P.O. BOX 2120



September 21, 2007



Division Superintendents



Billy K. Cannaday, Jr.

Superintendent of Public Instruction



Foreign Language Credit for Native and Heritage Speakers


The Virginia Department of Education is committed to preparing students for the global society of the 21st century. Foreign language proficiency and cultural understanding are essential to success in an ever-shrinking world. While monolingual English speakers are striving to learn other languages, many students in the Commonwealth bring with them proficiency in a second language. School divisions may want to adopt policies that acknowledge their skills and help them earn credits required for an Advanced Studies Diploma or a Commonwealth Scholars Designation.


Students who intend to continue their academic studies beyond high school are encouraged to pursue an Advanced Studies Diploma, requiring successful completion of three years of one foreign language, or two years each of two languages. Additionally, in April 2006, Governor Kaine announced Virginias participation in the State Scholars Initiative, with 11 school divisions taking part in the pilot of the Commonwealth Scholars Program. This course of study includes rigorous courses that go beyond the minimum graduation requirements of the Standard Diploma, including successful completion of at least two years of a foreign language.


School divisions may award foreign language credit to students with proficiency in native or heritage languages other than English. However, they must meet the criteria set forth in 8 VAC 20-131-110 (Standard and verified units of credit) of the Regulations Establishing Standards for Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia (SOA), as explained below. The full text is available at


School divisions that elect to award credit on a basis other than the 140 clock hours of instruction required for a standard unit of credit must develop a written policy approved by the superintendent and school board. This policy should clearly define how school divisions will award credit, ensuring that the content is comparable to 140 clock hours of instruction, and that, upon completion, the student will have met the aims and objectives of the course.


A distinction may be made between native and heritage speakers of a language. Native speakers are generally recent arrivals and may have attended school in their home country for a significant period of time. Heritage speakers are often second generation speakers whose parents immigrated to the United States but continue to speak a language other than English in the home. Heritage speakers may be fluent speakers of the target language, but often have underdeveloped literacy skills. Therefore, it is important to also include an assessment of a students reading comprehension and writing ability, since Virginias Foreign Language Standards of Learning address listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Virginias Foreign Language Standards of Learning are available at


At local discretion, credit for grades 9-12 English as a Second Language (ESL) courses may be counted for foreign language credit using the following course codes: ESL I - 5710; ESL II - 5720; ESL III - 5730; ESL IV- 5731. Credit for a single ESL class may be given only once in the area of foreign language, English, or electives. If a student receives foreign language credit for an ESL course, then he or she may not receive credit for the same course in the area of English or electives. Additional information is available in the ESL Handbook at


Native and heritage speakers may also enroll in traditional foreign language courses for the languages they speak at home; however, a foreign language course catering to monolingual English speakers may not be the most appropriate placement. Schools with large enough populations speaking a single language other than English are encouraged to develop specific courses, such as Spanish for Native/Fluent Speakers at various levels, which reinforce literacy skills and fill in gaps in cultural knowledge. According to 8 VAC 20-131-130 (Elective Courses) of the SOA, local divisions may develop elective courses offered for credit toward high school graduation. Such courses must be approved by the division superintendent and local school board.


For additional information about foreign language credit options for native and heritage speakers of languages other than English, please contact Helen Small, foreign language specialist, at 804-225-3666 or