- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A collection of recent editorials from Oklahoma newspapers:

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The Oklahoman, March 24, 2015

ACT plan would make Oklahoma a national outlier

A push is underway at the Legislature to eliminate seven end-of-instruction (EOI) tests now required for high school graduation and replace them with the ACT or a similar national test. Yet the vast majority of states that require all students to take the ACT also require state tests.

If the Oklahoma proposal is a good plan, then why aren’t more states using it? That question deserves an answer.

Twelve states require 100 percent of their high school students to take the ACT before graduating. Almost all also require additional state tests, according to publicly available information.

Wyoming is an exception. But when we contacted an official at Wyoming’s department of education, he admitted it’s not yet certain their ACT-centric system complies with federal law requiring testing in math, science and English.

Those promoting this change in Oklahoma admit a separate state test in science (if not other subjects) will likely be necessary, along with the ACT, to comply with federal law. That has the potential to increase complexity and reduce purported cost-savings.

Several states not only require students to take the ACT and state tests, but also make state tests a factor in graduation - the practice Oklahoma lawmakers now want to jettison.

In Louisiana, students must take end-of-course tests in six subjects: Algebra I, Geometry, English II and III, Biology and U.S. History. Those tests comprise up to 30 percent of the student’s final grade in the subject. To earn a standard high school diploma, students must pass three end-of-course tests. Those who fall short must receive 30 hours of remediation in the course before retaking the test.

In Mississippi, students must pass subject-area tests in U.S. History, English II, Biology I and Algebra I to graduate.

In Tennessee, high school students take end-of-course exams in Algebra I, Algebra II, English I, English II, English III, Biology I and Chemistry I. Those test scores comprise 25 percent of students’ associated second semester grade.

We’ve noted that the ACT and EOI tests measure very different things. It appears officials in most mandatory ACT states agree and see value in both types of tests. While other states may not tie state testing outcomes to course grades and graduation, they nonetheless require students to take the ACT and multiple state tests.

In Colorado and Michigan, students are state-tested in English, math, science and social studies. In Kentucky, the list includes English II, Algebra II, Biology and U.S. History. In Montana, required state tests are given in reading, math and science. In North Carolina, end-of-course tests are required for English I, Algebra I and Biology. In Utah, students take English tests in grades nine through 11, plus assessments in Math I, II and III. They also take subject matter tests in Earth systems, biology, physics and chemistry, plus a state writing test in grades nine through 11.

Mississippi is often among the worst states in national education rankings, even lower than Oklahoma. Eliminating EOI tests in Oklahoma and shifting to ACT could mean the standard for high school graduation in Oklahoma would be less rigorous than in Mississippi. That alone should warrant greater introspection from lawmakers, especially given that this plan would clearly make Oklahoma a national outlier.

Before overhauling Oklahoma’s graduation standards, ACT backers need to address these issues and make a more comprehensive case than what they’ve offered so far.

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Tulsa World, March 24, 2015

Time for the state to end funding for Oklahoma Youth Expo

The Oklahoma Youth Expo, billed as the world’s largest junior livestock show, is a marvelous opportunity for young people to show their ability to work hard and achieve goals.

The youth expo, which wrapped up for the year last week at the state fairgrounds in Oklahoma City, is a chance for youngsters to show off their livestock and win scholarships.

As an opportunity for youngsters, we think it’s great. But we also think it’s time for the state to stop financing the event.

This year and last, the state Department of Agriculture has underwritten the private, nonprofit organization that puts on the expo to the tune of $125,000. In other years, the funding was significantly higher.

Some $2 million in state funding for the event was the subject of a 2012 lawsuit by then-state Rep. Mike Reynolds, who argued, among other things, that the money violated the Oklahoma Constitution’s prohibition of gifts of public money and that it was not legally authorized by an appropriations bill.

Reynolds’ suit was thrown out of court, but that doesn’t mean state sponsorship of the youth expo is good policy or that it is the best use of taxpayer money.

There are a lot of good causes in the state of Oklahoma, but the state budget isn’t big enough to pay for all of them. In a year when the state faces a $611 million budget gap, every penny proposed for spending has to be scrutinized. We can’t justify $125,000 for a private livestock show when state funding for public schools, roads and public safety are in jeopardy.

State politicians love the youth expo. While it’s going on, some lawmakers spend almost as much time there as they do at the Capitol, shaking hands and showing off their agricultural credibility.

We hope those politicians stay involved in the youth expo and will volunteer to help the event raise an additional $125,000 in private funding to keep a good program going.

But, as a matter of policy and financial priorities, it’s time to cut the Oklahoma Youth Expo out of the state budget.

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McAlester News-Capital, March 22, 2015

Time for a radical remake of air medical transport industry

Time for a radical remake of air medical transport industry

We at the McAlester News-Capital are not aviation experts and we don’t pretend to be. But with that said, it is abundantly clear to us that the industry commonly referred to as the air ambulance or helicopter medical transport industry is in need of very significant changes to how it does business.

As readers of our newspaper now know, we wrote extensively in the last week about the terrible tragedy of the crash of a McAlester-based EagleMed helicopter outside of Eufaula. The chopper’s crew had transported critically injured McAlester teen Dillan McCoy to a hospital in Tulsa and was returning home to McAlester when pilot Matt Mathews, 41, of Oklahoma City, encountered a heavy cloud cover and crashed into elevated, remote terrain. Mathews was killed and two crew members were injured but miraculously - by the grace of God - the pair survived the devastating crash.

On Thursday, the News-Capital published an extensive investigative report on the dangers such cloud cover presents to helicopter pilots at night. We also documented how most emergency medical flights are flown under visual flight rules only, meaning pilots are almost always figuring out where they are in relation to the ground by simply looking out the window as opposed to relying on computer technology, known as flying in instrument meteorological conditions, to figure out how close they are to the ground.

Translation: If a helicopter pilot is flying by simply looking out the window to figure out where they are, then flying into cloud cover at night can automatically put them in a very, very dangerous situation.

Doesn’t seem like a very smart way to be doing things to us given the high stakes involved.

But there’s more. The newspaper, relying on research already performed by experts at St. Luke’s University Health Network, located at least 12 crashes with remarkable similarities to the crash near Eufaula. A medical helicopter crew encounters bad weather or poor visibility and flies into a mountain or the pilot gets confused and loses control. Those 12 crashes were extensively lethal, killing 31 people. The crashes are almost always devastating and usually kills everyone on board. And, based on the research, it appears we just scratched the surface on the true death toll of pilots flying in poor visibility, by visual flight rules only.

Let us put this unspeakable volume of tragedy in the proper perspective. Those individuals killed in those crashes are some of society’s best. They are people willing to put their lives on the line to help others. And, for each of those killed, there are probably a dozen or more people who loved them dearly. Their children, spouses, mothers and fathers will never be the same again, forced to grieve over the untimely and unnecessary loss of someone so special.

That is unacceptable. Something has to change.

We don’t understand yet why so many of these flights unfold under visual flight rules only at night. In the EagleMed case the helicopter was equipped for instrument flight rules only and Mathews was trained to be able to fly on instrument only, but in a deep, dark cloud cover, it seems likely this wasn’t happening.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the industry are working toward solutions. The FAA and the industry have implemented new technologies and new rules at a huge cost. But obviously, those changes haven’t gone far enough.

The FAA and the industry should consider an immediate ban on all emergency helicopter flights at night. How many deaths of our citizens will it take before we fix this?

We understand that these good people are dying helping others, but the death toll - and the scope of the tragedy - is just too high to continue business as usual.

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