- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Journal Gazette. July 3, 2014.

Students’ battery of exams leaves little time for learning

Across the country, the backlash grows against standardized tests, with parents, educators, state officials and students proclaiming they’ve had enough.

-In May, Oklahoma legislators overturned the governor’s veto of a bill that allows exceptions for third-graders to be promoted if they fail the state’s punitive reading test.

-An estimated 30,000 students opted out of Common Core tests in New York this past spring, while Texas Parents Opt Out claimed that parents in more than 30 school districts across the state pulled their children from STAAR testing, the state’s equivalent of ISTEP+.

-The Rhode Island General Assembly last month approved a law to delay for three years any policy requiring students to pass a graduation exam to receive a diploma. The governor allowed it to become law without his signature.

-In April, comedian Louis C.K.’s tweet struck a nerve and went viral: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!”

And in Indiana? Common Core critics created enough political unease to push lawmakers to dump the standards for a revised version, but the testing juggernaut continues. The Education Roundtable, at Gov. Mike Pence’s behest, is looking to expand testing. The Roundtable last month recommended extending ISTEP+ from grades 3-8 to include grades 9 and 10 for the 2015-16 academic year.

“A diploma from our high schools should signal that our graduates are ready for careers or college,” Pence said at the meeting.

The governor’s call for more testing runs counter to the growing national distress with high-stakes testing, but Robert Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said it’s not surprising.

“The stay-the-course-crowd continues to push for more testing,” he said in an interview. “The (U.S. Secretary of Education) Arne Duncans and others are gung-ho, raise-the-bar.

“What we are seeing nationally are lots of people are saying no to the toxic level of high-level testing - too many tests, too many consequences, results widely misused for ideological purposes,” Schaeffer said.

While Hoosiers haven’t embraced the opt-out movement growing elsewhere, they should at least recognize the effects of testing on the state’s education environment.

Schools of education across the state are seeing decreasing numbers of students interested in pursuing teaching as a career. College faculty increasingly complain of students with no reasoning skills - unable and unwilling to explore subject matter beyond the rote memorization they learned in high school.

Little attention, meanwhile, goes to the students themselves. The ever-expanding number of assessments makes it more difficult for teachers to inspire creativity and a love for learning. The demands of test prep and administration squeeze out the unstructured moments that allowed generations of students to find the one subject they loved most.

Unless the grass-roots movement to counter the for-profit testing industry’s demands begins to build, Indiana students might one day excel at testing while failing at lifelong learning.

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South Bend Tribune. July 1, 2014.

Eliminate distractions for the safety of teen drivers

A recent study shows Indiana is the worst state in the country when it comes to teen driver fatalities.

The study, done by WalletHub, a personal finance website, ranks Indiana 50th behind Kentucky and New Mexico when it comes to the worst teen driver fatality rate.

There are 33 times more teen driver fatalities per licensed teen drivers in Indiana than in Utah, which ranked the best in the study.

Safety conditions, economic environment and the driving laws of each state were some of the metrics considered for establishing the rankings.

Indiana’s ranking may also be the result of weaker laws and weaker enforcement of those laws compared with other states, according to a spokesman for the study.

Experts say young drivers tend to overestimate their own driving abilities and, at the same time, underestimate the dangers on the road.

Teens oftentimes believe they are invincible, that nothing bad will happen to them. But their parents know that’s not the case and that lives can change in the blink of eye, especially when a driver is distracted or under the influence.

Parents must set good examples for their children and not do the very things that are distracting to teen drivers — texting and talking on the phone.

Teens need to be aware of their surroundings and eliminate distractions that divert their attention from the task at hand: driving safely.

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Evansville Courier & Press. June 30, 2014.

Police should need warrant to search info-rich phones

In a rare - especially for this group of justices - unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled last week that, with a handful of exceptions, the police must get a warrant to search the cellphones of people they arrest.

Police had argued that searching a suspect’s cellphone was no different than asking him to empty his pockets, a procedure designed to eliminate the possibility of hidden weapons and prevent the destruction of possible evidence. The Obama administration and the state of California argued that cellphones deserved no more protection than anything else found in the suspect’s pockets.

That thinking, the court said in effect, is so 20th century. The cellphone is now more than just a list of calls made and received and frequently called number. The modern smartphone, which seems to get smarter every six months or so based on how fast new models seem to be introduced, is a powerful minicomputer that, absent a warrant, could allow police unfettered access to financial and medical records, personal photographs, diaries, calendars, “the equivalent of millions of pages of documents,” according to one commentator.

Chief Justice John Roberts said a warrantless cellphone search was like “ransacking his house for everything which may incriminate him.” Civil liberties organizations, news media groups and privacy advocates agreed with him.

In the California case, San Diego police found evidence of gang membership on a suspect’s smartphone and used those videos and photos to convict him of attempted murder. The high court asked the California Supreme Court to reconsider the case in light of this week’s ruling.

In a companion case, a federal appeals court threw out a conviction in which a search warrant, based on information from a warrantless search of the suspect’s phone, turned up crack cocaine, guns and marijuana. The Obama administration appealed that decision, hoping to establish the right to warrantless searches of smartphones, but the high court said the appeals court had ruled correctly. A separate conviction for selling cocaine with a 20-year sentence was unaffected.

Roberts’ conclusion in his ruling was admirably direct: “Get a warrant.” He said, “With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life”.

But Justice Samuel Alito, writing in a separate opinion, said Congress, not judges, should be setting the privacy guidelines for the 21st century. He said, elected officials are in a better position than the court to assess changes that are taking place and will take place in the future.

In a perfect world, which this decidedly is not, it should.

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The Times, Munster. June 29, 2014.

Don’t bar prisoners from voting

Lake County is trying to figure out how to allow incarcerated voters to cast ballots. If you think that’s a bad thing, think again.

It’s important to remember that county jails, in many cases, house people awaiting trial. They have the same right to vote as any other citizen, but prisoners haven’t asserted that right often.

Prompting the discussion is Albert Pabey, 61, of Hammond, who wanted an absentee ballot so he could vote in the spring primary. Pabey was at the Lake County Jail at the time.

Pabey had a valid voter registration in Lake County and wasn’t a convict, so he was eligible to vote. Prisoners serving time after a conviction are ineligible to vote.

Pat Gabrione, the top Republican on the election board staff, said he can’t remember a request like Pabey’s during his many years with the board.

Pabey’s request came after a state deadline for mailing an absentee ballot to his cell, so Michelle Fajman, the county elections director, sent election workers to him.

A travel board delivers ballots to voters confined, due to illness or injury, those caring for individuals confined at private residences and unable to vote in person on Election Day, and to voters whose disabilities make the polling place inaccessible.

Pabey qualified as confined, Fajman said. That’s certainly true, considering his circumstances.

So now the question is what to do if a similar request arises in the future. The answer should be to do just what Fajman ordered in Pabey’s case.

Send election board representatives to the jail to supervise voting and allow anyone who wants to vote, and qualifies, to do so.

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