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Parents, teachers, students call on lawmakers to slow adoption of more rules at Bohemia meeting

Teachers, parents and school administrators rally against what

Teachers, parents and school administrators rally against what they view as "over-testing" and many of the education proposals advanced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo during a meeting at Sycamore Avenue Elementary School in Bohemia on Wednesday, March 18, 2015. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

Hundreds of parents, teachers and students flooded a Bohemia elementary school Wednesday night, voicing their opposition to education reforms under consideration in Albany -- and for those already in place.

They said students are being manipulated for political gain and both they and their teachers are held to unfair standards.

The meeting comes weeks after nearly 70 Long Island educators -- including dozens of superintendents -- pleaded in a letter with legislators to untangle education reform from the budget.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is trying to push through a number of changes tied to state funding. He said Long Island's teacher-evaluation systems favor educators and that he wants outsiders to complete the ratings moving forward.

He also wants to increase to 50 percent the portion of a teacher's evaluation tied to student performance.

Parents who packed into Sycamore Avenue Elementary School, some carrying signs critical of Cuomo and his plan, said students are being over-tested and that it's time to reconsider.

"Parents have the right to refuse to allow their children to be abused by the three-through-eighth-grade, high-stakes tests," said Beth Dimino, a middle school science teacher in the Comsewogue school district.

Dimino, who is president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association and was a keynote speaker at last night's event, recently told her superintendent that she refuses to administer the exams.

"I can no longer do this," she said.

Four previous anti-testing events have been held on Long Island, and at least three more are planned, in East Quogue on Monday, in Port Washington on Tuesday and in West Islip on March 30.

Several speakers at Wednesday's event pointed to poverty as a root cause of poor student performance, saying leaders who fail to acknowledge that factor are viewing the academic realities with blinders on.

"A child who goes to sleep at night hungry and cold, has no bed to sleep in . . . will not be able to learn in school," said Anthony Felicio Jr., head of the Connetquot teachers union.

Joe Rella, superintendent of Comsewogue schools, said Common Core-related tests are designed so that a majority of children fail, leaving them needlessly discouraged. Rella urged parents to know their rights regarding testing and said some political leaders are sacrificing students' education for their political gain. "We get the government we deserve," he said, urging parents to show their dissatisfaction on Election Day.

Attendees provided a standing ovation after his remarks.

Melissa Dell'Isola, 37, said her daughter, Angelica, 9, will sit out the Common Core exams next month. While the child has excellent grades, her mother said, the exam is flawed and the results are dubious.

"The tests are not used in the right way," she said.

As for Angelica, who hopes to become a fashion designer, she said she will use the time to read a book, "maybe something by Judy Blume."

Jennifer Ronayne, a fifth-grade teacher at the Connetquot schools with 13 years of experience, said Cuomo has little understanding of how classrooms work -- and of how harmful his policies have been for teachers and students, particularly those children who have special needs or who are English language learners.

"It's inhumane and unfair to hold them to that standard," she said, adding that she expects the opt-out movement to grow this year. "Parents are starting to pick up on the fact that their kids are stressed."

Jeanette Deutermann, a parent activist who helped spearhead the opt-out movement, said the tests are not about children but about money, politics, union busting, egos and corporate greed. "We are literally in a crisis," she said. "This is as bad as it sounds."Daniel Carpenter, 10, in the fifth grade at Burr Intermediate School in the Commack district, told the crowd that teachers and students are being treated unfairly under the new testing and evaluation standards.

"I refuse the test because I am fighting for a better education for my younger brother, sister and my fellow students," he said.

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