- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


April 20

The Commercial Appeal on the Tennessee’s standardized testing system:

For the third consecutive year, TNReady couldn’t pass the test.

The state’s buggy, beleaguered standardized testing system for grades 3-11 was bogged down by computer glitches and a “deliberate” cyberattack. School districts here and across the state halted or canceled testing for which they have been preparing all year.

The breakdowns shouldn’t have been a surprise. Similar testing disruptions and delays were reported earlier this month in New York, which uses the same testing vendor, Questar Assessments.

Last year test results were delayed for weeks after more than 9,000 Tennessee students received incorrect scores because of a problem with Questar’s scanners.

Questar is the testing company Tennessee hired to replace Measurement Incorporated after TNReady’s catastrophic failure to launch in its first year, 2016.

State legislators are blaming Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. Democrats called for her resignation. Republicans summoned her and demanded an explanation. Lawmakers have also called on the state’s chief internal investigator to conduct a review of the TNReady student testing system.

“We’re tired of it. The state’s tired of it. Our teachers are tired of it, and most of all our students are suffering,” state Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, said. “The faith in the system is not there.”

As in 2016 and 2017, education officials again are wondering whether this year’s tests (assuming they are completed) should count. “This particular round can’t be used to evaluate teachers,” said Superintendent Ted Horrell of Lakeland.

Or schools or school districts.

Legislators can fault state education officials for online testing woes, but they share the blame.

In 2014, the legislature, in another tiff with the Obama administration, threw a political wrench into the state’s plan to replace annual TCAP assessments with Common Core-aligned PARCC assessments.

“No educational standards shall be imposed on the state by the federal government,” the legislature declared, ordering the state to “contract with one or more entities to provide assessments … which shall be aligned to state standards.”

The state developed its own K-12 standards and assessments, which turned out to be a lot like Common Core and PARCC, only a lot more expensive.

There are alternatives to government-mandated, commercially designed, machine-tallied achievement tests.

“Test results are good to see benchmarks where kids are, but we should have multiple measures to determine how a school is doing and what kids are learning,” Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson told his board members last week.

High-stakes achievement tests have turned our public schools into testing mills. Year after year, grading period after grading period, week after week, valuable instruction time is lost to practice tests to prepare for state-mandated tests.

Tests that in the end - if they don’t get delayed, disrupted or somehow compromised - more or less measure the socio-economic status of a child, school and district.

“This is a very high-stakes test that impacts student report cards, teacher evaluations and employment, and even determines soon-to-be letter grades for schools and districts,” Jennifer Proseus, a Bartlett parent, told ChalkBeat.

“Why do these faulty tests - that parents and teachers are forbidden from seeing - hold so much power?”

That is the question our next governor, legislature and education commissioner should ask and answer.

Online: https://www.commercialappeal.com/


April 21

The Greeneville Sun on fighting the opioid epidemic:

Gov. Bill Haslam’s TN Together plan to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic in the Volunteer State - a portion of which was sponsored in the state House of Representatives by State Rep. David Hawk - is a good step in reducing the number of Tennesseans who will be ensnarled in opioid addiction.

The bills passed in the House and Senate this week will hopefully shield more people from initially becoming addicted to opioids.

More and more Tennesseans - including the medical community - are understanding how dangerous the flippant use of high-powered drugs to control pain can be. Citing a new report showing the number of opioid prescriptions decreasing in Tennessee and nationwide, the Tennessee Medical Association issued a statement Thursday indicating the medical community is trying to do a better job counseling and caring for the patients under its physicians’ care. “Physicians for decades were told these medications were completely safe and faced potential litigation if we did not treat pain aggressively,” TMA President Nita W. Shumaker said. “As a result, patients developed unrealistic expectations about pain management. Once we recognized the addictive dangers of these medications we worked hard to change the culture and improve supervision. The report confirms that we are making progress.”

The 6.7 million opioid prescriptions filled by Tennesseans is a 9 percent decrease from the previous year and a 21.3 percent decrease from 2013.

Still, since 2011, the number of people who have died from opioid abuse has climbed 154 percent, another report shows.

Thus, preventing opioid addiction on the front end is only one prong of Haslam’s plan. Focusing resources on productive treatment for those already addicted to opioids (recovery programs instead of incarceration) and equipping law enforcement to deal with the trafficking of pills and caring for those addicted are the other two prongs.

Meanwhile, as we’ve reported in recent days, area district attorneys general are moving forward with their lawsuit against drug manufacturers and big pharma, who the DAs claim falsely marketed opioids as wonder drugs.

After what could have been a nasty tussle with Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery over which office should wage the legal fight, the areas DAs - including Dan Armstrong - engineered a deal to keep their lawsuit going. The upshot will likely be that any damages the DAs receive in the suit would be funneled immediately to local communities rather than having to pass through state coffers first.

Tennesseans need the battle against opioid addiction to be waged on all these fronts. The opioid epidemic isn’t just a political problem. It is also a medical problem. It is a marketing problem. It is a cultural problem.

But it’s also a problem of personal responsibility.

As with any matter of public policy, it’s easy for those of us watching the political and legal fights to sit back and think that the powers in Nashville, Washington and other faraway places will be able to fix the problem.

But there is one factor in the opioid epidemic that no amount of lawsuit damages or government allocations will fix: personal responsibility.

Those of us who have watched our loved ones spiral into darkness know that what an embattled human being needs most is not a bipartisan program or three-pronged legislative plan. What those close to us need most is help from us - their families and friends.

We need to help each other - especially our students and adolescents - see the cost of an innocent-looking flirtation with substance abuse: It’s anything but innocent.

We need to help our broken brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, co-workers and friends stay away from the substances and flee temptation to reuse once they’ve come through valuable rehabilitation programs.

We need to be vigilant over ourselves, lest we take a step in the wrong direction.

While these government reforms are now necessary tools in fighting the opioid epidemic, we need to keep in mind that no legislated program can ultimately make a person’s decision for him or her. At the end of the day, the choice will always rest on one person’s shoulders. When our friends and neighbors are facing the long nights and uncertain days of addiction, they need those closest to them to support and help hold them accountable.

This is the work of families, friends, churches, civic organizations - in short, people who care for one another in ways that no government program can.

We hope Gov. Haslam’s TN Together plan proves to be a body blow to the opioid epidemic monster and that any damages recovered from litigation can be used to bolster the tools our community needs to fight these demons.

But we also hope each of us remembers our own personal responsibility to keep watch for ourselves and to help others who need the (sometimes tough) love and support of those closest to them.

Online: https://www.greenevillesun.com/


April 19

Johnson City Press on expanding clean water access:

Clean water is something most Americans take for granted in 2018. We simply turn on the kitchen faucet to get a fresh drink, brush our teeth or fill a pot for cooking. We rarely think twice about what’s in that water.

Thankfully, most utilities in our region have not been plagued with contamination like the ongoing lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, or the 1993 parasitic outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that resulted in more than 100 deaths.

Johnson City’s latest water quality report showed the city’s water supply surpassing regulations set by Tennessee and the Environmental Protection Agency. Lead levels, for example, were recorded at 1.2 parts per billion, which is well below the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion.

Not everyone in Northeast Tennessee, though, drinks from a filtered and monitored municipal water supply.

Take for example the illegal water system operating in the Stoney Creek area of Carter County. In October, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation cited the Dry Hollow Water Association for not filtering or monitoring the water it serves directly from a creek to 39 residences. State officials reported finding E. coli and other contaminants. TDEC ordered the association to treat and sample the water, conduct monitoring and hire an engineer.

On Wednesday, TDEC reported that the Dry Hollow group had not complied with the state’s order, and on April 10, a Davidson County court entered a temporary injunction order until a final remedy is in place. The order keeps Dry Hollow under a boil water advisory, prevents any new hookups and forces the association to pay for the installation of a metered tap from the First Utility District of Carter County on one member’s property. All 39 homes would draw from that tap.

It’s good to see TDEC actively working to protect our citizens’ health. Having potable water from a reliable, compliant source is a must.

That’s why last week’s announcement was such good news for people who live in the Ford Creek area of northern Washington County. Johnson City had completed the first phase of its water line extension in a $708,000 joint project with Washington County. Once the entire water line is functional, about 35 existing homes and a number of undeveloped lots could hook up to the city system. Completion is expected in November.

Still, there’s a lot of work to do in Washington County. Highway Superintendent Johnny Deakins reported that people along about 200 miles of county roads lack access to system-provided water. Residents must rely on wells and springs, which require home filtration systems and can become contaminated from environmental hazards. So a civil engineering firm is conducting a study related to clean water access in Washington County.

Let’s hope the firm’s report sheds light on what it would take to give all residents the ability to hook up to a monitored, regulated supply of potable water.

Online: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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