- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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July 22

The Telegraph of Macon on the Georgia Milestones Assessment Test:

The Georgia Milestones Assessment Test results were recently released and you’ll no doubt be hearing a lot about the results. Some schools will have a lot to crow about, with good reason, because the tests are an indication of the level of education being delivered at the respective areas elementary, middle and high public schools. However, as the numbers point out, some schools have a lot of work to do.

It is not your imagination, our students are being tested and tested and tested again. The results for the Spring 2017 assessment tests are end of grade tests and end of course tests. The end of grade tests, depending on grade level, include certain subjects, and the end of course tests included subjects such as Coordinate Algebra, Physical Science, Biology, U.S. History, Economics, American Literature and Composition, Algebra 1, Geometry and Analytic Geometry.

The testing starts in the third-grade and while personnel in district offices will be pouring over the data to determine which principals and their teachers did an outstanding job and why, they are also looking at under performing schools and asking the same question.

In all the tests, no matter the subject, students will fall into one of four categories:

? Beginning Learner

? Developing Learner

? Proficient Learner

? Distinguished Learner

In general, when looking at school numbers (available at the Georgia Department of Education website) you would like to see low Beginning and Developing Learner percentages and high Proficient and Distinguished Learner percentages.

For example, only one school in Bibb County, the Academy for Classical Education, when looking at third-grade English Language Arts results, had more than 50 percent of its students scoring in the Proficient Learner and above category (that’s good). However, 11 schools scored 50 percent and above for students in the Beginning Learners category with five over 70 percent (not good). Certainly that’s not as serious in the third-grade as it would be in the higher grades, but it does present a glaring challenge to schools with high numbers in the beginning category no matter the subject or grade.

Question, do the numbers change at those schools by the fifth-grade? Yes, but the percentage of Beginning Learners is still way too high and only two schools, Springdale Elementary (54.8) and the Academy for Classical Education (63.1) have over 50 percent of students in the Proficient Learner and above category.

Moving to middle schools there is a real problem and it’s clear to see why Superintendent Curtis Jones made reading one of the pillars of his administration when he arrived in 2015. Bibb County has eight middle schools and three have high percentages of Beginning Learners in English Language Arts - Appling (48.7), Weaver (53.7) and Ballard-Hudson (62.3). Here’s the issue. These students were about to enter high school when they took this test and they had just a rudimentary understanding of the subject they had been taking most of their lives. That does not bode well for their high school success.

The absence of reading proficiency really raises its ugly head in high school courses such as U.S. History where three of the six high schools had percentages of Beginning Learners in the end of course test above 65 percent. The three schools did better in American Literature & Composition, however, the Beginning Learner percentages were still above 40 percent.

All of the statistics we’ve mention thus far are of no importance to the average parent that must break down the stats and ask two very simple questions of their child’s teachers: “How did ‘MY’ child do on the tests” and “What’s the plan to get him or her into the ‘Distinguished Learner’ category?”

Those test results are only available from the child’s school and every parent needs to know where their child lands on the spectrum of learning, otherwise they are just statistics sitting on a page.

A child’s education is a team sport and everyone on the team has several roles to play. Consider the Milestones Assessment Tests just one tool for families, administrators and teachers to use in developing a road map for each individual child so they can reach educational excellence.

Online: https://www.macon.com

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July 23

The Gainesville Times on ballot safety:

If it wasn’t bad enough America’s politics and government are lumbering the highway on four bald tires, the act of voting itself is now under fresh scrutiny.

From voting fraud real and imagined to the exposure and attempted hacking of voter databases, Americans have valid reason to be concerned their votes and personal information may not be safe.

Of course, the counting of ballots hasn’t always been a pristine endeavor. U.S. history is peppered with stories of election improprieties: the mysterious box of ballots from Lyndon Johnson’s Texas Senate campaign; tales of dead Chicago voters casting ballots for Richard Daley and John Kennedy; and of course, the infamous “hanging chads” in Florida from the Keystone Cops election of 2000.

But those were good old-fashioned paper ballots, which were at least organic and verifiable. Securing them wasn’t guaranteed, but their access was limited to those who could get their hands on them. Now in the age of electronic voting, the possibilities for hijinks are much greater in a cyber Westworld of server-based information can be hacked from anywhere by someone who knows how to pick the locks.

So far, the biggest concerns are over accessing voter data rather than manipulating actual votes. But with each election, the potential for doing so and fear it could happen grows greater.

Last year, then-candidate Donald Trump claimed the November presidential election could be stolen by his opponent in a vast conspiracy. Turns out he won anyway, and while the charges themselves weren’t based on hard facts, there were reports of bogus registration efforts and similar missteps worth a closer look.

This doesn’t include, by the way, accusations of Russian tampering with emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Disturbing as that might be, that scandal involves hackers accessing private server information and exposing it to the public, not cracking into election offices to manipulate votes (though there were reports they tried). Though many accuse the Russians of “influencing” the election, it’s a reach to think they changed very many minds with such revelations. And they clearly had no access to actual votes, a much greater concern in the big picture.

But that’s not to say the nation’s myriad election offices and databases are safe. That came to light recently in Georgia when it was learned the personal information of every Georgia voter - yes, all of us - was exposed. That information was stored on a server at Kennesaw State University and the back door was left open through a mistake by a third-party contractor.

When news of the exposure went public, Secretary of State Brian Kemp decided to move the state’s voter data center out of KSU and back under his office’s control, though what damage has already been done is uncertain. So far, the secretary of state’s office has budgeted $815,000 for the move. Spending even twice that would be worth the price of keeping the personal information of 6.7 million Georgia voters out of the wrong hands.

Meanwhile, the White House has launched a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to look into voting fraud allegations from the last election. In the process, it sought personal information from every state’s voting rolls; officials in 14 states plus the District of Columbia resisted (Georgia was not among them). The probe led to a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. Until the case is decided, the panel is holding off on data requests.

Opposition to these inquiries wasn’t partisan, with many of those states managed by Republican governors and election officials. Mississippi’s Republican secretary of state invited the commission to “jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

It’s unsure what the commission will find when its efforts go forward. There are reports of cases where votes were not cast legally or counted properly. The Heritage Foundation, a libertarian/conservative Washington think tank, recently released information from its own investigation of voter fraud documenting 1,071 such cases in 47 states, more than 900 of them leading to criminal convictions.

There’s no denying this is a problem, and solutions are worth pursuing. More than a thousand cases nationwide is still too many, and a few votes can make a difference in some elections. But it hardly paints a picture of extensive fraud out of the 100 million votes cast in a national election. To date, there’s no indication these random glitches are common enough to indicate a massive conspiracy to swing votes.

Yet when fraudulent efforts involve computer hacking with illegal intent, the danger is much greater. As cyber crooks become more prevalent and more sophisticated in their methods, they will find new ways around firewalls and security measures, leaving government agencies scrambling to stay a step ahead.

In a nation of 50 states, thousands of counties and hundreds of thousands of voting precincts, information rests in a mishmash of machines old and new with no standard process for creating, securing and tabulating ballots. While that’s OK for local elections, there need to be more unified safeguards nationwide for federal elections to guarantee their validity. When we elect a president and congressional leaders who affect us all, votes need to be cast the same in Gainesville as they are in Natchez, Mississippi, Bar Harbor, Maine, and Eureka, California.

Ultimately this should be the main focus of the White House commission. If it can help smooth out discrepancies from state to state to help election officials lock down their data effectively, its work might be more fruitful than chasing down cases of random fraud.

There’s little point in pursuing a thousand petty criminals when there’s an Al Capone out there with a laptop capable of doing much more harm.

Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com/

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July 24

The Augusta Chronicle on a recent threat made against an Augusta mosque:

It’s a horrific throwback to the nightmarish days of Ku Klux Klan intimidation.

We’ve listened to the voicemail death threats recently made against an Augusta-area mosque, and they’re disgustingly reminiscent of the naked racism many African-Americans experienced in the bad old days.

The caller - in multiple messages left at an unspecified area mosque June 22 and 28, and July 7 and 8 - spews the most vile, profane and homicidal hatred we’ve heard in quite some time. In rambling, repetitive, expletive-laced rants, the caller threatens Muslims with death and demands they go back to their “own” countries.

Never mind that many Muslims were born here just like any other native-born American, or took an oath of citizenship, and that many others are here quite legally.

The incident was reported directly to the FBI, which has promised to take such things most seriously.

We hope so. This is terrorism, pure and simple. And there is absolutely no place for it in Augusta, in Georgia, in America or, indeed, anywhere else.

And while area Muslims must take it deadly serious - you sure would if this whack-job had targeted you - we also want them to know that such an unbridled jackass-come-terrorist doesn’t speak for anyone else. Just as Islamic jihadists don’t represent the vast majority of peaceful Muslims around the world.

It’s sad to think any American, much less any neighbor of ours, would expel such vomitous bile at another human being, much less a mass of them. But he should be given no quarter, either from the law or from any of us. He’s become what he purports to hate: a terrorist. Turn. Him. In.

This is terrorism, and cannot and will not be brooked in these parts.

Online: https://chronicle.augusta.com/

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