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State backs alternative foreign-language exams

“We hope and expect that this will encourage school districts to invest in high-quality world languages programs,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Francesco L. Fratto, Director of World Languages, Language

Francesco L. Fratto, Director of World Languages, Language Immersion & English as a New Language. Credit: / Andres Baracaldo

Education officials in Albany announced approval Wednesday of foreign-language exams offered statewide by an upstate BOCES — a move that underlines divisions in testing programs on Long Island and elsewhere.

The split dates back to 2011, when the state Education Department ceased sponsorship of its own Regents exams in foreign languages. The cost-cutting came at a time when the economy was recovering from recession.

In response, a statewide group, the Foreign Language Association of Chairpersons and Supervisors, began offering its own assessments in Spanish, Italian, French, Chinese and German. Many of the group’s organizers worked in school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In 2017, organizers said, they provided eighth-grade and 10th-grade exams to 255 districts statewide, including 53 in Suffolk and 52 in Nassau.

The group, which plans to continue testing, acknowledged it cannot cover all 700-plus districts across the state on its modest budget, paid through $60 fees from most participating districts.

“We’re doing this on a shoestring,” said the group’s president, Francesco Fratto, who directs world language programs and related subjects in the Herricks district.

Fratto expressed pride in the quality of his group’s exams, saying the organization “stepped up when the state first dropped assessments.”

On Wednesday, the Education Department took a step of its own. It announced state approval of assessments in Spanish, French, Italian and Chinese offered by the upstate Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES. The state also approved a Spanish exam provided by New York City.

State endorsement means that students can substitute an approved foreign-language test for one of five Regents exams usually required for diplomas.

The upstate BOCES confirmed Wednesday that it will provide foreign-language tests in June, adding that fees are not yet set.

“We hope and expect that this will encourage school districts to invest in high-quality world languages programs,” said state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Statewide, many foreign-language educators hope that Albany lawmakers eventually will restore funding for unified, state-sponsored tests in their field. Only then will teachers be able to accurately compare the performance of their students to counterparts elsewhere, these educators said.

“It sets a benchmark that can be applied statewide,” said John Carlino, executive director of the Buffalo-based New York State Association of Foreign Language Teachers.

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