It’s all about the children.
That was the message conveyed at the community education forum held at the Seaford American Legion Hall on Feb. 26. A panel of speakers included Jeanette Deutermann, the founder of the Long Island Opt-Out Facebook group, Dr. Joseph Rella, the superintendent of the Comsewogue School District and Dr. Arnold Doge, the chairperson of the department of educational leadership and administration at LIU Post.
“When I was first teaching, I remember being told by the principal that your classroom is yours,” Dodge said. “You come up with some reading, writing and listening experiences for kids and we’ll trust you.”
Dodge said the ELA and math standards that are being used for state testing are outrageous to measure the success of students and teachers in grades 3-8.
“When you don’t trust a whole group of people to manage their own affairs, you’re disempowering them from doing their best for children,” Dodge added. “What’s more important than that?”
The panel stressed that kids should not be stressing about the April ELA and May math exams throughout the year, but should also be focusing on science, social studies, physical education, theatre and art, as well as other programs. Rella added he was told these tests are supposed to predict success in college.
“I couldn’t figure out how to tell a third grader ‘don’t bother showing up for the next nine years,” Rella said. “You’re not college material.”
Another major area of focus is stress leading up to the test. Deutermann said she’s received thousands of stories from concerned parents around Long Island regarding the effect of the ELA and math exams on a student’s psyche. Her own son experienced stomach pains and anxiety, which led to her decision to opt him out of these tests.
“On this page, people tell their stories. Last year, I cried on a daily basis,” Deutermann said.
Symptoms described included trouble sleeping, not eating in the mornings, begging not to go to school, crying through homework, throwing up before the test, throwing up on the test, locking themselves in school bathrooms, cried uncontrollably and losing control of their bladders.
Dr. Thomas Troisi, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the Valley Stream Central High School District, asked the panel if encouraging kids to opt out was going to hurt them in the long run, which Dodge vehemently denied.
“I think we’re hurting kids, and school teachers and school systems as much by encouraging children and parents to opt out,” Troisi said.
“It’s time for civil disobedience,” Dodge responded. “Whether you believe it or not, it’s time for us to say no.”
In Seaford, the district sent a letter to Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch on Dec. 13 sharing concerns about the new implementation.
“The positive aspects of the Common Core Learning Standards initiative have been marginalized by the short timeline given for their implementation and the grossly inequitable and inadequate dissemination of financial resources to school districts charged with these responsibilities,” the letter said.
Superintendent Brian Conboy said, if students opt out of the state tests, they are allowed to sit and read quietly.
In December, the Wantagh School District passed a resolution asking state leaders to scrap the program, emphasizing that it focuses too much on testing for evaluation.
"The Wantagh School District believes that the current focus on standardized test scores and the amount of time spent on testing negatively impact our students’ educational experience," the resolution said. "The new assessments generate more opportunity for anxiety than growth."
“My first responsibility as a superintendent is not education...it’s safety,” Rella added. “We have to provide a safe environment.”