Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

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Aug. 20

The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal says data shows the state's move to more rigorous educational standards and tests has been successful:

When Mississippi switched to new state standards and new state tests in 2014, the goal was to boost student achievement.

The current Mississippi College- and Career-Readiness Standards were designed to be much more in-depth and rigorous and to require more critical thinking of the state's students. The Mississippi Academic Assessment Program tests were more demanding.

Officials warned that when they were enacted, test scores would drop. And they did. But the plan said they would rise with time, as would Mississippi's performance on national standardized tests. And that has also happened.

This month, the state education department released results from the 2017-18 MAAP, the third year of that test. They showed the state's public school students improved their collective scores on 11 of the 14 tests, as reported by the Daily Journal's Dillon Mullan.

The tests measure student performance in English Language Arts and math in third- through eighth-grade, as well as English II and Algebra I. Students score in five categories from a low of Level 1 to a high of Level 5.

Overall, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations on ELA assessments increased from 36.7 percent in 2016-17 to 39.8 percent in 2017-18. In math, they rose from 38.6 percent to 43.9 percent.

The scores are moving in the right direction, and so is the state's performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is also known as the Nation's Report Card and is the test used to compare performance between states.

Scores released in April show Mississippi ranked second in the nation for gains in fourth-grade reading and fourth best for gains in fourth-grade math.

But work remains. Mississippi's national scores are still way too low. And the state's goal is to have 70 percent of its students be proficient on both the English and math MAAP tests bey 2025.

"One of the trends that you're seeing is fewer kids scoring in Level 1 and 2 and more kids scoring in Level 4 or 5," said state Superintendent of Education Carey Wright. "Eventually you want to eliminate all scores in Levels 1, 2 and 3."

State tests do not tell the complete story of a school's performance. And we continue to hope that leaders come up with a more comprehensive - and more accurate - system for measuring school performance.

But the tests are what we have right now. And they do provide data on how students are performing and where the strengths and weaknesses lie.

And that data shows that Mississippi's move to more rigorous standards and tests has been successful. And it shows that much more work remains.

Online: http://www.djournal.com/

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Aug. 20

The Daily Leader on possibility that Mississippi will get into the lottery business:

It looks more likely than ever that Mississippi will get in the lottery business.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has said he's ready to accept most of the House leadership's proposals on road funding. That includes moving some taxes on internet sales to cities and counties. He's also ready to use money from sports betting and creating a state lottery to increase spending on the state Department of Transportation, The Associated Press reported.

If Reeves and Gov. Phil Bryant are in favor, and both appear to be, there's a good chance Mississippians will soon be trying their luck close to home instead of driving across the state line.

Local lawmakers are divided on the lottery issue, which isn't a surprise. Lawmakers have tried for almost 20 years to pass a bill creating a lottery. No matter the year, or the party, legislators have a hard time agreeing on the matter.

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Mississippi voters in 1992 approved an amendment to the state's constitution legalizing a lottery.

"I have a lot of questions about the lottery," said District 39 Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven. "I would like to see more specifics on any proposal before I could vote for it. Is it just going to be a change in our taxes? Is someone going to come in and buy a lottery ticket as opposed to a Coke and a bag of chips? Is it just going to be a wash?"

District 53 Rep. Vince Mangold, R-Brookhaven, said he would vote against the lottery.

"The casino revenue was supposed to save education, but that hasn't worked. There's not enough answers with this lottery," he said. "The number I keep hearing thrown around is $80 million, but when you're looking at a $6 billion budget, $80 million is just a drop in the bucket. Every little bit helps, but I would not hook my wagon to the lottery to save the day."

What's different this time, compared to other years when lottery bills failed, is that more than 400 bridges across the state are closed and infrastructure needs are outpacing the state's piggy bank. A lottery might help, but a surer bet would be increasing the fuel tax to fund road and bridge work.

Online: https://www.dailyleader.com/

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Aug. 22

The Greenwood Commonwealth on opioid deaths:

There is grim news in the war on drugs. A preliminary report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug overdoses killed 72,000 people in 2017. If accurate, that is a 10 percent increase from the year before.

The New York Times put it in a perspective that is even more distressing: "The death toll is higher than the peak yearly death totals from HIV, car crashes or gun deaths."

There are two reasons for the continued increase, and neither one should be a surprise. One is that more Americans are using opioids, and another is that some of the drugs involved are more powerful, and thus more deadly.

Apparently, drug sellers have figured out that a lot of their customers want stronger stuff. So they are manufacturing a synthetic opioid called fentanyl and mixing it into other black-market drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The concoction is working.

Fortunately, there are a few success stories. Overdose deaths declined in seven states last year. Mississippi was one of two states where the overdose death rate was about the same as 2016.

Some communities are getting results from more aggressive action. For example, overdose deaths fell in Dayton, Ohio, after the city got doctors to reduce opioid prescriptions and increased the availability of addiction treatment. Given the nationwide extent of the opioid problem, it's certain that stronger tactics will be needed to reverse this horrible trend.

President Trump, who last year declared the opioid crisis a national emergency, has asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to sue certain companies that supply and manufacture the drugs.

A number of states already have sued opioid manufacturers, so a likely result will be greater restrictions on the drugs — at least the legal versions of opioids. But if history is any guide, illegal substances will rise quickly to replace anything that's difficult to obtain.

Online: http://www.gwcommonwealth.com