- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 27

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on TCAP results:

Tests administered to students under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program matter.

Until they don’t.

Intentional or not, that was the message the Tennessee Department of Education sent last week to school systems in an 11th-hour notification that it would be tardy in releasing TCAP scores this year. School systems across the state were blindsided by the delay.

State law requires that TCAP scores be included as a portion - between 15 and 25 percent - of the second-semester grades for students in grades 3-8. Report cards were supposed to go home with Knox County students last Wednesday, the last day of classes. Administrators were not notified of the delay until late Tuesday. Because of the delay, final grades could not be calculated in time for report cards to be prepared for grades 3-8. Report cards went out as planned for grades K-2 and 9-12.

Knox County and other similarly affected systems asked for and received waivers from the Department of Education that allow them to calculate grades without using the TCAP results. Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said the report cards would be sent to parents this week by mail, resulting in a substantial postage outlay that the school system had not anticipated.

Erin O’Hara, the state’s assistant commissioner for data and research, initially told school systems the results would not be ready until the end of this week. But on Friday she sent school systems a memo advising them the results would be released that afternoon.

In the initial notification memo, O’Hara said the delay was caused by additional analysis of the scores after a narrowing of assessments to align them to state standards. In previous years, the analysis was conducted after “quick scores” were sent to school systems for inclusion in the grades calculations.

This year, O’Hara wrote, the process was reversed because state officials wanted to “take appropriate measures to ensure the accuracy of the quick scores.”

O’Hara wrote that the analysis of the results of the high school End of Course exams was conducted first so graduation would not be affected, an indication that state officials knew of the timing issue but did not notify superintendents ahead of time.

The Department of Education has spent years hammering home the importance of standardized tests. In addition to contributing to each student’s grades, TCAP results are used in teacher evaluations, in grading the overall performance of individual schools and systems and for other purposes. Failing to get the scores to the school systems on time - after months of planning - is inexcusable and erodes trust in Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and the agency he runs.

Time is an important component of standardized tests. Third-graders in Tennessee have precisely 53 minutes - not a second longer - to finish part 1 of the TCAP Social Studies assessment. The Department of Education should be held to a similar standard. For the Department of Education, turning in this important assignment late is grounds for a failing grade.




May 27

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on the ending to Afghan war:

It’s so much harder to get out of a war than to get into one.

Ending America’s longest war was President Barack Obama’s theme in a Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan.

The formal end to the war there is scheduled when this year ends; but even then an American presence will still be required - up to 10,000 in a residual peace-keeping force.

That’s an estimate, and it compares to the current force of some 32,800. The actual troop level will be decided soon, the president told troops.

A “responsible end” will have Afghan forces taking over the responsibility for security. “Our combat mission will be over,” Obama said.

That doesn’t mean the danger will be past, he admitted. But he pointed to signs of progress, like education for girls and expanded economic development.

The leadership of the al-Qaeda terror organization has been “decimated,” Obama said.

Significantly, he did not meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with whom he has had a strained relationship. Afghanistan is holding run-off elections to choose Karzai’s successor.

The visit was Obama’s fourth to Afghanistan, his first since 2012.

At least 2,181 in the U.S. military have died in the conflict, and thousands more injured. While governments work out the details, the killing continues.




May 27

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on China-Russia natural gas deal :

It’s always a mistake to read too much into body language, but in a Financial Times photo of the Russian and Chinese presidents signing a huge 30-year, $400 billion natural gas deal Vladimir Putin looks slightly discomfited while Xi Jingping looks like the proverbial cat that swallowed the canary.

The deal eased pressure on Russia from Western Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, which Putin has been willing to wield as a diplomatic weapon in his efforts to get his way in Eastern Europe, a fact surely not lost on the Chinese.

The Chinese, whose booming economy seems to have an inexhaustible demand for energy, are looking for alternative sources of natural gas. Given the up-and-down relations between the Russians and Chinese, it’s inconceivable China would allow itself to become wholly dependent on Russian supplies, especially after the European example. Meanwhile, Russia, whose treasury is resource-dependent, must have markets for its gas.

Owing to problems Russia and its gas company, Gazprom, have had with the European market, the Chinese were apparently able to drive a hard bargain, forcing concessions they would not have gotten in normal times. Gazprom has committed to build a $55 billion pipeline to the Chinese border and develop its eastern Siberian gas fields to supply the Chinese.

Putin faces a thorny long-term problem. Russia’s population is shrinking, especially in its far East. China’s population is growing, desperate for work, and right next door is resource-rich but underpopulated eastern Siberia. Already illegal Chinese immigrants have begun to leak across the border.

There’s a saying in Western financial circles: If I owe you $10,000 I don’t sleep at night; if I owe you $10 million, you don’t sleep at night. Outside observers can only wonder: Who’s sleeping more soundly over this deal: Putin or Xi?



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