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Tougher graduation requirements produced a reduction in the number of Regents diplomas handed out last year throughout the state.

Last year, 35 percent of the students statewide graduated with a Regents diploma, compared with 49 percent in 1988 and 48 percent in 1987.

State officials attribute the decline to the tougher standards imposed by the state for a Regents diploma, the curriculum designed to prepare college-bound students.

The class of 1989 was the first required to meet all of the new standards, including a three-unit sequence (instead of one) in math, science, occupational education and art or music. Three units of foreign language also are required of Regents graduates.

"The fact that in 1989 a smaller percentage of students earned Regents diplomas does not mean that the academic preparation of this class was inferior to that of previous classes," said a report released Thursday by the state Education Department.

"On the contrary, all diploma recipients in this class met more rigorous requirements than were required of previous classes.

"The Regents diploma reflected the most rigorous preparation ever required for that credential."

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