COMET • Vol. 1, No. 02 – 26 January 2000


(1) “California Releases High-stakes Public School Rankings” by Jennifer Kerr

Sacramento Bee – 26 January 2000

“California ranked its nearly 7,000 public schools Tuesday as part of an ambitious attempt to boost dismal test scores, and those with high numbers of minority and low-income children drew the lowest marks.. Black, Hispanic and poor students scored well below the median ranking, while white and Asian students were above it, according to a computer-assisted analysis by The Associated Press.

“The Academic Performance Index (API) is a key piece of Democratic Gov. Gray Davis’ plan to turn around the state’s struggling public school system and part of a national trend toward setting educational standards. [In years to come, the API is to be calculated based on an array of components, including attendance and graduation rates and a high school exit exam yet to be devised.*] ‘Starting today, the era of accountability has finally begun in public education,'” Davis said…

“Each school’s rating, based on 1999 student achievement test scores, will serve as its base score for determining whether it will take part in a three-year, $96 million improvement program or share in $146 million in rewards next fall after the 2000 test. Schools that fail to improve within three years could face sanctions as severe as closing”

“Each school received a score from 200 to 1000 based on their students’ scores on last year’s statewide achievement test. The statewide median score was 627. Davis’ goal is getting all schools to 800; 5,951 fell below that, while 779 schools met or exceeded it”

“Parents can find the school scores on the Internet at The Web site was jammed for hours Tuesday, and received 1,000 hits its first minute, state school Superintendent Delaine Eastin said.

“The Web site gives parents an unprecedented look at schools’ performance and academic breakdown — everything from the demographics of their students to the average education level of children’s parents. The index also shows how schools did compared to others with similar makeups.

“Median scores [scale: 200-1000] for demographic groups, according to the AP’s review, included:

— 497 for black students, who were a significant minority in 1,237 schools.

— 510 for Hispanic students in 4,815 schools.

— 516 for “socieconomically disadvantaged” students – those receive free or reduced-price school lunches or have a parent who didn’t graduate from high school — counted at 4,970 schools.

— 727 for white students at 4,927 schools.

— 758 for Asian students at 1,260 schools.”


Related articles: “Vast Majority of State’s Schools Lag in New Index” (LA Times)

* “Capital Area Test Scores Run Gamut: State Schools Fall Short of Davis’ Goal” (SacBee)

(2) California’s High School Exit Exam (HSEE)

The following information from the January 19 HSEE Panel meeting was shared by Walter Denham:

Test Format and Design:

Included in the “Invitation to Submit an Informal Bid” dated January 6 was a draft Test Format and Design. The draft calls for a mathematics test with 100 multiple choice items only and 100 multiple choice plus two essays for English Language Arts. Of the approximately 1900 existing math items, something in the order of 800-1000 must survive the match-against-the-standards exercise for field testing, with the goal of having 400 items available for HSEE use starting in the spring of 2001. The draft says that there would be one form for the spring, one for the fall, one for the spring of 2002, and one to be released. Meanwhile, the contractor would be developing more items with the intention of having 1600 useable math items total available within the course of two years.

The design calls for 70% of the items to be drawn from grade 7 standards, 30% from Algebra 1. Of the Grade 7, the breakdown is:

Number sense 21

Algebra and functions 20

Measurement and Geom 21

Statistics, Data . . . 8

The draft, however, included many standards not recommended by the Panel. My count is that the Panel objects to 14 of the 30 Algebra 1 items, all because they are based on math content standards the Panel does not recommend. The panel asked, “How much testing time will be required?” The response was that a rule of thumb is 90 seconds per item. One panelist said that there would have to be separate days for this testing, and they should be in addition to the 180 days of school. Legislation should be passed, she said, to add another day to the school calendar.

(3) “State Picks Firm to Create First High School Exit Exam”

Los Angeles Times – 25 January 2000

“With a deadline looming, California education officials picked American Institutes for Research to develop the state’s high school exit exam. AIR is a Washington-based company with a West Coast office in Palo Alto.


“The exit exam is a math and language arts test that California students must pass to graduate from high school. The Class of 2004 will be the first high school class required to pass the exam. That class, which will begin its freshman year this fall, is expected to get its first crack at the exam in spring 2001.


“AIR, known primarily for research and technical support, is expanding its test development. The company has done much of the work on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam given to students nationwide.”

(4) California’s 2001 Textbook Adoption

The following report is by Lily Roberts, from the Calif. Dept. of Education’s Curriculum Frameworks division:

At the January meeting of the Curriculum Commission, the Math Subject Matter Committee reviewed 89 applicants for selection as a Content Review Panelist (CRP) or Instructional Material Advisory Panelist (IMAP) [for the 2001 Mathematics Adoption]. The committee selected 12 CRP applicants and 54 IMAP applicants for the Commission to approve and recommend to the State Board of Education. The Board will act on this item at the February meeting. The criteria for selection of CRP members was a Ph.D. in Mathematics. The CRP panel is composed of the following: university affiliation–5 UC faculty, 4 CSU faculty, and 3 Stanford faculty; geographic representation–6 southern, 2 northern, and 4 [San Francisco] Bay area; gender–2 female and 10 male. The IMAP panel consists of the following: profession–42 teachers of which 8 are specialists, 5 school administrators, 1 board trustee, 1 researcher, 3 higher education instructors, 1 retired engineer, and 1 software executive; geographic–30 southern, 12 northern, 4 central, and 8 bay area; gender–39 female and 5 male. The original target for the IMAP pool was sixty panelists and the Commission’s recommendation to the Board is to recruit for additional IMAP members. At least fifty percent of the total pool of 66 has to be classroom teachers, and the number of classroom teachers is 36, which meets the requirement. The next step after the Board’s approval of the CRP/IMAP panel, is an “Invitation to Submit” meeting with publishers scheduled for March 15th in Sacramento.

*If you are interested in serving on an IMAP, please contact Lily Roberts as soon as possible at (916) 657-3915.

  1. For information on the controversy surrounding California’s Science Standards, go to



(1) “Oreos and M&M’s? Learning Tools” by Judith Gaines

Boston Globe – 23 January 2000

“What’s the diameter of an Oreo cookie? How do you calculate the surface area of a box of Cocoa Frosted Flakes? How many M&M candies in a 16-ounce bag are likely to be red? The questions come from [the students] controversial new textbook, ‘Mathematics: Applications and Connections,’ which uses brand names like Nike sneakers and Nintendo games, and junk foods like Cheez-Its, to make algebra and geometry exciting and relevant to young students.”

(2) “Governor, State Union Vow Fight Over Proposal on Teacher Testing” by Dan King

(Massachusetts) Union News/Sunday Republican – 22 January 2000

“Following up on a hotly disputed initiative in his State of the State speech, Gov. A. Paul Cellucci yesterday vowed to fight the state teachers’ union in court if necessary to enforce his plan to test as many as 2,000 math teachers in the state’s public schools…

“Cellucci said in his annual address on Thursday night in Lowell that he would order the state Board of Education to approve testing of math teachers in schools where more than 30 percent of students failed the math portion of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests. Math teachers would have to take the same exam that prospective math teachers must pass to enter the profession. Cellucci said he plans to publicly identify the teachers who fail the exams and to require local communities to pay for their remedial training. Cellucci wants to test only math teachers, because students performed much more poorly in math than English or science”

“At William J. Dean Technical High School in Holyoke, where 93 percent of the students failed the math portion of the test, math department head Patricia Corradino said she is surprised and disappointed by the governor’s comments. ‘I think the problems that we face in Holyoke are unique, and certainly our lack of performance is not attributed to the lack of dedication and preparedness of our teachers,’ Corradino said, pointing to the high percentage of students with limited proficiency in the English language…”

(3) “Trainee Teachers Must Pass Maths Exam to Qualify” by Rebecca Smithers

The Guardian/The Observer – 21 January 2000,5500,125187,00.html

“Sample maths questions that trainee teachers must be able to answer are published today, in preparation for the compulsory numeracy test to be taken by the first students in June.

“The test, comprising mental arithmetic and written questions, is the first of three national [(Great Britain)] skills tests being introduced by the government’s teacher training agency to ensure that teachers are numerate, literate and competent in information and communications technology”

“Introduction of the tests was ordered by the education and employment secretary, David Blunkett, and was included in his green paper designed to modernise and raise standards within the profession. The questions in all three tests will relate directly to day to day work in the classroom” [e.g.] A teacher wants to show a 20 minute video, which must finish exactly five minutes before the end of the lesson. The lesson will end at 10 minutes past 11 o’clock. At what time must the video start?”

(4) Johnny Might Not Be Math-challenged; His Problem Could Just Be That He’s An Auditory Learner” by Keith Devlin

“Devlin’s Angle” – MAA Online – January 2000

“‘I’m not stupid, I’m auditory,’ was how one student reacted after taking the learning-styles diagnostic test developed and administered by Diablo Valley College, a public, two-year community college outside San Francisco, California. ‘I realize there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with me; I just process information differently,’ was another student’s comment.”

“The diagnostic is based on Miller’s research into learning styles, and was written by the college’s learning disability specialist Catherine Jester. It comprises 32 multiple-choice questions designed to ascertain a student’s natural learning style, and has been freely available on the Web since January 1998 ( It takes just a few minutes to complete, and the result — a profile of the student’s learning style along with specific suggestions of how best to study — is available immediately. To date, over 10,000 students from Diablo Valley College and elsewhere have used it to overcome math anxiety and improve their performance in mathematics.”



(1) The Annenberg/CPB Channel

“The Annenberg/CPB Channel presents an exciting series of Professional Development workshops for K-12 educators and administrators” Each series focuses on some aspect of teaching and learning, and can be used by any educator interested in improving classroom practice. Graduate credit and professional development certificates are available for most workshops.” Access the following Web site periodically for program updates:

“Looking at Learning Again” is an 8-part interactive series for K-12 math and science teachers. “This series on learning features seven leading educators — Eleanor Duckworth, Hubert Dyasi, Howard Gardner, Constance Kamii, Joseph Novak, Mitchel Resnick, and William Schmidt — and their ideas on how students really learn. Through personal interviews, teacher discussions, and actual classroom footage, the series encourages teachers to examine their beliefs about how children learn, and how these beliefs might influence their teaching.” For more information about this series, go to

(2) “Buy 1, Get 2 Free” Math Video Offer

Looking for a video (math-related, of course)? A “Buy 1, Get 2 Free” offer for first-time customers is available from

(3) The Mathematical Association of America

The Mathematical Association of America has an interesting, useful web site: MAA’s online columns (Keith Devlin’s and more) are available at

FYI: MAA recommends The Math Chat Book by Frank Morgan: “An ideal gift for anyone who enjoys the fun of mathematics–buy a copy for a favorite teacher, friend, or for yourself (List: $19.95 MAA Member: $16.00)”

(4) The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Web site contains numerous useful links. A number of NCTM’s journal articles are available online at For the NCTM Standards (1989) online, go to

For the “Standards 2000” document online, go to



(1) Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching 

The following NSF Web site has program and application information:

Applications must be postmarked by February 14, 2000.

(2) Mathematics Education (ME) position opening at CSU-Fresno

CSU-Fresno has a Mathematics Education (ME) position opening in the Dept. of Mathematics for 2000-2001. A second position in ME in the CSUF School of Education is anticipated for 2001-2002. CSUF also has a Curriculum and Instruction opening, and mathematics educators (K-8 focus) are encouraged to apply. Information on the ME opening can be found at the following Web site:

Information on the C&I opening can be found at

under Job Announcements (closing date: February 29, 2000).


Please pass along to interested university colleagues and doctoral students.



(1) Mathematics Book Chats

Mathematics Book Chats, sponsored by the San Joaquin Valley Mathematics Project (SJVMP), began last week and will continue on February 29 and April 4 with a discussion of Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics in China and the United States by Liping Ma. Contact Cathleen Rogers at or to register or for more information.

(2) “An Evening with Liping Ma” 

Liping Ma has accepted Lori Hamada’s invitation to work with the San Joaquin Valley Mathematics Project on July 12 in Oakhurst. Ma also agreed to provide a keynote address from 7-9 p.m. that evening in Fresno. More details will be shared when they become available.

(3) The Exemplary and Promising Mathematics Programs Conference

The Exemplary and Promising Mathematics Programs Conference will be held at the Radisson Hotel & Conference Center, 2233 Ventura St., Fresno, CA on March 21, 2000, from 8:00 a.m. through 4:00 p.m. (breakfast and lunch provided). Fee: $25/day. Contact Carolyn Moshier or Cherie Burns at 559-673-6051 x 251 for more information.

(4) Professional Development Conference for Teacher Leaders

Information on the Professional Development Conference for Teacher Leaders (formerly the Mentor Teacher Conference) is available at The conference will be held at San Diego’s Town and Country Hotel on 9-11 February 2000.


COMET is an online newsletter that seeks to provide timely information in a digest format about state (California) and national news, articles, events, opportunities, and web resources related to mathematics education. Information from a variety of print and online sources is compiled and distributed via COMET approximately once a week. The target audience includes California PreK-12 teachers of mathematics and school/district administrators, as well as university faculty throughout the nation who are interested in issues related to mathematics education (with a focus on California news). Because COMET is based at California State University, Fresno, mathematics education opportunities in Central California are also included. If you would like to include an announcement or article in COMET, please send it to for consideration. (Your comments and suggestions are also welcomed!)