Bilingual standards for students in New Mexico

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New Mexico is bilingual

Bilingual programs for students in New Mexico.(Credit: John Benson)

Even though bilingual education continues to be a wedge issue in some statehouses, there are numerous states where dual-language programs are flourishing.

Take for instance New Mexico, where yesterday its State Senate overwhelming approved with a 41-0 vote the passage of HB 330, which creates a state seal for bilingual and bi-literate graduates.

“There’s been a movement across the country with a handful of states that passed similar legislation,” New Mexico Coalition for the Majority Secretary Edward Tabet-Cubero told VOXXI. “Basically it sets New Mexico an end-goal for our bilingual programs with students being able to shoot for these rigorous standards in English and another language.”

“It’s really a way to honor their bilingualism and their bi-literacy and the work they put in throughout their K-12 career.”

Recent statistics show 71 percent of New Mexico public school students are classified as linguistically or culturally diverse. In addition to Spanish speakers, there are also New Mexico’s indigenous tribal languages.

The American Psychiatric Association reports children who grow up bilingual have an enhanced ability to process sounds and therefore are more likely to pay attention in a learning situation, while a study from Northwestern University showed the same children have reduced levels of anxiety, loneliness and poor self-esteem.

As for the New Mexico state seal, the designation targets any students pursuing bilingualism (English, Spanish, mandarin and Arabic).

“It distinguishes the difference between being able to speak another language and actually having academic proficiency, being able to read and write and being able to do something in the workplace with your language,” Tabet-Cubero said. “In the Latino community, this helps the status of students bringing a previous asset that is of value to our education system.”

New Mexico’s bilingual efforts

Something that makes New Mexico’s bilingual efforts so unique, and highlighted with HB 330, is the investment in two-way dual language programs where native English speakers and native Spanish speakers are mixed together in the same classroom.

“So English speakers are learning Spanish just as the Spanish speakers are learning English,” Tabet-Cubero said. “Hopefully that puts some value to the work that the students are doing. In talking to our friends in the business community, this really helps potential employers to distinguish between somebody who can maybe speak a language socially and somebody who can actually read and write and work in a language at a high level.”

As for data supporting New Mexico’s bilingual efforts, Tabet-Cubero pointed to Albuquerque High School, where Co-Bilingual Coordinator & 10th and 12th grade Spanish Language Arts teacher Mishelle L. Jurado told VOXXI that four years ago without a set program her school had 22 students averaging a 2.1 grade point average.

“This year [we have] 55 possible graduates with the seal who have completed more than a third of their high school classes in Spanish with an average grade point average of 3.1,” Jurado said. “And, 90 percent of them are already accepted to a two- or four-year college.”

Criteria to have the bilingual and bi-literate state seal on a diploma include: A rigorous curriculum, a certain number of credit hours in a language other than English; a demonstrated proficiency in English; maintaining a certain GPA; and passing assessments in English and another language, as well as exit interviews.

New Mexico has enjoyed a long history of celebrating multilingualism, including a clause in its Constitution that protects the rights of our multilingual citizenry.

As for HB 330, its final approval belongs to New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who previously pocket vetoed a similar bill last session that included not only the seal deal but also the creation of a state bilingual advisory council.

Tabet-Cubero said, because this time around the two issues were separated, he’s optimistic Martinez will approve HB 330.

He added, “This attempt we did get a letter of support from the Governor’s office and from our state public education department, so we’re pretty sure she’s going to sign it.”

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