Record-Shattering Numbers Of Long Island Students Opting Out Of Common Core Testing

Common Core Protest Long Island
Common Core critics blasted New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo his Sept. 3, 2015 comments about the ‘deeply flawed’ and controversial education reform program, deeming them politically motivated and ingenuine. More than 1,000 parents, teachers and school administrators (above) rallied on March 9, 2015 at Long Island University Post Campus in Brookville against Common Core. (Jaime Franchi/Long Island Press)

With day one of three controversial Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) examinations for grades three through eight completed in New York State, the total score of students refusing to take the tests continues to rise exponentially.

Compiled by Jeanette Deutermann, founder of anti-Common Core Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out” and a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), a coalition of 50 parent and teacher organizations who oppose the standardized tests, Long Island school officials—including Board of Education members, administrators and educators, she says—are reporting an astounding number of test refusals.

As of press time, her preliminary unofficial count from more than half the 124 school districts on Long Island had already tallied more than 82,000 students opting out—more than last year’s total figure for the entire state and double the 30,000 students from across Long Island who refused the tests last year—according to a Google Drive spreadsheet on Long Island Opt Out’s Facebook page. Comsewogue School District, home base of vocal public education advocates including Dr. Joe Rella, its superintendent, and Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher and president of the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, who stood as a “conscientious objector” earlier this year and vowed to refuse to administer Common Core exams to students, saw 82 percent of their eligible students refuse the test–a new record for that district.

Sisi Wong Townson, co-president of the Plainedge Middle School PTA, reports that a record-shattering 74 percent of Plainedge students opted out of the test yesterday, including an entire third-grade class. A vocal opponent of high-stakes standardized testing, she testified against Common Core before New York State legislators two years ago drawing upon her personal experience as a student in Hong Kong.

It’s stories such as these that resonate loud and clear with Deutermann.

“Each time another number comes in, it validates all the work we’ve been doing,” she tells the Press Wednesday morning in between phone calls with school administrators for the latest figures. “Two years of work to advocate and educate. It makes you feel like all this work—people appreciate it, they’re grateful, and they understand. It means the information reached through in a way that inspired them to action.”

Renowned education historian, policy analyst and New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development research professor Diane Ravitch, in a blog post Tuesday titled “Long Island: This Will Be The Biggest Opt Out Ever,” estimated more than 100,000 students statewide would opt out of taking the exams this time around.

“Last year, 50,000-60,000 students opted out in New York. The figure will be more than double that this year,” she writes. “Parents are reacting against the overuse and misuse of tests. They are reacting against Governor Cuomo’s harsh and punitive education legislation.

“In a democratic society,” she continues, “parents can’t be pushed around by public officials who are more interested in politics than in children. It makes parents angry.”

Parents across Long Island have spoken in an unmistakable roar of defiance, determined to disrupt what they believe to be an unacceptable system delivered by government officials they do not trust—with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the top of the list.

Parents and school officials have been rallying against the Obama administration’s education reform program since the Common Core’s botched roll-out two years ago. Parents were alarmed by the detrimental effects they said the implementation had on their children, among other gripes, but since Cuomo’s State of the State address earlier this year—in which he announced his plan to ramp up what many education activists believe was already an overly aggressive and vindictive teacher-evaluation plan—opponents say they felt compelled to raise their voices even louder.

The test refusals are their megaphone, amplifying a collective rage against Common Core.

“I’m realizing, ‘Wow—there are some really angry parents out there,’” says Deutermann. “It gives a clear picture of how parents are feeling about the direction the state is taking public ed.”

The idea is to “starve the beast”—a common refrain among dissenters—to withhold students’ test data from the state in order to collapse a system that has become increasingly test preparation-based, with a myopic focus on testing subjects ELA and math, at the expense of other subjects and art, gym, music, and recess, opponents say. Parents and education experts demand a more holistic approach to teaching and learning.

“The current teacher evaluation system is demoralizing,” Richard Willis, a North Babylon teacher, tells the Press. “Non-ELA and math teachers are evaluated by a test in a subject that they do not teach. Special education teachers who work with children below grade level are doomed to always be developing or ineffective when judged on tests that are actually above grade level. Many of the teachers in my building are demoralized and defeated. It is sad because I work with some truly great teachers who love their students but no longer love the profession.”

Parents and teachers hope the message of refusal reaches the ears of government officials and that the standardized tests are invalidated, once and for all.

Calls to the New York State Education Department and Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association for final official opt-out tallies and verification for this story were unsuccessful, with a spokesperson for the latter telling the Press: “We don’t have that info, and whatever we have is sporadic.”

State Education Department spokesperson Jeanne Beattie tells the Press in an emailed statement the official number of test-takers and those who refused the exams will be available “over the summer when we release test scores.”