Au Revoir, Adios and Arrivederci to Foreign Language Regents Exams

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New York students will begin taking their Regents exams this week. But this is the last year they can take the exams in a foreign language.

The state is eliminating exams in Spanish, French and Italian to save $700,000 annually. Exams in Hebrew, German and Latin were already cut last year.

Foreign language teachers have complained about getting rid of the tests at a time when students are entering an increasingly global workforce.

Emmanuel Lainé, vice president for education at French Institute Alliance Française in New York City, said the state's decision sends a terrible message.

"The citizen of the future is going to be a global one," he said. "And the global one understands that he has to understand languages to better understand other cultures and to make even better business."

In France, Lainé said high schools students have to learn two foreign languages and they must take a test in oral and written comprehension.

But the state says local districts can design their own exams. New York City is already trying that with some non-profits. It has partnered with the Goethe Institute for a German test and the Jewish Education Project for Hebrew. The state allowed students who took those tests to count them toward Advanced Regents diplomas, according to the city's Department of Education, and the city is planning to do the same with Spanish, French and Italian.

High School principals say the foreign language exams were popular among students who wanted to graduate with Advanced Regents diplomas. One, who didn't want to be identified, said he was "flummoxed" by the change and wondered how the state will keep track of new local tests. Principals are also upset about the state's decision to stop offering Regents exams in January. The January tests gave students who failed the previous year an opportunity to make up a test sooner, instead of waiting until June, and to graduate earlier.

The state is saving a total of $8 million in testing by eliminating the foreign language and January Regents exams, as well as making other administrative cost-cutting measures. The state's department of education says the cuts were needed because the legislature didn't fully fund the Regents examinations.