In February 2017, the Highline School District mandated that all schools offer four consecutive years of world language. As a result, next year RAHS will offer four years of Spanish. Director of Language Learning and Teacher Development Bernard Koontz believes that the Academic Assurances will benefit the district and RAHS.
“A couple of years ago across the system, there was the development of what’s called the Academic Assurances, which are a set of course offerings that we are committed to offering students across the system,” said Koontz. “One of the assurances is that students can take a third and fourth year of world language.”
There are two primary reasons behind the changes in course offerings around the district.
“One main reason for these changes is to support students in becoming as competitive as possible on college applications,” said Koontz. “More importantly, we are ensuring that eventually all students at Highline Public Schools will have a pathway to becoming bilingual.”
Koontz believes that the new opportunities will facilitate students’ progress towards bilinguality. The district hopes that by 2026 all students who graduate will be biliterate.
“I hope to see an increase in the number of students who are able to take advantage of that opportunity to become bilingual, and eventually more students will be graduating bilingual and biliterate,” said Koontz. “The benefits of that are many. There are economic benefits in the job market, students will become more employable, and there are academic benefits as well. Studies have shown that being bilingual and learning a second or third language makes your brain stronger.”
RAHS Spanish teacher Señor William Peterson also believes that these changes will benefit students.
“This change creates the opportunity to have more exposure to Spanish, which, in and of itself creates more of an opportunity to become bilingual, and more proficient,” said Peterson. “This will also help make them more conscious and culturally aware, more linguistically capable, and, in my opinion, more intelligent.”
Peterson thinks that the decision to add another year of Spanish will create more opportunities for students to become biliterate.
“I definitely think that students would, given another year of practice and immersion, do really well on the World Language Proficiency test, getting a 4 out of 4,” said Peterson. “I think that it really pushes students to be bilingual.”
Bilinguality isn’t the only goal the district is trying to reach. In order to create more equality between schools, the Highline School District is changing requirements so students will have similar opportunities at each school.
“Right now students access to a third and fourth year of world language really depends on what school you to go to,” said Koontz. “Some schools offer third and fourth year of language and some do not. So the positive impact of this change is making sure that students have access to that third and fourth year regardless of what school they attend.”
In the state of Washington, there is a shift towards “Core 24,” which is the upcoming requirement of 24 credits to graduate. RAHS students generally graduate with 24 credits already.
“Statewide, we have had to shift to Core 24 and we have additional requirements In art as well as math and science,” said Koontz. “This leaves less room for electives, which makes it even more difficult to adjust to the master schedule.”
This isn’t the only problem presented by this change. After state requirements changed, Principal Terese Tipton was forced to prioritize with funding and the FTE (full time employee) budget.
“All states fund basic education at a certain level. In the State of Washington, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) dictates the funding for public education,” said Tipton. “The districts then distribute that funding, which is a very complicated process that I don’t even fully understand.”
Each spring, the district passes on a “staffing” (an allocation plan for human resources) to each school.
“The district passes down a staffing. This is called an FTE. 1.0 FTE is equal to one full time teacher,” said Tipton. “Those FTEs tell us what we have to teach, how many electives we get, and how many language classes we get.”
When requirements were changed, RAHS was forced to adjust some of its own language program based on staffing restrictions.
“When our staffing came this year, and we were still only able to staff 1.8 for foreign language, but we have to add another year of Spanish to satisfy the requirements of the district,” said Tipton. “We had to look at what most kids were taking, and how to balance the changes. It was a question of limited staffing and what we have to do.”
In order to offer a fourth year of Spanish, RAHS decided to remove Japanese from the schedule. Tipton regrets that she wasn’t able to preserve the Japanese program.
“One of the problems, looking at Japanese, is that we have students and a teacher that are passionate about it, which made the decision really difficult,” said Tipton. “I just want students to know that this was a really hard decision. I know it disappointed students, but sometimes those decisions have to be made, and someone has to make them. It’s the worst part of my job to make decisions like that.”
Despite the loss of the Japanese program, Koontz believes that there will still be many benefits of offering another year of Spanish at RAHS. One of the goals of the district is that students will eventually be graduating with a Seal of Biliteracy.
“We’re continuing to develop and strengthen our communication with parents and families so that they know that the seal of Biliteracy is available and what it would be able to provide for their student,” said Koontz. “The Seal of Biliteracy is earned by taking a proficiency test, which is something that a lot of students do when they learn a language outside of school, or through taking the AP or IB tests.”
The Seal of Biliteracy can be earned in Washington State as well as a handful of other states across the country. It’s an endorsement on a high school diploma that declares that students have achieved a certain level of language proficiency in any language they take the test in.
“Since the goal of our program is not worksheets or games or passing scanned tests out of the textbook, a fourth year sounds great, because our goal is immersion and language proficiency,” said Peterson. “Because now students can have an even better shot in a better and a better chance at becoming bilingual, which is really my goal.”
Peterson would prefer to offer AP Spanish Language and Culture to accompany the current AP Spanish course. He believes that AP provides a more rigorous and advantageous education platform and opportunities for college credits.
“I would want to offer AP Spanish Language and Culture, which is a course that we have had a lot of success with, which is 15 credits, and then we offer AP Language and Culture as well, that’s another 15 credits if the student passes both tests,” said Peterson. “That’s just about a Spanish minor, which is generally 25-35 credits.”
Peterson also believes that students will take advantage of the opportunity when it’s presented to them.
“I think that students at the school in particular, students do step up to the challenge when it’s presented to them,” said Peterson. “I do think that they would take advantage of that opportunity to take another language class. I think that they would be guinea pigs (or cuys) [for the program] and they would be trying to figure that out with me.”
Koontz believes that despite the challenges RAHS has faced, the changes will be worth it long term.
“There is an interest across of all of Highline School District in making sure that all students can access the third and fourth year. That’s really the bottom line,” said Koontz. “We have a responsibility to make sure that students can access the same high level of instruction at any school regardless of which highline school it is. That’s really what’s behind the academic insurance of the third and fourth year.”