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Anti-Common Core forum in Massapequa draws about 200 people


On Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, a public forum was held in Massapequa to educate the public on the opt-out movement. Organizers claimed that the problems they have with the increased amount of testing in public schools have not improved, and they hope more parents will continue to have their children opt out. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

About 200 teachers, school administrators and parents nearly filled the American Legion hall in Massapequa on Monday night to hear opponents of the state’s Common Core testing system outline their continued grassroots rebellion and ask for more to join in.

“We can measure someone’s ability to attend med school or law school in less time than it takes for a third-grader to sit for a math exam,” said Peter Osroff, principal of Garden City Middle School and co-president of the Nassau County Middle Level Principals’ Association. “It’s insane.”

Osroff, in an interview a few hours before the gathering, emphasized that he was speaking only for himself and not on behalf of his school district or any professional association.

The event, described on Facebook as a public forum, was intended to draw residents from the districts of Bethpage, Farmingdale, Massapequa, Plainedge and Plainview-Old Bethpage, among others.

Other discussion leaders Monday night included Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and founder of the Long Island opt-out movement; Joseph Rella, superintendent of Comsewogue schools; and Tomia Smith, president of Massapequa’s teacher union and a board member of New York State United Teachers, a union umbrella group that is the state’s largest.

Audience member Kathleen Kelly, a Massapequa resident and teacher of elementary enrichment programs in Syosset, worked on a second-grade lesson while waiting for the speakers. She said she was there to show support for forum organizers.

“I think Jeanette Deutermann and the rest of the group have been stalwart in educating people,” Kelly said. “People can walk away and still have their kids tested, but at least they’ve been informed.”

Betty Rosa of the Bronx, a member of the state Board of Regents, had been billed as one of the speakers. Rosa did not appear.

A former New York City administrator of special education programs who has been on the state panel since 2008, Rosa is running to become the board’s next chancellor, replacing Merryl Tisch of Manhattan. Tisch has announced she will step down at the end of March.

Several other Regents have been mentioned as potential candidates for the leadership post, including Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who has represented Nassau and Suffolk counties on the board since 2005.

Osroff, in the interview before the meeting, said he wanted to underscore his view that changes in state testing recently announced by Education Department officials are not all that significant.

For example, Osroff said, his school and others are being asked to schedule up to 90 minutes a day over two separate three-day periods in April for upcoming tests in English language arts and math in grades through eight. That’s the same time lengths as last year, he noted, even though state officials have announced that the tests will contain fewer reading passages and questions.

“It’s a long time for a child to sit there and take a test,” Osroff added.

The English tests are slated for April 5-7; math assessments are to be held April 13-15.

Monday night’s forum was one of an ongoing series of events titled “Public Education at the Crossroads,” which have sought to illustrate what many educators and parents view as serious weaknesses in the state’s tests, and links between those exams and job evaluations of teachers and principals.

A particular target for critics is a state law pushed through the legislature last April by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, which requires as much as 50 percent of teachers’ ratings to be based on formulaic results of student testing. Opponents said the system puts too much stress on students and teachers alike.

During last spring’s testing in grades three through eight, more than 200,000 students statewide opted out of the exams, including more than 60,000 students on the Island. It was by far the biggest such test boycott in the nation’s history.

Cuomo and other state leaders said afterward that they have acted decisively to allay parents’ concerns.

In December, the 17-member Regents board, with only Tisch dissenting, approved a four-year moratorium on using state test scores in a way that might jeopardize teachers’ careers. The action followed a recommendation from a Cuomo-appointed advisory panel.

At a Thursday meeting in Carle Place, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who served on the advisory panel, told a superintendents’ group that the Regents had pushed the envelope in clamping a four-year postponement on requirements of state law.

“Rest assured that we have stretched everything as far as we can,” Elia said then.

“And much further than we thought we could,” said Tilles, who also attended that meeting.

Osroff, Deutermann and other critics have said the Regents’ action doesn’t go far enough. The evaluation law remains a major concern, they say, because teachers and principals will continue to receive annual state job-rating scores on an advisory basis despite the moratorium.

At Monday night’s event, Smith, president of the Massapequa teachers union, pointed to the tests as sorely lacking.

“Even though a moratorium is in place, our children are still being asked to sit down for tests in great need of improvement,” she said.

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