Dmuchowski & Owinski: Recognizing Polish Language

Polish Language Fluency by American  Students can and should be recognized on High School Transcripts 

Possible in less than one year for 24+ States that already recognize fluency in other languages (over 11 other languages particip
ate). Why not Polish? Yes, it can easily be done: Achieving a Polish Seal of Biliteracy!

How? Please Read the Interview below with Marzanna Owinski

–By Frank J. Dmuchowski

Originally published in Tygodnik Polski, America’s oldest Polish Newspaper.

 

 

One of the great challenges facing any ethnic culture in the United States is how to keep young students and young adults involved in the culture of their parents, grandparent etc. who may have emigrated to America and would like their offspring to be connected to their cultural heritage. This is a challenge which is not unique to Polonia but to every other ethnic group such as French, German, Italian, Chinese etc. Other cultures have found a way to help preserve their cultural identity with younger generations through language schools.  Of course Polonia has been doing this for generations with very fine programs from pre-school through high school.

Ideally each cultural group would like their language to be taught as part of a grade school and high school curriculum with grades becoming a part of their transcripts which universities and employers could use in their evaluation process – for example as is the case with Spanish and French. This recognition approach encourages students to complete their studies. Unfortunately only a few languages are taught in high schools and there is financial pressure in some school districts to discontinue or sharply curtail these programs.

So what happens if, as in the case of Polish and other languages, there are not any high school language classes? We would like to encourage and reward students who achieve a high level proficiency in Polish. Can anything be done? Is there a solution? Yes, there is a solution and it is known as the Seal of Biliteracy. This seal is placed on the high school students transcripts for universities and future employers to see. To receive a Seal of Biliteracy on their transcript the student must pass a four-part test in their language of  interest and this test must have been developed by a nationally recognized Seal of Biliteracy test developer and recognized by their state’s Department of Education. Currently there are twenty four states which recognize the Seal of Biliteracy program and more states are being added.

Eleven languages are part of the Seal of Biliteracy program. For example they include Arabic, Mandarin Chinese, French, Hebrew, German, Portugese, Russian etc. Sadly Polish is not one of these languages although it is spoken by over 45 million people worldwide and is sixth largest language spoken in Europe ( second in Great Britain after English).

Can Polish easily become a part of the Seal of Biliteracy Program?

Yes and surprisingly the process is very simple since there is already a number of well-developed  programs which are generally affiliated with Polish churches or other cultural group to teach children Polish language and culture. Many of these programs use a standardized test at the end of the 12th grade to measure a student’s graduating proficiency in Polish.  It should be noted that  there are two particularly  outstanding Polish language tests which are used by many Polish language schools throughout the United States. They were developed respectively by Columbia University in New York and the Marie Curie-Skłowdowska University in Lublin

Unfortunately neither test has been developed by a nationally accepted American language test developer in order to be acceptable for the Seal of Biliteracy by various American state Departments of Education.  This situation is not unique to Polish, as it applies to any of a number of other languages which are not part of a recognized American grade school/ high school’s language curriculum.

It is important to note that the curriculum of the Polish language schools which is developed to pass the above noted Polish language test could still be used with slight modification for a student to pass the Seal of Biliteracy test for Polish when that test has been developed. In addition those Polonian children who do not have access to one of our many fine Polish language schools could be home taught and then take the Seal of Biliteracy test when they are in high school.

It should also be noted that  if a state has a Seal of Biliteracy program it must give the test for any language that has an accepted Seal of Biliteracy test. So let’s move on to the solution for Polonia.

The solution for Polonia is here in the interview with Marzanna Owinski!

The following is my recent interview with Marzanna Owinski who is affiliated with the Polish Mission and who has spent a good deal of time researching the Seal of Biliteracy Program and how the Polish language can become a part of this wonderful program. In addition to interviewing Ms. Owinski, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of Polish language teachers from Michigan who endorsed the approach. This interview is the result of multiple discussions on the topic of preserving and encouraging the development of the Polish and English biliteracy.

After you have read the interview I would encourage your continued support for the effort to develop a Polish Seal of Biliteracy Test. I hope that you will agree that Polonia, for a relatively small investment, has an exceptional opportunity to preserve and grow our Polish culture. Thank you – Frank

Owinski Interview:

FJD: Pani Owinski, could you please tell our readers some of  your education and professional background in teaching Polish?

MO: I have a Master’s degree in Polish language from Warsaw University and Master’s degree in PR and Organizational Communication from Wayne State University. I am a principal of Father Jozef Dabrowski Polish Language School in Orchard Lake. I am a certified teacher in Polish language in Michigan and teach Polish to students of St. Mary’s Preparatory, a catholic high school. I also teach Polish as second language to students age 6-13 and adults. Since summer of 2016 I have worked as a Polish Language Coordinator for The Polish Mission. I have two children who attend Polish Language School and speak Polish at home.

FJD: What is the Seal of Biliteracy and why is it so important?

MO: The Seal of Biliteracy is the award given by a school district or a school to the students who attain a high level of language proficiency. The award is given on a voluntary basis. Students need to achieve proficiency at least in two languages, one of which must be English.  The Seal of Biliteracy appears on their transcript or diploma of a graduating senior.

The Seal of Biliteracy was originally introduced in California in 2008 by a coalition of parents, teachers and education advocates. Today it is in twenty four states such as Illinois, New York, Minnesota, California, Florida. Several others are working on its implementation. The Seal of Biliteracy is recognized by employers as a sign of multilingualism and is often honored by colleges and universities for college credits.

FJD: Why do we  need the Seal of Biliteracy? Don’t we have outstanding Polish language proficiency tests already in use?

MO: Currently Polonia has two excellent language tests. One was prepared by Columbia University and another by M. Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin. They are excellent, exceptionally high quality tests. Unfortunately, they are not recognized by all American educational organizations. American educational organizations require all language tests to be developed by nationally recognized assessment test developers. This insures that all tests are consistently developed.

Currently nationally recognized tests have been developed and are in use for Arabic, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish etc. There is no such a developed  test for Polish language. Once a test for Polish is developed by one of these recognized language assessment institutions, it will be automatically accepted by all states that have the Seal of Biliteracy.

FJD: How does preparation for the Seal of Biliteracy differ from the preparation that Polish language schools are doing today?

MO: There is no difference in preparation and no change in the school’s curriculum. The Seal of Biliteracy’s goal is to measure proficiency in everyday communication. This measures the same general knowledge that our students receive at Polish language schools and often use in their everyday communication at home. This will allow them to pass this test without any problem.

The test for the Seal of Biliteracy consists of four categories: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The combination of learning at Polish schools and communicating in Polish language at home creates an immersion program that is so effective in learning Polish.

FJD:  What are benefits of the Seal of Biliteracy for Polish language students and Polonia in general?

MO: First, there are many known cognitive benefits of being bilingual such as improved memory and attention, problem-solving capabilities, primary-language comprehension and ability to empathize with other cultures and people, more effective communication. Second, Polish language under the Seal of Biliteracy will be recognized by American educational organizations on the same level as other languages taught at American schools. Polish language students will be awarded for their proficiency in our language. They will be able to receive college credits.

In our global world bilingualism is increasingly recognized by employers. Achieving fluency in Polish helps in learning another language such as Spanish or German, etc. There also will be more interest in learning Polish as a second language and this will increase the interest in attending Polish language schools.

FJD: Who is going to prepare the test and how much will it cost?

MO: I have been working on the selection of a nationally recognized institution that can offer us the best conditions and price for the test. The test will be prepared by American language assessing institution that has been developing nationally recognized language tests since 2001. The organization we are considering offers already tests for several other languages and its tests are on the language list in all states. The cost of the test development is $30,000 and Polish community needs to purchase 500 copies in the year of its release, $25 per each test. The test should be available in spring 2018 and the exact date will be known soon.

FJD:  How can Polonia help?

MO: We have five months to collect money for the project. While I already have one very generous sponsor who offered me $5000, I need help from other Polish organizations and individuals to support the project. I hope that Polonia understands the value of the Polish test for the good of Polish language students. Polish educational portal, Dobra Polska Szkoła, published the interview with me about the Seal of Biliteracy and the Polish language test. The interest and approval of the project from different regions were huge. In 48 hours over 1,000 people read the article and many of them left positive comments.

People who are interested in the project can find the detailed presentation on The Polish Mission website: http://www.polishmission.com/. For those who want to help financially, please send contribution by a check to The Polish Mission (write Biliteracy Polish Test in a lower right corner of the check, its address you will find below) or by making donation online www.polishmission.com by choosing destination: Polish Biliteracy Test. Every contribution will be deeply appreciated.

I believe that a standardized computer assessment test for the Polish language will greatly benefit the Polish community, our language will be recognized at the national level, drawing more interest for Polish language schools and promotion of Polish language, history and culture. I talked to people responsible for tests for Seal of Biliteracy at the Department of Education from Illinois, New York, Minnesota and Wisconsin and all of them told me that the test is much needed for the Polish community.  That is why I am asking for full support in raising funds to cover the cost of exam.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at (248) 683-0433 or by email mowinski@orchardlakeschools.com.

 

NB Permission is granted to reprint this article in whole or in part by the Polish Weekly’s Publisher and Editor Alicja Karlic. Please recognize the Polish Weekly. Thank you – Frank J. Dmuchowski Assistant Editor.

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