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Superintendents to Cuomo: Call halt on Common Core tests

Roberta Gerold, Superintendent of Middle Country Schools, speaks

Roberta Gerold, Superintendent of Middle Country Schools, speaks during a meeting of the Long Island Regional Planning Council on Feb. 11, 2014 at the Hofstra University Club. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Suffolk County school superintendents stepped up efforts to halt the state's next round of Common Core standardized tests, now less than a month away, with a direct appeal Monday to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The local school leaders acknowledged that probably only a U.S. Department of Education waiver could stop the tests for children in grades 3-8, scheduled to be given in April and early May in English Language Arts and math.

The urgency of the situation calls for Cuomo's involvement, they said, even though most testing policy is set by the state Board of Regents and the education commissioner, who reports to the board.

"Time is quickly running out: April -- and testing -- will soon be here," said the moratorium request to the governor from the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. "There is still time to do what is right for our students."

The governor's office issued no immediate response. Cuomo has criticized the state Education Department's implementation of the Common Core academic standards as flawed.

State education officials, however, said any moratorium on ELA and math testing for grades 3-8 would violate federal law and risk loss of millions of dollars in financial assistance from the federal government to the state.

The letter was signed by Roberta Gerold, the association's president and superintendent of Middle Country schools, and Michael Mensch, chief operating officer of Western Suffolk BOCES. It represented the association's most direct demand yet for a temporary halt in the state's toughened assessments, which resulted in plunging student scores last spring.

The superintendents group has dispatched four other letters to Albany since November -- three to Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and one to Cuomo -- seeking test modifications and revisions in passing cutoff scores.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the Regents and the commissioner, said those officials already had responded to requests by educators and parents for more time to put higher academic standards into place. Last month, the Regents approved a plan that will delay until 2022 a requirement for higher passing scores on Regents English and math exams needed for graduation.

Burman added, however, that "failing to implement the grades 3-8 state ELA and math assessments -- which appears to be the SCSSA recommendation -- would violate both federal law and our obligations under Race to the Top, jeopardizing millions of dollars in funding."

The state's commitment to more rigorous testing was a major factor in winning nearly $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds.

Leaders of the Suffolk superintendents' group said their call for a moratorium has the backing of schools chiefs in at least 60 of the county's 69 school districts.

Some local officials were skeptical that the U.S. Education Department ever would issue such a sweeping waiver on testing, which has been required since 2001 by the No Child Left Behind law.

"I'm extremely cautious as to whether we'll get that approved or not," East Moriches schools Superintendent Charles Russo said.

Russo serves on a governor's advisory panel that is expected to issue recommendations in coming months on the rollout of the Common Core standards.

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