our work with Avant Assessment.

The policies for Credit by Examination allow, among other things, students to earn credits for a course in which they have not had prior instruction. They can do this by demonstrating a proficiency level in accordance with our state standards, which are aligned to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

That’s where Avant came in. Avant not only was able to offer us proficiency tests in 24 languages, but they went well beyond that. I worked with Dr. Victor Dos Santos at Avant – an intelligent, kind, and patient teacher. Victor worked with me to analyze the proficiency scoring of Avant exams in accordance with each course’s ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines outcomes in our state standards in order to develop an individualized, comprehensive rubric to determine which Avant testing score would track with the levels needed for a student to earn credit based on the Credit by Examination policies.

It was a months-long, arduous process. But we got it right. I presented the rubric to members of our academic services department for review and by January, students began testing in languages other than the five taught in Plano for the first time!

The results were amazing.  In our first session, students were testing in Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese, Russian and Vietnamese as well as our 5 formally taught languages.  We had a student move in from out of state as a senior without any world language credit. However, his heritage language is Haitian Creole and because of our expanded credit by exam offerings, he was able to graduate on time and be recognized as a bilingual student.

All told, more than 300 students were given an Avant proficiency exam since January with almost 100 of those students being tested in their heritage language. Avant is working to build additional language exams to reflect the needs of our community, which will only increase these numbers.

In Plano, we are so proud to expand our language offerings to honor more heritage languages and to celebrate students’ proficiency in a language that we do not teach.  We now have students earning world language credits in one of our language courses or signing up to test their proficiency in their heritage language…and sometimes both! To see so many students participating and the expansion of the program being embraced by our wonderful community, it really warms this teacher’s heart. I cannot wait for next year as our world language department begins the planning to celebrate our Seal of Biliteracy recipients!

About Avant Assessment

Avant’s mission is to improve the teaching and learning of language in the US and around the world through effective language proficiency testing and professional development. Our products are not only for educators but also for business and government agencies that see the significant positive impact from bilingual team members.