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Comsewogue school board to discuss refusal to give state tests

Pam Verity, of Commack, NY, with Uniting Commack

Pam Verity, of Commack, NY, with Uniting Commack for the Love of Learning, holds up a sign during the 1st annual NYS Rally in "The Great American Opt Out" at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station on March 29, 2014. Credit: Ed Betz

The Comsewogue school board is expected Thursday night to discuss a proposal that the district refuse to administer state English, math and science tests as a protest against funding and reform moves in Albany.

The move comes as parents, teachers and students across Long Island continue to hold forums decrying the exams, saying students are being over-tested and the assessments yield dubious results.

Trustees in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda district, north of Buffalo, adopted a similar measure Tuesday in a unanimous vote.

The resolution up for discussion in Comsewogue says the board "will seriously consider not administering the New York State standardized ELA and math exams in grades 3-8, and the science exam in grades 4 and 8," citing disagreement with state funding and the linkage of teacher evaluations to student test scores.

State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said Wednesday that any school board member or superintendent who "takes official action by refusing to administer a required state assessment" would risk removal from office by the state education commissioner.

The tests are mandated by the federal government, he said, and there is no provision for schools to refuse to give them.

A spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association agreed, saying such a move is inconsistent with the law. The association, when asked, reminds members of their legal obligations and alerts them to the consequences of violating those rules.

"We urge our members to always follow the law," spokesman Eric Randall said. "A school board considering such a vote should consult with legal counsel."

Comsewogue trustee Alexandra Gordon said earlier this week that the board would not move ahead until it gauges public opinion and consults with its lawyers. She said the resolution was born out of frustration with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed reforms.

Cuomo recently proposed raising the percentage of a teacher's rating tied to student test achievement to 50 percent, among other changes.

Gordon would not say how she might vote but said, "I can tell you this: This is the third time my own children have not taken the tests, and I don't foresee that changing until there are changes at the state level."

Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever, in a statement, said, "The governor is committed to enacting an aggressive reform agenda to fix New York's broken education system that spends more per pupil than any other state in the nation while condemning over 250,000 students to failing schools over the last decade."

Many proponents of the tests also have embraced what they see as tough but worthwhile educational standards.

Comsewogue Superintendent Joseph Rella, an outspoken critic of the exams, would not comment before Thursday night's meeting.

Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Superintendent Dawn Mirand said she does not support her board's move. The district's legal counsel, the Education Department and "experienced advisers" at the state school boards association all said the resolution, if passed, "will most likely result in sanctions against the board and the district that will negatively impact our students and our school community," she said in a statement.

Bob Dana, president of that district's board, said no one wants to put the school in jeopardy, but trustees believe they can't abide by many of the state's policies.

"Our hope is that more school districts get on board and say enough is enough, that we are putting our foot down and force the governor and legislators to back off and do what's right," he said.

His board objects to the teacher evaluation system and to the distribution of state aid. The panel must decide on the matter before April 14, when the first of this spring's state tests -- English Language Arts -- is scheduled to be given.

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