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Many candidates endorsed by LI Opt-Out group win seats

Jeanette Deutermann, the parent organizer of the opt-out

Jeanette Deutermann, the parent organizer of the opt-out movement on Long Island, with sons Tyler, 11, left, and Jack, 8, right, at their Bellmore home, April 14, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Election results showed that 53 candidates endorsed by the group that helped organize last month's sweeping test refusals won board of education seats Tuesday as voters voiced support for candidates critical of the Common Core curriculum and the tests associated with it.

"We care about the curriculum and Common Core and having a candidate who advocates for the students -- not just testing them," said Rachel Melniker, a parent of a preschooler and a first-grader in the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district.

Melniker voted at the Jamaica Avenue School in Plainview for candidate Jodi Campagna, who has been endorsed by the Long Island Opt-Out group that supports students' rights to refuse state testing. Campagna was the top vote-getter Tuesday night.

The group's organizers said last week that the number of candidates they endorsed jumped from 42 in 26 districts last year to at least 78 candidates in 43 districts, and that support stretches from Westhampton Beach to Valley Stream.

After the polls closed, a total of 53 candidates had been elected with 43 districts reporting, including at least 10 districts where challengers ousted incumbents. Of the opt-out-endorsed candidates, a total of 21 lost.

Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, a parent organizer of the Long Island Opt-Out group, has said that candidates actively sought the group's endorsement this year.

"Voters aren't just voting with a name they recognize -- they know what these candidates stand for and they care," she said.

The one-day school vote comes just weeks after tens of thousands of elementary and middle school students refused to take the state math and English Language Arts tests, part of the so-called opt-out movement that has gained traction statewide.

Last year, 21 school board candidates backed by the group won seats in school elections. This year, a mix of challengers and incumbents have been endorsed by the group.

In Elwood, parent Lisa Polese, 46, said she supported candidate Heather Mammolito, who has been endorsed by the opt-out group and was elected Tuesday. In Elwood, more than 33 percent of all students refused to take the state English Language Arts exam, including Polese's daughter.

"I have no problem raising the bar, but not at the expense of our children," Polese said.

Karen Giambruno, 51, also said she supported Mammolito, but not for her stand on test refusals.

"I have worked side-by-side with her in the PTA," Giambruno said. "That is how I know what she has accomplished."

In the district, incumbent Dan Ciccone is being challenged by James Tomeo, who was elected. Incumbent Joseph Fusaro is being challenged by Mammolito. All four candidates were endorsed by Long Island Opt-Out.

Last month, more than 66,000 students in Long Island elementary and middle schools refused to take the state math test -- 46.5 percent of those eligible for the exam, a Newsday survey found. And, on the state English test, more than 71,700 students on the Island -- 42.6 percent of those eligible -- refused the exam, according to figures from 110 districts that responded to Newsday's survey then.

Parents have slammed the state's policies, saying their children are being over-tested -- all for exams they say do not truly measure students' knowledge. Pushback against the tests on Long Island started two years ago, soon after exams aligned with the national Common Core academic standards were launched.

Controversy over the state tests in English Language Arts and math has pitted parents and teachers unions against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and his administration, particularly as students' scores on the tests were made a significant part of measuring teacher job performance.

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