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End of foreign language HS exams puts pressure on districts

In one of its lower-profile decisions this week, the Board of Regents voted to require districts to recreate exams that the state used to provide.

As part of a slate of cost-cutting measures meant to close an $8 million hole in the state’s testing program, the Regents voted to do away with all high school foreign language exams. Next month, Regents exams in Spanish, French, and Italian will be administered for the last time.

Because passing a foreign language exam is required for students aiming for a Regents diploma with advanced distinction, considered the gold standard of New York State diplomas, districts will have to create local assessments for students who wish to earn credit in those subjects.

New York City already has this experience. The city already offers homespun high school exams that can be used for advanced Regents credit in nearly 20 languages that are either taught in city schools or native languages for significant numbers of city students. The languages include Albanian, Chinese, Polish, and Urdu, among others.

So last year, when the state cut exams in Latin, German, and Hebrew, which had been taken by 4,500 students statewide the previous year, the city decided to develop and administer its own exams in those subjects, according to Matthew Mittenthal, a DOE spokesman.

The department worked with community organizations to develop the tests, Mittenthal said. Three schools are offering German exams that the Goethe Institute, a group operated by the German government to promote German culture, had already created and offered to the city for free. The nonprofit Jewish Education Project wrote, also for free, a Hebrew exam that will be administered at two schools that offer Hebrew instruction. The city also paid $4,000 for three Latin experts to write a Latin exam and partnered with the Greek Archdiocese to create an exam in Greek, which never had a Regents exam.

The city hasn’t decided yet whether to use the same approach to deal with the exams that were eliminated this week, Mittenthal said. In contrast with Hebrew and Latin, thousands of city students study Spanish, French, and Italian.

Other cost-cutting testing changes approved this week include the elimination of January Regents exams, a delay in plans to develop a standardized reading test for high school students, and the abandonment of plans to restore fifth- and eighth-grade social studies exams.

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