Providence backs off plan to drop foreign language classes from diploma policy

Superintendent Chris Maher.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence school officials are reversing course on a plan to remove a foreign language requirement from the city’s high school graduation policy.

The school department confirmed Friday the district has decided against changing policy that requires students to take two years of a foreign language and earn 21 high school credits to earn a diploma, citing feedback from the Providence School Board and the public.

“We have heard loud and clear the public’s concern that any change to our current world language requirement may inadvertently signal a reduced commitment to multilingual studies,” the district said in a prepared statement. “That is not the message we wish to send to our community or to our students.”

Earlier in the week, Supt. Chris Maher said the city was planning to drop its foreign language requirement in favor of more elective courses. He said the goal was to give individual high schools more flexibility. The Providence School Board Policy Committee discussed the proposed changes at a meeting Wednesday evening.

On Thursday, the district said it would require parents to affirm they understand the city’s minimum standards for a high-school diploma may not fulfill all college admission requirements. The University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, for example, each require students to take two years of a foreign language in high school.

The R.I. Council on Elementary and Secondary Education sets the minimum requirements for public high school students to earn a diploma, which include demonstrating proficiency in English language arts, math, science, social studies, the arts and technology as well as successful completion of 20 courses and two performance assessments.

But the state allows individual districts to set other expectations, such as additional coursework, mandatory participation in standardized exams or a community service requirement.

A review of Providence’s proposed graduation policy shows the district is moving from a required 21 course credits to 20 credits, which includes dropping the existing requirement for students to complete two foreign language courses. The district plans to add a third elective class to the mandatory course load for students.

Providence’s other requirements – four years of ELA and math, three years of history and science, two years of physical education and half a year each in arts and technology – will remain in place, according to the policy.

Warwick, Cranston, Pawtucket and East Providence, the state’s next four largest communities, all require students to earn more than 20 credits, but none have a foreign language requirement. North Providence and Cumberland do require students to take foreign language classes.

Continue the discussion on Facebook

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan