- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

March 3

Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on testing overload:

It’s not uncommon to hear Mississippi teachers and administrators gripe about how much time they spend each year on standardized tests.

They do spend too much.

But what they don’t say is that a lot of this test-taking time is self-inflicted preparation - imposed by superintendents, assistant superintendents, curriculum and testing coordinators and principals as a way to try to boost their students’ scores when they take the real thing.

The Mississippi Association of State Superintendents estimates, according to The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, that schools spend between 38 and 45 days giving standardized tests. That comes to a standardized test being given about one out of every four school days.

Most of those tests, though, are not required by the state. The state only mandates that the schools spend about three days, mostly in the spring, giving tests to each grade. Thus, if the superintendents’ estimates are right, those other 35 to 40 testing days are the creation of the school districts - assessments given to try to gauge how well students are doing, give them extra practice on standardized tests and drilling in test-taking strategies.

So, is it really the fault of state testing? Or is it the fault of the school districts that, in trying to give their students and themselves an edge, are cutting down on how much time is actually spent on instruction? We’d say it’s the latter.

If schools just taught the material effectively, there wouldn’t need to be all this extra testing. Teach a kid to read proficiently, for example, and the reading test will be a snap. It’s only because the administrations in these school districts don’t trust their teachers to be covering the material and skills adequately that they are constantly testing and retesting students to gauge their progress.

Much of this pre-testing is just an effort to game the system. That may be the unfortunate and unintended consequence of using state tests to rate schools and their employees, but it’s the school districts themselves that have gone overboard, not the state.




Feb. 28

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Mississippi, on audits:

Though we commend the federal authorities who have been at the forefront of recent public-corruption investigations in South Mississippi, we believe Mississippi can and should do more to police itself.

We have for some time been calling on the Legislature to require every agency of state government to be audited every year, to better safeguard public money and monitor public activities.

The Legislature should also reconsider term limits, not just for elected officials but for those appointed to serve as trustees of the scores of public agencies, authorities, bureaus, commissions and departments.

We bring up the matter of term limits because the targets of recent investigations are more often than not long-serving and well-respected elected and appointed public officials. And the people for whom temptation became too great are scattered across the range of public endeavors: The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. The Harrison County Utility Authority. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. The Singing River Health System. The Harrison County Board of Supervisors.

There seems to be no limit to the opportunities to betray and defraud the public.

And it’s not just a rogue sheriff or supervisor or administrator who’s at fault. It is also the trustees and the commissioners who linger so long on public boards that they become lax in their oversight responsibilities.

It has been the editorial position of the Sun Herald for decades to oppose term limits. We felt they denied voters a choice and prohibited good men and women a chance to continue to serve their communities and constituents.

Now we’re not so sure.

What we are certain of is these allegations and admissions of public corruption involve years of illegal activities only now being brought to light.

This delay in safeguarding the public is inexcusable.

So, again, we call on the Legislature now in session to require an annual audit of all public money received by all public agencies. And, just as with the annual audits of cities, counties and school districts, those audits should be part of an agency’s annual budget.

Neither audits nor term limits will guarantee an end to public corruption. But in combination, they should serve as a strong deterrent.




March 4

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on pre-K reports:

A newly published report from the education advocacy organization Mississippi First further confirms the persistent problems of access and quality statewide in pre-K education, an issue widely acknowledged and never comprehensively addressed.

The report, “The State of Public PreKindergarten in Mississippi,” shows access to public pre-K is high in pockets of Mississippi but varies throughout the state, with resulting inadequacy as a statewide education product with quantifiable outcomes.

In some school districts, all entering kindergartners have access to either district-run or Head Start pre-K programs, while in others there are no such slots.

The report uses data from the 2011-12 school year.

“I think this shows people we have a long way to go,” said Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First. “School districts can’t do this on their own, and we can’t rely on Head Start on its own to fill the gap.

“We have to have schools, Head Start and private centers working together, and the state has to put a much larger financial investment in the pre-K program in order for everyone who wants to be able to go to have access and have access to quality.”

Canter’s summation is, of course, correct. Mississippi, until the past two years, had never invested state funds in public pre-K, holding the state decades behind many other states in relation to seizing a critical learning time for the youngest students.

The report provides the first look at pre-K access for each individual school district in the state, insight confirming the lack of uniform or equitable distribution of opportunities and quality, a persistent issue hampering education in Mississippi for decades.

It examines the number of kindergartners each district had in 2012-13 and how many of those either attended a district-run or Head Start pre-K program the previous year.

About half of the state’s 152 school districts offered either their own program or a blended Head Start program or provided space for a partner to run pre-K programs. Of those, 48 districts used public dollars or philanthropic contributions to provide their own programs, while 20 offered free pre-K through an on-site Head Start partner.

Data was not available for the number of children in private child care centers, a data deficiency Canter acknowledged and intends to correct.

Mississippi has spent $3 million in each of the last two years to fund collaborative efforts to provide early-childhood education in 11 communities. Those were the first state dollars invested in providing pre-K classrooms, and it is transparently obvious that much more state funding will be required regardless of how quality and access are achieved.



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