Jackson County Opinions...

August 22, 2001

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 22, 2001

Test Scores, Dirt On Grimes And
A Bald Eagle

Short shots on various topics:
In the past two weeks, the Commerce School System (and the others, I would think) all received greetings from the Georgia Department of Education in the form of test results.
They received the Stanford 9 norm-referenced tests for grades 1-8, the Criterion Referenced Competency Test results for grades 4, 6 and 8, and the Scholastic Assessment (it used to be Aptitude) Test for last year's seniors.
Elsewhere in this paper you will find charts and stories on at least two of those tests, so you can compare how our kids did with their peers in Georgia, throughout the nation or locally, depending on the story.
To sum it up, students in the elementary and middle schools surpassed the state average in one test and hit or surpassed the national average in another, while last year's seniors, now departed to other pursuits, scored below both the state and national average on the SAT.
Are our schools below average, average or better than average? I think the answer is clearly yes.
Is the West Nile Virus at CHS?
Teacher Greg Jarvis jokes that he's carrying it. The popular history teacher says he's been feeling sick for more than a week, and every time he reads about the symptoms of WNV, he discovers he's got them all.
More likely, he has the West Wing virus, a new disease that the Centers for Disease Control will ultimately trace to the new floor at the high school.
If the insurance company comes through, former police chief George Grimes will have "contributed" more money to the Bill Anderson Center for the Performing Arts than all the City Lights concerts and festivals to date and in the foreseeable future.
I'm not sure what it says about the organization of things here that what is stolen from the city is given to the schools, but I think "The Anderson-Grimes Performing Arts Center" would be a good name.
According to Rob Jordan, the Commerce Board of Education has promised $1 million for the center. If so, the vote was not taken at a public meeting.
MainStreet News will again be Foucheless soon.
Adam Fouche, who has worked for MSN all during his college career, appears to have finally seen the light in his last semester in journalism school at UGA.
He's going to work for the Georgia State Patrol. The main concern we should all have is whether they'll let Fouche carry a gun. Only the editors at MSN are allowed to pack heat, and even then we have to get written permission before shooting anyone.
Spotted by Yours Truly and another witness in an otherwise fruitless fishing excursion Saturday morning to the city watershed lake last week in Banks County: a genuine bald eagle.
The Athens-Clarke chapter of the Audubon Society often makes field trips to the lake, primarily to look for waterfowl, but if a bald eagle has been sighted there previously, I haven't heard of it.

The Jackson Herald
August 22, 2001

Time to stop video poker
As a general rule, we believe citizens should be left alone to live their lives free of government interference. Our society has become so dependent on government to solve problems that large segments of our population no longer think for themselves.
It may seem at odds with that philosophy for us to actually encourage the State of Georgia to intervene in the video poker issue. After all, shouldn't citizens be free to be stupid and throw their money away on these silly games?
If those who squandered their money on video poker had to suffer the consequences alone, we'd say let 'em sit on those stools until they've thrown all their money away.
But we all know that those who are addicted to such vices don't suffer in isolation. Their children suffer. Their families suffer. The poison of video poker is spread far beyond those who play the quarters.
Georgia leaders have two basic options on video poker: First, the state could create a gaming commission and regulate these games of chance so that there will be some fairness in the system. Currently, video poker machines are rigged against the player by heavy odds. Regulation would, at least, make the machines play fair.
But regulation would also open the door to other forms of gambling in the state. We doubt that most citizens want Georgia to become another Las Vegas.
The other option before Georgia leaders is to ban video poker machines outright as was done in South Carolina. If you can't reasonably regulate a vice, then the only option is to make the vice unable to exist.
In its special session, the Georgia General Assembly is scheduled to consider a ban on these machines. We believe that's the only reasonable option to consider and encourage state leaders to put an end to this growing problem in our communities.

Jackson County Opinion Index


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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 22, 2001

Time to open standardized tests to scrutiny
I've always been a little ambivalent about the value of standardized test scores in public schools. On the one hand, standardized tests do offer parents and community leaders some outside evaluation of how a school is performing. That's important because no school leader is going to be very objective about his school's programs.
But while there is useful information in such testing, one has to wonder if we are going too far in putting emphasis on those test results. In the absence of other criteria, standardized test scores have become the way the public judges schools. People even buy houses based on the test scores of a particular school.
Testing is the way Georgia will soon be judging the knowledge of its students. In 2004, all third graders will have to pass a state test in order to move on to the fourth grade. By 2006, grades three, five and eight will be official "gateway" grades where students will have to pass a test to advance a grade.
Preliminary tests, however, show that a large percentage of students won't pass that gateway. What will we do then?
That's a tough question, one that school administrators lose sleep over. Not only will a high failure rate embarrass a school, it also will leave officials scrambling to deal with kids who will be behind their peers academically.
The response by most schools to this testing pressure has been to reorient the curriculum to follow the tests. New reading and math programs are being put in place that more closely mirror what school leaders believe will be tested.
But therein lies the first big problem with standardized tests: No one really knows what's being tested. A thick veil of secrecy surrounds these tests so that teachers won't "teach the test" in an attempt to inflate results.
It makes little sense, however, to have a test where neither students nor teachers know in advance what's being tested. Some critics of these tests claim that obscure or unimportant issues are covered in the tests, or that questions aren't being written clearly.
Indeed, standardized testing has no shortage of critics. In some states, a full-scale parent rebellion is taking place where students, with parental support, boycott standardized tests. Several groups have organized to oppose standardized testing and use the Internet to spread their message.
While there are a variety of viewpoints on standardized testing, critics generally focus on three points: 1. The tests are driving schools to focus too much on test-taking skills at the expense of real classroom learning; 2. The tests are biased, especially against students who speak English as a second language and who must master complex word problems on these tests; and 3. The tests do not measure a student or school's overall abilities, or reflect broader areas such as fine arts programs.
All three criticisms have validity. Practice tests are taking more and more classroom time, especially in the weeks leading up to the exams. And if anecdotal evidence is accurate, schools are slacking off in the classroom in the weeks following the tests, as if the only purpose for a school during the year is to prepare kids for test-taking.
But there's another problem with many of these tests which hasn't gotten as much attention: By their nature, standardized tests measure a lot of concepts rather than specific content. While the ability to master concepts is important, that should not replace an education of knowing specific content. One only has to talk with students about history to see that many have little specific knowledge about important historical events. (That's also true apparently with some teachers. At a local middle school recently, a teacher reportedly told students that the "Diary of Anne Frank" took place in World War I.)
Given the growing emphasis of standardized testing, and a growing backlash against it, it's time for the public to see details of what's being tested. But the secrecy surrounding these tests has so far kept these details away from public view.
Are these tests as flawed as their critics contend? Or are they a fair way to measure what's being taught in our schools?
Community leaders, educators and parents should demand that the veil around these tests be removed. Let us see what kinds of questions are being asked so that we can better understand the curriculum our children are being taught.
Properly done, standardized tests can be a useful guide for parents and school administrators. Improperly done, they can destroy education by skewing standards and curriculum.
Which is it in Georgia?
We don't know because we don't know what questions are being asked.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


The Commerce News
August 22, 2001

Beshara Right To Seek Firefighting Information
One thing can be said about Jackson County Commissioner Emil Beshara. He isn't afraid to tackle a tough issue. First, Beshara backed the expensive proposition of providing an animal control system in the county. More recently, he took on Jackson County's fire departments over a couple of issues.
The commissioner is right on target in dealing with firefighting in the county. He's the board of commissioners' point man in asking the fire departments to turn over the handling of their money to the county finance department and in asking them to consider the time when Jackson County will need some full-time paid firemen.
Both proposals, when first made, generated angry responses from some of the county's volunteers. But Beshara isn't backing down.
Turning over bookkeeping duties to the county makes sense now that fire departments are funded (with some exceptions) by property taxes levied by the board of commissioners. Not only are there departments without adequately detailed budgets, but there are also departments with less-than-diligent bookkeeping.
The fire departments are suddenly collecting large amounts of money with virtually no oversight. When a major new industry locates in a fire district, the millage rate stays the same and the budget is little more than a dollar amount, the commissioners are obligated to demand more.
As for the future of firefighting, Beshara has touched on what may be a crucial issue in five or 10 years. Currently, most Jackson County departments are strictly volunteer; those actually paying firemen are paying men and women who have other full-time jobs and who respond when they are able. Only West Jackson Fire Department has paid full-time firemen.
As Jackson County rapidly gains more houses, businesses and industry, the number of fires is likely to increase as well. Anyone who listens to a scanner has heard times when rural fire departments have struggled to get enough manpower to handle a daytime fire because so many volunteers work out of town. And with the Jackson County Correctional Institute Fire Department shut down, perhaps permanently, the likelihood for manpower problems is greater.
Our volunteer firemen ­ and those paid nominally ­ perform a tremendous service for their communities. In many cases, they are the core of the community. That their effectiveness, in some cases, may become inadequate at certain times of the day does not reflect upon their dedication or ability, but on the changing nature of the county. The time is coming when the volunteer force will have to be supplemented by some arrangement of full-time paid firemen.
Beshara may have angered some firemen by even suggesting that scenario, but who better to pose the question to than the county's firefighting authorities? Already, West Jackson's Fire Department has hired full-time firemen, having seen and understood the need. Those who threatened to "turn in our pagers" should take a look at the growth this county is facing and reconsider their positions.
Beshara may have angered some firemen, but he did the county a service in putting both ideas on the table for discussion.

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