South Side Middle School principal Shelagh McGinn at a 6th...

South Side Middle School principal Shelagh McGinn at a 6th grade class where she spoke with the students about the upcoming state test in Rockville Centre. (April 16, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Nearly one-third of students at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre -- 244 in all -- opted out of controversial new state exams Tuesday, amid a statewide protest by parents and teachers against what they describe as abuses of standardized testing.

Test boycotts elsewhere on Long Island were on a smaller scale, as hundreds of thousands of students in grades 3-8 sat down for the first day of annual testing in English and math. Testing requires a total of seven to nine hours, depending on grade level, spread over six days.

In Oceanside, 15 students declined to be tested. Twenty-two opted out in Mount Sinai, 24 in William Floyd and about 45 in Middle Country.

A New York City advocacy group, Time Out from Testing, estimated that several hundred families there boycotted assessments Tuesday. City school officials said official numbers would not be ready until June.

This year's tests, for the first time, reflect new national Common Core curriculum standards, generally considered more rigorous than those used in the past. For this reason, state authorities have warned that passing rates statewide could fall 30 percentage points or more when tests are scored in the summer.

In Rockville Centre, a total of 309 students in six schools declined to be tested -- by far the largest such action of its type in the Island's recent history. Eighth-graders, who rank among those facing the largest number of state tests each year, constituted nearly half the total.

"Albany should understand that we're sending a message here," said Giulia Hamacher, a village resident and market analyst whose son, Adam, 14, was one of the eighth-graders opting out.

Hamacher, 49, said her objections to the state's assessment program revolved largely around the time required for test-prep exercises. Tuesday, her son spent his testing period reading the novel "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson, the mother said.

"We need outside-the-box thinkers in this country," Hamacher added. "And filling in bubbles is not what we need."

At the state Education Department in Albany, officials repeated recent declarations that students opting out would be counted as "not tested." Any schools where test-participation rates fall below 95 percent could be flagged by the state and penalized financially, those officials have said.

"We all want the same thing for our children," said Jonathan Burman, a department spokesman. "We want them to graduate high school ready for the challenges they'll face in college and their careers. So it's hard to understand why parents would forgo the chance to know how their children are progressing."

Critics of the state's revved-up testing contend, on the other hand, that the effort is being pushed too fast and that a growing number of teachers and parents have lost all patience.

"I think it's a very sad day when the only way people can speak out is to boycott something that should be a positive experience," said William Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre schools and considered one of the region's foremost educators.

"This is not an easy decision for parents to make -- I'm proud of them," said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent whose fourth-grader opted out Tuesday. Deutermann estimated that a total of 40 students went untested; local school officials declined to give a figure.

At Massapequa's Unqua Elementary School, testing was disrupted when the building was evacuated because of a threatening message. Students were relocated temporarily to another building, and the district said any assessment not completed Tuesday would resume Friday. With Michael R. Ebert

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