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Anti-Common Core activists keep up push to get parents to 'opt out'

Teachers and parents gather to discuss state testing,

Teachers and parents gather to discuss state testing, use of test scores in teacher evaluations and the possibilities of students opting out, at a community education forum at the Port Jefferson Village Center in Port Jefferson on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Credit: Heather Walsh

Anti-test activists are urging parents to pull their children out of New York State's standardized Common Core tests next month.

A standing-room-only crowd of 150 in the Port Jefferson Village Center on Saturday listened as a parent, a teacher, a principal and a school board trustee argued that the state's latest standardized tests unfairly punish teachers, undermine local control of school districts and suck creativity from education.

"Standardized tests capture only a very small part of what we care about," said Andy Greene, principal of Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills. ". . . Schools have become less engaging and less creative, and in many areas the teaching profession has become scripted."

Long Island has emerged as an epicenter of the "opt-out" movement that has gained momentum in the state since 2013, when state officials implemented new Common Core-based tests that can be used to label teachers "ineffective" and schools as "failing."

Saturday's gathering, one of several anti-test forums planned in the coming weeks across Long Island, was organized by a pair of North Shore parents who also are Suffolk County teachers: Tracy Zamek, who teaches in Hauppauge schools, and Brian St. Pierre, in Port Jefferson Station.

Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother and co-founder of the anti-testing group New York State Allies for Public Education, said the testing program was "a tool used to collect data, punish teachers and label schools" and was useless when it came to identifying a student's strengths and weaknesses.

"It does make you feel like a conspiracy theorist to come up here and rattle off all these horrendous things that are about to happen and are happening," Deutermann said. "Unfortunately, none of these things are being embellished. It's really as bad as it sounds."

Other panelists included Jia Lee, a teacher at the Earth School in Manhattan, who has refused to administer standardized tests to her students, and Comsewogue school board member Alexandra Gordon.

In a question-and-answer portion, Jennifer Townsend, a Westhampton parent, said she believed the tests have some usefulness and asked if the ultimate goal of the opt-out movement was to eliminate them altogether. "I think government needs to take a temperature in an effective way," she said.

Deutermann said the problem was that the tests were tied to assessments that could cause teachers to be punished or fired.

She also pushed back against an argument, forwarded by some test supporters, that the assessments could help reform troubled schools across the state.Deutermann said Long Islanders can already "name on one hand very quickly" the schools in the region that are struggling, and state money should be spent improving them rather than testing students.

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