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LI pols get earful on high-stakes testing

Seventh-grader Barri Levitt stood in the cafeteria, brandishing a signature-filled petition on loose-leaf paper.

Scrawled up top, in schoolgirl's penmanship: "PETITION AGAINST THE ELA," the mandatory statewide English Language Arts exam for children in grades 3-8.

The 12-year-old from Woodbury was among hundreds who attended a "legislative breakfast" Saturday at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, where politicians listened to parents, teachers and students argue that high-stakes testing isn't good for students.

"And it wastes tons of trees" that could be better used for, say, instructional materials, Barri noted.

The politicians, including Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington), state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), Nassau Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) and Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, a Republican, gave pep talks and fielded questions. But much of the two-hour session was filled with frustrated people venting.

Other matters, such as the state's property-tax cap, were on the informal agenda, but high-stakes testing dominated the morning.

Kindergarten teacher Amy Isaacson-Klein of Plainview lamented that children overburdened with schoolwork are starved of playtime.

Another kindergarten teacher, Nina Melzer of Babylon, worried that society is testing kids "to death."

"The stress that most of us felt when we took our SATs is now being felt by third- and fourth-graders," said a parent, Elaine Strauss of Plainview, drawing applause.

Strauss, who has a son in second grade and a sixth-grade daughter, added: "I understand the importance of academic rigor and school accountability, but at what cost? I'm concerned that we are creating a generation of test-takers, instead of a generation of freethinkers and lifelong learners."

Seventh-grader Jacob Shulroff, 12, of Plainview, said he was an "A" student and on the honor roll in fifth grade. But because of a subpar performance on the ELA, he was stuck doing remedial-level work.

"This test is not the sum of who I am," he said. "I am much better than that."

The audience hooted and clapped. Lavine suggested the boy had a bright future ahead of him.

"Jake, how old do you have to be to run for office here in New York State?" the lawmaker quipped.

"Watch out there, Chuck," Jacobs, the Nassau legislator, said with a smirk.

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