Testing practices questioned

Parents want accommodations for children who refuse exams


A small but vocal contingent of East Meadow parents have voiced their dissatisfaction with the district’s handling of students who refuse to take state assessment exams.

Test refusals became a common occurrence across Long Island last April, a means of protest against the Common Core State Standards initiative, which many parents say has become unrealistically challenging for students. Last year’s math and ELA assessments — which are given annually at the end of the school year to children in grades three through eight — were the first to incorporate the new curriculum.

While the number of refusals has varied by district, only eight of approximately 3,500 test-eligible children in East Meadow refused the tests last year.

Their parents, who hoped for special accommodations during the testing time, were displeased when their children were given exam booklets instead of being permitted to read at their desks or participate in an alternative activity.

This year’s tests, which begin April 1, will see a small increase in refusals, said East Meadow Superintendent Louis DeAngelo. “Under current regulations, as set forth by the New York State Board of Regents, the school district is obligated to administer all state-mandated tests to all students,” DeAngelo said. “Unless the state changes its policies and directives, the school district will continue to administer all tests required by the state and, therefore, all students must, by necessity, sit for the examinations.”

The State Department of Education offers no provision for students who refuse the tests. According to the department’s 2014 School Administrator’s Manual, “All students are expected to participate in state assessments as part of the core academic program.” Furthermore, it states, “Schools do not have any obligation to provide an alternative location or activities for individual students while the tests are being administered.”

East Meadow parent Ilene Ballato, whose two sons will opt out of next week’s tests for the second straight year, has led a group of about a dozen local parents in the hope of altering East Meadow’s testing procedures. “In the times that we’re in now, in the state of education, things have to change,” Ballato said. “[The district] can say there’s no ‘sit and stare’ policy” — a term parents have coined to identify East Meadow’s practice — “but there is.”

Rachel Amodeo, whose eighth-grade son will refuse this year’s tests, said she has grown frustrated with the lack of communication. “I’m not happy with how my district is respecting my choices as a parent,” she said, adding, “Ultimately, you’re making them sit there and [stare] straight … ahead.”

Parents have used public-input sessions of Board of Education meetings to vent their frustrations, which peaked during a meeting on Dec. 19, when several parents shouted into the microphone while addressing trustees.

DeAngelo said that one pair of East Meadow parents have sent a petition to the state’s education commissioner, Dr. John King, requesting an exemption from Common Core testing for their children. “If their petition is successful, the district will adhere to that determination,” DeAngelo said.

Earlier this month, the state PTA issued a statement recommending how districts should handle refusals, saying it “seems unreasonable” for districts to not allow students to read a book or be given an alternative activity, but noted that “the practices that are utilized by individual school districts regarding test refusal should reflect the needs, values and priorities of their families, schools and the community.”

Despite the controversy surrounding the Common Core curriculum, DeAngelo praised the work of East Meadow’s faculty, saying, “I am extremely proud of our teachers, administrators, and parents for their work in implementing the curriculum.”

The district has hosted a number of workshops in each of its schools to help parents learn about the new standards from teachers, to give them a better grasp of the curriculum so they, in turn, can help their children more effectively. More than 1,000 parents have attended the workshops, according to the superintendent. “While change is never easy,” DeAngelo said, “our students are the fortunate beneficiaries of all of their efforts.”