Jose Quezada, a senior at Everett High School, wants a career as a translator/interpreter after high school, in part because of his success with the World Languages Assessment. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jose Quezada, a senior at Everett High School, wants a career as a translator/interpreter after high school, in part because of his success with the World Languages Assessment. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

‘Language as an asset’: Multilingual students get credits for fluency

In Everett, students can pay $10 to take the World Language Assessment. In the testing room, it’s like the United Nations.

EVERETT — When families gathered this month for a Latino heritage dinner, Everett High School senior Jose Quezada acted as an interpreter for those who did not speak Spanish.

He was practicing his future career, a path he decided upon after taking a special test that let him earn three high school credits for his fluency in Spanish.

“At first, I was thinking maybe it’s a bit too hard, maybe that’s not really for me,” said Quezada, who wants to work as a Spanish interpreter. “After looking at the test results, I thought maybe I could actually proceed further.”

More than 2,000 students like Quezada have taken the World Language Assessment since Everett Public Schools started offering it in the 2015-16 school year. And 92% have earned at least one class credit from it. The district has given the test in 57 different languages.

The testing room, Quezada said, feels like a United Nations gathering, especially when students start the speaking portion of the test.

“You go inside the room and you see so many students from so many languages, and it’s really, really cool to see,” Quezada said.

The test helps students add electives to their schedule or earn biliteracy enhancements on their diplomas.

“It really honors students for the asset that being a multilingual person is on our global society,” said Catherine Matthews, the district’s director of assessment and research.

Students can sign up for the test starting in seventh grade. It’s offered twice a year, and students choose which languages they want to test in. About 80% of the students do not speak English at home. They don’t have to be a native speaker of a language they test for.

To earn credit, a student must demonstrate fluency in reading, writing, listening and speaking. It’s not enough to know basic words and phrases. A student must show a strong command of the language.

For example, the Spanish reading portion includes paragraphs that are missing a phrase. Students choose the correct sentence from a list. Each phrase was “slightly changed,” so they might look the same to someone who is “barely learning Spanish” but is not fluent, Quezada said.

“So they are not just technically testing if you know how to say, ‘Hello,’” he said. “It’s more of these really thoughtful questions that some non-bilingual students only knowing English (well) wouldn’t really catch.”

A student’s “level of fluency” determines how many credits they earn, out of four. If they score less than the maximum, they can take the test again to try to earn the rest.

In Washington, students need 24 credits to graduate. Students who earn all four from the language test essentially open space for two-thirds of a school year worth of classes.

“Seventh and eighth graders actually make up a good percentage of the kids who are taking it, so before they go to high school, earning three or four credits changes their whole four-year plan,” Matthews said. “… They can look at those four years and say, ‘I have this extra space. I can do advanced science. I can study art. I can do more band. I can do whatever it is that I care about.’”

In the 2021-22 school year, Everett Public Schools led the county for the number of students who graduated with a “seal of biliteracy” on their diploma. The district had 176 students graduate with the seal, compared to 97 in Mukilteo and 94 in Edmonds, two similarly sized districts that awarded the second- and third-most seals in the county.

Quezada said he heard about the test in the morning announcements. His school counselor really encouraged him to take it, explaining how it would fit into his future career goals. He hadn’t heard about it when attending school in another district.

Each test has a price based mainly on how common the language is. Spanish costs about $20. More rare languages, like Wolof, the language of Indigenous people in some areas of Senegal, Mauritania and Gambia, can cost upwards of $300.

In Everett, students pay just $10 for the test. The school district covers the rest of the costs. Matthews said that keeps it fair and affordable for students, no matter their language.

“We’re trying to remove barriers. It’s an equity thing,” Matthews said.

Students most commonly ask for one of six languages: Spanish, Russian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Korean and Ukrainian. Those account for about three-quarters of World Language Assessments in the district.

Still, tests are offered in any language, so Matthews has learned about several world dialects.

“Kirundi, Khmer, Karen, which I looked that up once,” she said while reading off the list of available tests. “You can see, there are languages I’ve never even heard of before.”

If a test does not already exist, as was the case for Icelandic, the district and state work together to design one. Then it becomes available statewide, Matthews said.

“It might be one or two students here or there, but it benefits everyone,” Matthews said.

For Matthews, the granddaughter of a Grecian immigrant, the test bears special meaning. Her grandfather did not speak English when he moved to the United States, “and he felt it was a deficiency.”

Students who speak English as a second language work harder to keep up in class, Matthews said. They have to take more classes to learn the language their other classes are taught in, and they must translate or “decode everything,” she said.

“We’re creating a better system for our kids, because we are honoring their heritage, their culture, their language as an asset. … It’s an issue of helping students to understand that (their language) is an asset for them, for their future,” Matthews said. “It will support their dreams, not hamper them.”

“This is showing that you should get credit for what you already know and what you’ve already worked so hard to do,” she added.

Quezada, the Everett High senior, said the test opened up space for him to take a translation and interpretation certification program at the Sno-Isle TECH skills center. That certificate will transfer to college, so he has a leg up.

He added that “just looking at good results” from a test made him feel confident. It showed how much he has grown since moving to the United States about 10 years ago, he said. And it proved that “I haven’t lost my mother language.”

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Fraudulent 1999 Pokémon cards Iosif “Joe” Bondarchuk and Anthony Curcio sold to an undercover law enforcement purchaser in July 2023. (Photo provided by the DOJ USAO Southern District of New York)
Counterfeit Pokémon cards, a $2M scheme, and a getaway by inner tube

It was the latest stranger-than-fiction caper tied to ex-Monroe star athlete Anthony Curcio, accused of forging mint grades for rare cards.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Lynnwood
Suspected DUI crash injures trooper on I-5 north in Lynnwood

WSP spokesperson said two suspected impaired drivers have crashed into a state trooper in the past 24 hours.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Police: Man shot at ex-girlfriend, child in Mountlake Terrace apartment

Officers were investigating the Seattle man, 22, for first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and third-degree malicious mischief.

Former President Donald Trump exits the courthouse after being found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial at New York State Supreme Court in New York, on Thursday, May 30, 2024. Trump has been convicted of falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened his ascent to the White House in 2016, part of a scheme that prosecutors described as a fraud on the American people. He is the first American president to be declared a felon. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Trump convicted on all counts to become America’s first felon president

Twelve New Yorkers delivered their verdict in the case against Donald J. Trump. He was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with a payment to a porn star.

The view of Mountain Loop Mine out the window of a second floor classroom at Fairmount Elementary on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After months of controversy, mine’s Everett gravel yard is for sale

In April, a county judge ordered OMA Construction to stop all work, next door to Fairmount Elementary School. Now, the yard is on the market.

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Boeing agrees to pay over $11.5M in back pay to employees

Nearly 500 workers received back wages, in what Washington regulators call the largest-ever settlement of its kind in state history.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 closure between Everett and Marysville delayed by weather

The key alternative route to I-5 was slated to be fully closed overnight Saturday. Now, June 8 is being circled as the date.

Benson Boone (Photo provided by AEG Presents)
Taylor Swift taps Monroe HS grad Benson Boone to open London show

Boone, 21, has become a global pop star since his “American Idol” stint in 2021. “Beautiful Things” is the biggest song in the world.

News logo for use with stories about Mill Creek in Snohomish County, WA.
Mill Creek man accused of crashing into taxi in Seattle, killing woman

King County prosecutors charged Aboubacarr Singhateh with vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.