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Thousands expected to refuse state math tests that start Wednesday

Many desks were empty in this classroom at

Many desks were empty in this classroom at Valley Stream Memorial Junior High School as students opted out of taking the state's English Language Arts test Thursday, April 16, 2015. Tens of thousands on Long Island are expected to refuse the math tests, too. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Wednesday marks the first of three days of state mathematics testing for about 200,000 Long Island students in grades three through eight, though tens of thousands are expected to refuse to take the exam.

Activists and parents tracking the so-called opt-out movement said they expect an increase in test refusals over numbers registered last week on the state English Language Arts test, given to the same grades.

At least one parent on the Island hopes more students in the Hispanic community will opt out: Maribel Padin-Canestro, 45 of Valley Stream, has been trying since the start of the school year to raise awareness among Spanish-speakers.

"We want them to know their options," said Padin-Canestro, who is spreading the word through social media.

Her fifth-grade son will refuse the math exam.

"I am opting him out because I don't believe these tests are good for him," she said. "How do you say yes to something that doesn't work and is harmful?"

Anti-testing activists said more than 155,000 students statewide refused to take the English exams.

On Long Island, more than 71,700 students of about 168,600 eligible to take the ELA opted out, according to a Newsday survey that drew responses from 110 of 124 public school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Last spring, more students opted out of the math test than the English exam, according to Newsday surveys at the time.

Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, a parent organizer who has spearheaded the movement locally, said the high percentage of test refusals will force change at the state level.

"With so few students taking the assessments, anything short of declaring the assessments invalid will face intense scrutiny," she said. "We may see this end in the court system, as we have opened the door wide for litigation."

Karen Magee, head of New York State United Teachers, said the numbers are too big to dismiss.

"I do not believe that parents' voice can be ignored at this point in time," she said. "It's hard to say that the tests are actually improving teaching. They're certainly not improving learning."

Despite the pushback, the state is standing firm.

"We are confident the department will be able to generate a representative sample of students who took the test, generate valid scores for anyone who took the test, and calculate valid state-provided growth scores to be used in teacher evaluations," Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said.

Test refusal numbers aren't high everywhere on the Island.

Only 3.6 percent of students opted out last week in Manhasset. Superintendent Charles Cardillo said the district takes a low-key approach to testing, reducing stress for teachers and students.

He visited all the buildings during the exam, he said, and saw smiling, happy kids and reassuring adults, as opposed to "the level of anguish that other districts are still seeing."

Other school systems were profoundly affected.

In Lindenhurst, more than 63 percent of eligible students refused to take the English exam.

Erin Primm, 35 and mother of a third-grader in Lindenhurst schools, said her son will sit out the math test, instead reading the book "Wayside School is Falling Down" by Louis Sachar.

"These tests are an unfair evaluation of my son," she said. "He is not the best test-taker, but is very, very smart. He's the type of outside-the-box thinker that these tests do not measure and assess."


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