Soundings

Linda Chavez
An F on the Regents
Winter 1997

No habla ingles? Not to worry. You might still do just fine on most of New York's Regents exams, the tests in core academic disciplines that determine which of the state's high school students receive prestigious Regents diplomas. For years, the State Board of Education has only offered the exams in English. No longer. Beginning this fall, students will be able to show their mastery of biology, history, and other fields in several languages, including Spanish, Chinese, and Creole. (All students will still have to pass a standard test of English in order to receive the diploma.)

The board believes that English-only subject exams place large numbers of immigrant students at a disadvantage. But of course, if they don't speak, read, and write English well enough to take their exams in English, they won't be able to hold jobs or take college courses that require English fluency either. By ignoring the real problem that New York's public schools fail to teach foreign-born students English well enough to take their tests in it-the board simply compounds the students' likelihood of failure.

Hispanic students, the largest non-English-speaking group in the state school system, suffer most from such accommodation, the capstone on the mistaken approach that characterizes so much of their education in the public schools. A 1994 study by the New York City Board of Education found that Hispanic children often languished in bilingual education programs six years or more, receiving instruction primarily in their native language, instead of being taught the proficiency in English they need for success. It's little wonder that such children can't pass exams in English.

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