The Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) is roughly the size of West Virginia, with 22 schools spread across a remote area of Alaska’s Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. There are no roads, and the most common ways to travel between towns are to fly or snowmobile.
It is also a region where the native Alaskan language of Yup’ik is still spoken and taught, and the LKSD’s mission is to ensure effective bilingual education for all students. In this way, they are actually far ahead of many more urban American school districts, where only in recent years have schools begun to embrace dual-language programs and adopt initiatives like the Seal of Biliteracy.
But LKSD had one big challenge that typical school districts do not: how do you effectively measure a student’s language skills when there is no approved test in their language?
When the district learned about the Seal of Biliteracy, they wanted to make sure that their students did not miss out on this opportunity to showcase their skills. To do that, they needed a language proficiency test that met national standards.
So in the fall of 2016, a group of LKSD language instructors began working
closely with Avant to develop the WorldSpeak assessment system for Yup’ik.
Creating the assessment proved more complex than they thought. They not only had to translate but to completely rewrite and recontextualize the WorldSpeak rubrics and testing questions to reflect the realities of life in the most remote parts of Alaska.
For example, a prompt asking students to “tell us about the last time you drove to the grocery store” would have no relevant equivalent in Yup’ik and for LKSD students. In this remote region, instead of communities being connected by roads, highways, stores, and restaurants, there is only Alaskan tundra.
“Our students would not be able to talk about driving, shopping, or malls, because up here, there are no roads between communities. If you need to go to another town, you fly. And if you need to get food, you don’t go to a grocery store, you go hunting,” Carlton Kuhns, assistant superintendent of instruction, explained.
After many months working through these challenges to develop and test the WorldSpeak system for Yup’ik, this month, 16 students became the first to take the Yup’ik WorldSpeak assessment and earn Seals of Biliteracy for their proficiency in English and Yup’ik.
“The development of the Seal of Biliteracy in the Yup’ik language is a testament to the ongoing commitment of our district to maintaining the local language. It was important to us to give our students the opportunity to get a Seal of Biliteracy, and I am so very proud of our students who have achieved this landmark,” said Dan Walker, LKSD superintendent. It was important to Avant, too.
“We believe passionately that all multilingual students deserve the opportunity to earn the Seal of Biliteracy and showcase their language skills to schools and employers, no matter what their language may be,” said David Bong, CEO of Avant Assessment. “It’s why we jumped at the chance to support LKSD and Yup’ik and why we continue to add new languages to our portfolio of assessments every year.”
So congratulations to all the students graduating with their Seals of Biliteracy this year, and here’s to many more to come.
David Bong is CEO and co-founder of Avant Assessment, the leading language-proficiency assessment provider. Avant offers proficiency tests in more than 24 languages and is looking to add more.