The Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Martin C. Barell, said yesterday that he supported a recommendation that New York State’s exams for a Regents high school diploma be offered in foreign languages.

Mr. Barell said he viewed the recommendation as a way of rewarding ”highly motivated, intelligent students.” He noted that in order to receive a Regents diploma, students had to pass a comprehensive English Regents exam given in the 11th grade.

The recommendation comes from a panel that had been asked by Schools Chancellor Nathan Quinones to establish minimum standards for bilingual students. Under the panel’s proposal, which must still be formally presented to the Chancellor, Regents exams in subjects like math and science would be given in a multitude of foreign languages so that foreign students who arrive in school after the eighth grade and are doing well academically are not penalized.

The panel’s proposal would most likely have to be endorsed by the full seven-member Board of Education before it would be considered by the Board of Regents.

Opposed by Wagner

The proposal has met with the opposition of the new Board of Education president, Robert F. Wagner Jr., but is supported by Mr. Quinones, who has taken a special interest in the well-being of bilingual students. Mr. Quinones was born in the United States to Spanish-speaking parents.

”You are not giving a crutch but moving a student along who has abilities and who is motivated,” Mr. Barell said of the proposal. ”If you are Chinese or Korean and you come here at 14 and you are thrust into high school and you can pass an exam based on our curriculum in a foreign language, you’re pretty good”

Mr. Barell said he liked the idea as long as it was not used as a way for students ”to perpetuate” the use of their foreign language.

But he said he found this unlikely since most students with Regents diplomas go on to college ”where it is expected you will hone your English.”

However, another member of the Board of Regents, J. Edgar Muir, said he could not support the proposal.

Importance of English

”I feel strongly that the diploma exams should only be in the English language or a young person is not equipped for the job market,” Mr. Muir said. ”As an employer in the city I’m just horrified at the number of graduates unable to speak or write the English language.”

Mr. Muir said he had voted against the proposal, later put into force, that allowed the Regents competency tests – designed to set a statewide minimum standard – to be given in 27 foreign languages.

Members of the chancellor’s panel cited those tests as part of their rationale for recommending that the Regents diploma exam be given in foreign languages.

The president of the United Federation of Teachers, Sandra Feldman, joined Mr. Muir in his opposition.

”While the intention of the recommendation may be well meaning, the reality of the situtation is that the principal langugae of the nation is English,” Ms. Feldman said, in echoing the sentiments of Mr. Wagner. ”No matter how proficient students might be in a specific subject, they won’t succeed unless they can communicate it in English.”

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