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Advanced diploma a tougher reach after state cuts some exams

Earning the most rigorous of the state’s diplomas just became a little bit harder for thousands of students.

To get a Regents diploma with advanced distinction, the gold standard of New York State high school diplomas, a student must pass eight Regents exams, including one in a foreign language. But earlier this month state officials decided to cut costs by slimming down its testing program. Among the casualties: the exams in Latin, German, and Hebrew, taken last year by nearly 4,500 public school students statewide.

Nearly 17 percent of last year’s city graduates, or 7,857 students, earned the advanced diploma, and the vast majority studied French or Spanish. But more than 11,000 city students took Latin (3,409), German (4,698), or Hebrew (4,287) classes last year.

They can still get credit toward the advanced diploma, but they’ll have to demonstrate proficiency another way, according to Jane Briggs, a State Department of Education spokeswoman.

“They’d follow the same procedures already in place for students who study other languages not tested by the Regents, such as Chinese,” she said.

Those procedures require students to pass an alternative exam that’s developed locally.

“We are obviously concerned,” said Matthew Mittenthal, a Department of Education spokesman, about the policy change. But he said school officials were already working on putting together local requirements.

“We’re working to develop alternatives so that students preparing to earn Advanced Regents diplomas in these languages will be supported and able to complete their studies,” Mittenthal said.

Roughly the same number of students who took the three exams in public schools also took them in private schools, more than 80 percent in religious schools where Hebrew is taught.

For some city students, the reduction in foreign language Regents exams is likely to go almost unnoticed. Jason Griffiths, the principal of Brooklyn Latin School, where every student takes four years of Latin, said his students are being prepared to sit for exams in the International Baccalaureate program, which is considered more rigorous than the Regents curriculum.

“If anything, this [change] has helped us clarify what our goals are,” Griffiths said. “The IB is our bar.”

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