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Long Island

Emotions high as hearings begin on NY grade-school testing

People rally against the new state standardized tests

People rally against the new state standardized tests at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station. (Aug.17, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Emotions ran high Tuesday at a Long Island public hearing on state tests and related school issues as a procession of parents, teachers and others assailed what they described as Albany's overemphasis on student assessments.

Republican state senators who presided over the five-hour session in Brentwood took turns criticizing the latest school policies -- largely initiatives of elected Democrats in Albany and Washington, D.C.

The hearing, sponsored by the Senate's Education Committee, marked the first legislative inquiry into the state's revved-up use of test scores in assessing both student academic achievement and teacher job performance.

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) underlined the complaints of many parents and local educators that the state Education Department moved too fast last spring in administering more rigorous tests based on national Common Core standards, before students were adequately prepared. "I see other states such as Michigan, Indiana -- now California -- saying, 'Whoa! Slow down here!' " Boyle said. "I would like to see New York join that club."

Albany's chief testing official, Ken Wagner, spent nearly an hour defending state policy. Wagner contended that the drive toward more rigorous testing, coupled with enhanced instruction, is an urgent matter because it is intended to boost students' chances of future success in college and the workplace.

"If we decided to wait on testing, we would have to wait on instruction," said Wagner, a deputy state education commissioner who formerly served as a regional BOCES administrator on the Island. "There always has to be a day one."

Exchanges grew more heated in the auditorium at Suffolk County Community College as the hearing wore on.

Jeanette Deutermann of North Bellmore, who helped organize a parent test boycott in the spring, broke down and cried as she described her young son's stressed reaction to state tests. When the third-grader complained of stomachaches in the weeks leading up to state tests, she took him to the doctor and was told the pains could be stress-related, she said.

"They can take up to nine local exams in the first week of school," Deutermann said.

The Senate committee chairman, John Flanagan (R-East Northport), frequently urged the audience to refrain from heckling or cheering speakers.

Wagner drew murmurs of disapproval from many of the 150 attending parents, teachers and others when he said the state had reduced testing during the 2012-13 school year compared with the year before. The deputy commissioner's point was that spring schedules for state testing of students in grades 3-8 had been shortened.

Subsequent speakers noted, however, that most students in the fall of 2012 were hit with brand-new batteries of "pretests," locally written and designed to comply with state requirements for tougher teacher evaluations based on test scores. A Hauppauge elementary principal, Claudine DiMuzio, testified that fifth-graders currently faced 19 separate state and local tests annually.

State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) told Wagner he had been "a little disingenuous" -- an assertion the state's representative vigorously denied.

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