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Virginia Beach delegate looks to alter advanced diploma credits

Del. Glenn Davis stands with a microphone and pursed lips.
Crixell Matthews
/
VPM News (File)
Del. Glenn Davis stands on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates in 2022. Davis has sponsored several proposals in recent years to allow students to bypass the foreign-language requirement for an advanced studies diploma.

HB 2341 would allow students to use career and technical credits in place of foreign language.

Del. Glenn Davis (R–Virginia Beach) reintroduced legislation this year to create an advanced high school diploma for Virginia students who don’t take foreign language courses.

In 2017 and 2018, Davis introduced legislation to allow students to substitute computer coding credits for world language credits as part of high school graduation requirements. But those bills both failed.

Sharon Scinicariello, advocacy chair for the Foreign Language Association of Virginia, said they were part of a “real attack” on the world language requirement in Virginia’s advanced studies diploma. She said the same issue of coding vs. world languages has been playing out in other states as well — in places like Florida, Texas and New Mexico.

“World languages and computer languages are not the same,” Scinicariello said. “We fought against that for a while and won that battle.”

Now, Scinicariello is fighting against a similar piece of legislation introduced by Davis for the last two years to require the Virginia Board of Education to create two separate pathways to attaining an advanced studies diploma: one with a world language credit requirement and one with career and technical credit requirements. The proposal is also similar to legislation Davis sponsored in 2019.

It failed in 2019 and 2022, but it has been reintroduced this year. Last week, it cleared the House, and it’s now headed to the Senate Education and Health Committee.

There are multiple diploma types in Virginia including a standard diploma and an advanced diploma. The advanced studies diploma requires an additional credit in mathematics, science and history — but not English. Legislation in 2014 allowed computer science classes to count towards math, science and career and technical education credit requirements.

World language credits are optional as part of the standard diploma, but the advanced diploma requires three credits of world language — either three years of one language, or two years of two different languages. In 2021, about 53% of Virginia students earned an advanced studies diploma. There are currently exceptions to the world languages requirement for students with disabilities and English language learners.

Davis said his current proposal to expand the advanced diploma would allow students more flexibility in high school.

“We want to be clear that we’re not looking to replace foreign language,” Davis told VPM News in an interview about the legislation. “It’s just that we want to be able to allow all students to take the classes that best create the foundation for them to leave high school with credentials that help them really get started in their career if they so desire, and still be able to get that advanced diploma just like their peers.”

Davis said parents sometimes feel there’s a stigma attached with their kids not being able to get an advanced studies diploma. And he said fitting in those language credits can be a challenge for students taking advanced manufacturing or other career and technical education courses.

“If it doesn’t leave you with enough elective hours to take your foreign language, you won’t get the advanced diploma regardless of your GPA,” Davis said. “There’s a stigma associated with that, that sometimes parents have.”

Darla Miller, executive director for the Virginia Association for Career and Technical Education, said the bill wasn’t on the group’s radar last year. But she said her organization is supporting it this year because of the challenges of fitting in advanced CTE courses and a foreign language, especially when students must leave their home high school and travel off-campus to attend CTE courses.

“We've had a lot of students over the years that graduate [from high school] and then they sign up to take some nursing programs in community college. If they'd been allowed to opt out of world language with the advanced studies diploma, they could have taken some nursing classes and started out as a certified nursing aide before they graduate from high school,” Miller said.

However, Miller noted she doesn't want to discount the importance of speaking a foreign language, including in career and technical fields. She said that 54% of the 44,000 students who completed a CTE concentration in the 2021-22 school year also completed an advanced studies diploma with the foreign language requirement.

“If you’re in the construction field, a lot of your workers are coming from a Hispanic background and may speak Spanish or another foreign language,” Miller said. “Our goal is that our graduates may eventually become a foreman on the job or supervisor — and being able to communicate with someone besides in English is an extremely important skill and craft to have.”

Spanish is the most in-demand foreign language reported by U.S. employers, according to a report from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, which also details a high demand for foreign language skills among U.S. employers.

That’s why Sharon Scinicariello is advocating against Davis’ current effort to make foreign languages an optional part of the advanced studies diploma. She said removing the requirement “is going backwards in our society.” She said she doesn’t want to see Virginia backtrack on its good track record for foreign languages — in 2018, more Virginia students were awarded a biliteracy seal than all but two other states.

“World languages are an important part of education in Virginia, where an increasing number of people speak languages other than English at home. We're in a multicultural environment and a multilingual environment. And employers really, really, really need people who have foreign language skills,” Scinicariello said.

She points to the wine industry as another area where world languages can be necessary to do business in Virginia.

“You don’t think of agriculture needing world language skills, but we export and you have to deal with international markets,” Scinicariello said. “And of course in something like wine — which is a huge growing industry in Virginia now — these people have to talk to other winemakers in other countries and share techniques.”

Scinicariello noted that the advanced studied diploma — with the world language requirement — is really the “college prep” track for students. Nearly all four-year Virginia colleges and universities require some foreign language credits for admission, according to data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

This story is powered by the 2023 People's Agenda.

Megan Pauly covers education and healthcare issues in the greater Richmond region. She was a 2020-21 reporting fellow with ProPublica's Local Reporting Network, and a 2019-20 reporting fellow with the Education Writers Association.