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N.Y. Regents To Drop Foreign-Language Requirement

By Caroline Hendrie — December 03, 1997 2 min read

Never mind.

That’s what the New York board of regents told educators last week about a policy it had hastily adopted 11 days earlier requiring the equivalent of three years of a foreign language to graduate from high school. Educators across the state, including state Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, had been alarmed by the new mandate, which they said risked making stringent new requirements in other core subjects impossible to meet.

Carl T. Hayden, the chancellor of the state board and an opponent of the policy it adopted on Nov. 14, announced last week that he had persuaded board members to reverse course.

Instead of imposing the requirement on students seeking a regular diploma, he said, the board has agreed to rescind its earlier action and mandate that level of study only for students receiving an advanced diploma. No other state appears to directly mandate so many years of foreign-language study, along with a high-stakes exam, for a regular diploma. (“N.Y. Students Must Master 2nd Language,” Nov. 26, 1997.)

“The message we were getting from the schools was we had really gone too far, too quickly,” Mr. Hayden said in an interview.

More Study Ordered

Mr. Mills said he will appoint a panel to recommend ways to strengthen the state’s foreign-language requirements. He said the regents had made clear that they want to raise the bar in this area, but that issues of cost and practicality had to be fully explored first.

At a meeting scheduled for later this month, the regents are expected to adopt a less stringent requirement, mandating that students either pass a proficiency test or take one year of a foreign language in high school to earn a standard diploma.

J. Edward Meyer, the regent who championed the more rigorous requirement, said last week that he had reluctantly agreed to shelve the new policy after Mr. Hayden made clear that he had lined up the votes necessary to rescind it.

“I think it’s a great shame,” Mr. Meyer said. “There’s a real question today in New York and in the country as to whether people believe any longer in the value of foreign language.”

But Mr. Mills argued that schools would face an “almost insurmountable” task in meeting the other new requirements if the mandate were to stand. Students entering 9th grade in 2001 will have to pass exams in English, mathematics, social studies, and science that traditionally have been reserved for those seeking the state’s college-preparatory diploma.