A growing number of school board candidates up for election across Long Island Tuesday have voiced support for the anti-testing movement and at least 75 candidates have won endorsement from the group that helped organize last month's sweeping state test refusals.
Organizers of the Long Island Opt-Out group said last week that the number of candidates they are endorsing jumped from 42 candidates in 26 districts last year to 75 candidates in 41 districts, and that support stretches from Westhampton Beach to Valley Stream.
"This year we had a lot of people actively seeking the endorsement," said Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, a parent organizer of the opt-out movement on Long Island. "Last year, even our supporters said they were nervous about whether this would hurt or help them, but this year they felt confident it would only help their campaign."
The one-day school vote comes just weeks after tens of thousands of elementary and middle school students refused to take the state math and English Language Arts tests, part of the so-called "opt-out movement" that has gained traction statewide.
Last year, 21 school board candidates backed by the Long Island group that supports students' rights to refuse state testing won seats in school elections, including six challengers who ousted incumbents. This year, a mix of challengers and incumbents have been endorsed by the group.
In addition, 65 candidates expressed concern with the more rigorous Common Core curriculum and the tests associated with it, according to responses to a Newsday survey of hundreds of candidates who are up for election Tuesday.
Common Core a factor
For candidate Virginia "Ginny" Churchin, the Common Core issue was definitely a factor in her decision to seek office in the Eastport South-Manor district. This is her first run for the board and she is facing two other candidates for two at-large seats. In her district, more than 65 percent of eligible students opted out of April's English exam and more than 57 percent refused the math.
"The community here is against testing but the board doesn't seem to be reflecting that yet," she said.
Last month, more than 66,000 students in Long Island elementary and middle schools refused to take the state math test this week -- 46.5 percent of those eligible for the exam, a Newsday survey found. And, on the state English test, more than 71,700 students on the Island -- 42.6 percent of those eligible -- refused the exam, according to figures from 110 districts that responded to Newsday's survey then.
Parents have slammed the state's policies, saying their children are being over-tested and are spending inordinate hours of classroom time on test preparation -- all for exams they say do not truly measure students' knowledge. Pushback against the tests on Long Island started two years ago, soon after exams aligned with the national Common Core academic standards were launched.
Controversy over the state tests in English Language Arts and math has pitted parents and teachers unions against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration, particularly as students' scores on the tests were made a significant part of measuring teacher job performance.
LIU Post Professor Arnold Dodge said he believes that candidates who voice opposition to Common Core and the testing associated with it probably will succeed at the polls.
'Tide is turning'
"The tide is turning," he said. "I think boards of education everywhere are going to get the message that if they are not on the side of the opt-outs, they will not be in office anymore."
Incumbent Mark Masin is running unopposed for his fifth term in the Rockville Centre district, and he also was endorsed by the opt-out group.
"I do feel that the tests that are currently formatted are not indicative of what our students know or what is being taught and they are not grade-appropriate," he said. "And I am not necessarily against standardized tests, but there has to be some accountability."
Education officials, however, have said the tests remain valid as a measurement of where students stand.
While Common Core-related issues have surfaced in several races across the Island, a number of candidates have also expressed other educational concerns, such as the explosive enrollment growth in the Westbury district.
Incumbent Pless Dickerson is seeking another term on the Westbury Board of Education where he has served since 2006 and cited challenges such as larger class sizes and overcrowding as issues facing the district.
"Presently, the student population is 5,200 and growing," he said in a response to the Newsday survey. "Our responsibility is to educate all students who reside within our school district boundaries."
With John Hildebrand