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Teachers, students rally to support bill to reduce testing

Congressman Steve Israel, speaks to parents during a

Congressman Steve Israel, speaks to parents during a rally in front of Commack Middle School as he stressed the need to reduce the amount of testing on Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. Credit: James Carbone

Dozens of teachers and parents joined Rep. Steve Israel in Commack Sunday for a rally to support a bill aimed at reducing standardized testing in schools.

Israel (D-Huntington) introduced the Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing Act Sept. 18 -- written by 19 Long Island superintendents and a handful of teachers -- which would permit states to opt-in to an alternative testing schedule from third to eighth grades.

If passed, the bill would allow schools to cut testing by half, Israel said, from two tests each year -- one in math and one in English language arts -- to one each year, alternating between the two. Public schools that rank at the 15th percentile or above statewide could go to a four-year testing cycle, with English language arts tests given at the end of grades 3 and 7 and math exams at the end of grades 4 and 8. Changes to science testing for fourth- and eighth-graders -- as well as high school Regents exams -- would not occur under this bill.

"Everywhere I go throughout this congressional district, no matter where I am, I hear the same thing: 'Congressman, we are testing our kids too much. We are overtesting our kids,' " Israel said to the crowd of about 40 people gathered outside the entrance to Commack Middle School. "We are robbing them of their opportunity, we are robbing them of their creativity. We are engineering them, we are not teaching them. We are subjecting them to this corporate template of tests, and we're really robbing them of who they are and their spirituality."

Israel said he supports having every child under the same learning and proficiency standards, but added that Common Core implementation and engineering "badly needs reform."

While the bill would not affect Common Core curriculum, anti-Common Core groups simultaneously protested at the entrance to the school's parking lot and across Vanderbilt Motor Parkway.

Julie Staskowski, 40, a parent with children in the Commack school district, stood with members of the group Uniting Commack For the Love of Learning.

"It's a good first, very small step," Staskowski said of the bill to reduce testing. "But the tests need to be appropriate, there needs to be transparency. As parents, and schools, we need to be able to see the tests to know what our children got wrong, know how we can help them do better. And it needs to not be linked to how teachers teach. The way a child takes a test has no reflection on how a teacher teaches."

Israel said he doesn't think there's enough support at the federal or state levels of government to repeal Common Core. He said he hopes to drum up support for his bill when congress reconvenes after Election Day. His bill -- which would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 -- has not been introduced in the Senate.

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