COMET • Vol. 1, No. 26 – 2 October 2000


(1) “State to Release School Performance Index” by Kimberly Epler

Source: North County Times – 1 October 2000

Almost every school in California will know Wednesday whether it has hit a magic number for improving student test scores with the state release of the second annual Academic Performance Index.

Schools that reach their targets will be eligible for thousands of dollars in awards. So will their teachers, principals and librarians. The granting of the money depends on how students performed on a single test taken this spring.

The Stanford Achievement Test, Ninth [Edition], or SAT 9, is currently the only measuring stick for determining an index score. Other measures, such as graduation rates and a planned high school exit exam, will be phased in the years to come.

Last January, almost every public school in the state received an individual API score –ranging from 200 to 1,000 — based on results of the SAT-9. The target score was 800.

Schools that did not meet the target are supposed to improve the scores this year by 5 percent of the difference between last year’s score and the 800 mark.

The new API scores being released Wednesday will show whether the schools met the growth target and become eligible for state awards. It will also serve as a foundation for showing improvement in 2000-01.

Some charter schools, continuation schools and schools with less than 100 students will not receive an API score. The state is developing a way of including these campuses into the index. The index is part of an education reform package, called the Public Schools Accountability Act, passed by state legislators in 1999.

“This is a program where schools are competing against themselves,” said Bill Padia, director of Policy and Evaluation for the state Department of Education. “Growth drives this system.”

Ann Bancroft, communications officer for the state secretary of Education, agreed. “The point is not to punish schools, but to shed light and help teachers and parents know how students are doing on basic skills,” she said…

While SAT-9 results can help educators gauge how well students are doing in certain subjects, the API simply compares the same grade level from one year to the next, DeVore said.

It does not show if students improve from second grade to third grade, for example, he said. Instead the scores show how second-graders this year compare to last year’s second-graders…

In two separate awards programs, the state has set aside a total of nearly $600 million for schools that achieve three goals — meeting their growth target, raising the scores of ethnic groups and underprivileged students and having at least a 95 percent participation rate on the test.

Schools that scored 800 or higher last year must make at least a 1-point gain to be eligible for the money, up to $150 per student in the Governor’s Performance Award Program.

Schools that achieve the three state goals also could receive up to $1,600 per student from the School Site Employee Performance Bonus. Half the money would go toward the school and half would be awarded to every full-time school employee, from the custodian to the principal…

Included in each school’s index report will be a column noting whether the school qualifies for those two programs…

What won’t be seen Wednesday is a statewide ranking of schools — on a scale of 1 to 10 — based on student test scores. A rank of 10 means a school scored in the top 10 percent of the state, a rank of 9 means a school scored in the top 20, etc.

Rankings that compare schools with similar demographics, such as the number of students learning English as a second language and the education levels of parents, also won’t be released until January.

When the statewide and similar school rankings were released for the first time last year, some surprises were revealed. While some highly regarded schools fell short when compared to schools with similar makeups, other low-performing campuses rose to the top in the comparison…

While the similar school rankings do allow parents and district officials to see how their schools compare to others facing similar situations, it doesn’t count in the awards program, state officials said…

(2) “Hundreds Gather in San Jose to Derail STAR Program” by Sara Neufeld

Source: San Jose Mercury News – 2 October 2000

A small but growing number of California educators are urging parents to tell their kids to drop the No. 2 pencils and skip the state’s annual standardized test. The educators say the test — which determines each school’s academic performance rating, to be released this week — is unfair.

And parents are listening. At one school in Saratoga, they yanked 90 percent of their second-graders from this spring’s state testing. At another in San Jose, a third of students had test-exemption notes from home. Test scores among remaining kids at the school went up, but the principal vows not to accept any state reward money for the improvement even if she’s eligible.

“I feel that’s blood money,” said Peggy Bryan of Sherman Oaks Elementary. “If I get a check, I’m sending it back.”

Three years into STAR, the state’s standardized testing and reporting program, which requires annual testing of most second- through 11th-graders, an anti-test backlash is escalating. Several hundred California parents, teachers, administrators, school board members and university professors are mobilizing against the state’s high-pressure requirements to improve scores on the main portion of the STAR test, the Stanford 9. In the past year, opposition groups have sprung up from Los Angeles to the Bay Area.

Critics say the state is unfairly testing students with limited English proficiency and putting so much pressure on teachers that test preparation is now dominating classroom time…

The stakes are high. On Wednesday, the state is set to release each school’s Academic Performance Index based entirely on Stanford 9 scores. Schools showing the biggest gains will get $677 million in rewards distributed by Gov. Gray Davis. Low-performing schools that do not raise their test scores will eventually face punishments as serious as staff reassignment…

The test resisters’ strategy is to jeopardize the school accountability program by persuading parents to exempt their kids from the test.

One of the most prominent critics, the dean of UC-Berkeley’s School of Education, is speaking around the state to encourage test opposition. Eugene Garcia tells parents that if 500,000 students — or about 11 percent of all eligible students statewide — do not take the test, the remaining scores will be statistically meaningless. Garcia resigned from a state advisory committee last November, furious that the Stanford 9 is still the only factor in a school’s annual Academic Performance Index and that students who don’t understand English are tested…

San Francisco Unified School District has refused to test non-English-speaking students new to the district since 1998, and a resulting lawsuit involving the San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward districts is scheduled to go to trial in November.

Both Jones and the Santa Cruz parents point out that the Stanford 9 tests general knowledge rather than specific information taught in the classroom. Critics say that creates an inherent disadvantage for certain kids — those in special education classes, those with limited English proficiency and those in poor and minority neighborhoods.

Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford education professor, said Stanford 9 scores correlate strongly with students’ socioeconomic status and language background…

Judi Hirsch, a math and special education teacher in Oakland…calls the Academic Performance Index the “Affluence Performance Index.” She and fellow special ed teacher Susan Harman are co-founders of California Resisters and Bay Area Resisters, groups with several hundred subscribers to their e-mail listservs.

Bob Anderson, administrator of the state standards office, said educators can inform parents of their right to exempt their children, but “they’re definitely stepping over the line if they advocate that parents opt out.”

But many districts discourage staff members from informing parents of their right to exempt their children from the test, because exemptions can decrease any award money they might get for doing well…

State officials said children with limited English proficiency might be ignored if they are not tested. John Mockler, Davis’ interim education secretary, called the resisters “proponents of the policies that have condemned these children to ignorance”…

Others say the Stanford 9 is hurting education quality, particularly in low-scoring schools. Because the Stanford 9 doesn’t test history or science, some schools are de-emphasizing those subjects…

For the past two years, students have also taken another test to measure their knowledge of California curriculum, material that teachers are supposed to cover. State officials plan to factor that test into the Academic Performance Index next year…

McAuliffe’s Jones argues that testing fosters too much competition and that educators should be accountable to their communities, not to the state.

But Mockler, the education secretary, said that’s unrealistic. “If you don’t have the test,” he said, “you never have to be compared or judged. Well, I’m sorry. We’re putting up six or seven thousand dollars a kid. We’ve got to do something.”



(1) “The First International Powers of Ten Day: Celebrate October 10, 2000 (10/10/00)”

[From the Web site] Please join the Eames Office in launching a worldwide forum to promote and encourage Powers of Ten thinking — a form of cross-disciplinary thought and values which approaches ideas from perspectives big and small. This year Powers of Ten day will focus on the environment.

The heart of Powers of Ten Day is sharing the nine minute classic film “Powers of Ten,” by Charles and Ray Eames — a visual journey that takes us from a picnic out to the edge of space and then back to a carbon atom in the hand of the man at the picnic, all in a single shot. We hope you will show the film in your home, classroom or office and explore how viewing our environment from different magnitudes can inform our understanding of the world and our place within it. The film will be webcast throughout the day at and The film is part of the collection of many lending libraries as well as being widely available commercially in different formats–including through the Eames Office…

(2) “Glenn Commission Issues Final Report on Science and Mathematics Teaching for the 21st Century”

Source: National Science Teachers Association’s Legislative Update-9/27/00

Earlier this morning at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, former Senator John Glenn released the final report of the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century (known as the Glenn Commission). The 48-page report [“Before It’s Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics & Science Teaching for the 21st Century”] provides a comprehensive plan which details a number of ways to improve the quality of science and math teaching nationwide.

This past year, the distinguished blue ribbon panel of chief executives, members of Congress, and educators who comprised the Glenn Commission met five times to hear from experts in the field about the best ways to address the challenges facing science and math education.

The recommendations made in the Glenn Commission report…are based on three goals:

  1. Establish an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12.
  2. Increase significantly the number of mathematics and science teachers and improve the quality of their preparation.
  3. Improve the working environment and make the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers.

The Commission estimates the action strategies for achieving the three goals will cost more than $5 billion annually. “We as a nation must take immediate action to improve the quality of math and science teaching in every classroom in the country. If we delay, we put at risk our continued economic growth and future scientific discovery,” said Senator Glenn. “Here we outline a workable, balanced strategy that builds on what has been learned in the last decade, improves teaching, and thereby improves student achievement.”

Teachers are encouraged to download the full text of “Before It’s Too Late: The Report to the Nation from The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century” from

(3) “Duval a Model for Math, Science” by Laura Diamond

Source: The Florida Times-Union – 28 September 2000

As schools across the nation learn how to better teach math and science, they will look toward the Duval County school system for advice.

A Disney film documenting math and science lessons at J.E.B. Stuart Middle School will be sent to each public school board in the country along with a new report issued yesterday by a federal commission calling for more emphasis on these subjects.

The report, issued by a panel led by former Sen. John Glenn, proposed a $5 billion budget for making sure teachers earn majors or minors in math and science, teach those courses instead of others, and get incentives to stay in their jobs.

In collecting its research for the report, the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching in the 21st Century contacted Duval County to learn about the school system’s programs, said Marita Eng, supervisor for mathematics.

The commission already selected an elementary school in Oregon to document math and science teaching strategies, but needed a middle or high school, Eng said.

Duval County’s math and science programs have received national attention since the school system received a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation in 1998…

Eng said the commission was attracted to the school’s ability to overhaul its math and science teaching methods in a short period of time.

The panel also liked the professional development style used at the school, Eng said. Rather than teachers just being told what to do, they spent time instructing other educators on the material. This allowed the teachers to act as both students and instructors so they can understand what students experience as they try to learn science and math.

J.E.B. Stuart Principal Carol Daniels flew to Washington to participate in a news conference releasing the report. She joined Glenn and U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.

The panel, also known as the Glenn Commission, was given a year to study why as American children got older, they consistently did poorer than other nations on math and science tests.

The commission was also charged with recommending ways to prepare, attract, and keep good math and science teachers. While pay has been an issue for many educators, the panel did not call for specific increases in how much math and science teachers earn.

The group, disbanded with the release of this study, included more than two dozen teachers, school superintendents, governors, members of congress and industry executives.

(4) “Pencils Down”

Source: ABC News (Good Morning America) – 25 September 2000

George W. Bush speaks on Good Morning America about his vision for American schools, where he defended himself from critics who dislike his plan for mandatory school testing…

(5) “Test Scores Contradict ‘Recession’ Claim” by Duke Helfand

Source: Los Angeles Times – 27 September 2000

Since the Reagan administration signaled national alarm about America’s schoolchildren in a landmark report, reading test scores have stagnated while math scores have slowly crept up during the terms of each of the last three presidents.

This slow and uneven progress is disappointing, but leading education experts said the results don’t support Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s accusation that the Clinton administration has presided over an “educational recession.”

The experts also said that another key assertion by Bush only filled in part of the picture: that the achievement gap between minorities and whites widened since Clinton took office nearly eight years ago.

The gap between whites and blacks began to grow significantly during President Bush’s administration after nearly two decades of narrowing, national reading and math test scores show. That gap has continued to widen in math during the Clinton years and has remained about the same in reading.

“If we’re going to play president blaming, this does not bode well for either side,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, a Washington organization that studies student achievement.

One noted authority, from the National Center on Education and the Economy, said the performance of American students has generally improved over the last two decades–a statement supported by test data. But education levels have failed to keep pace with the growing demands of the modern high-tech economy.

Roughly half of the students who graduate from high school leave with an eighth-grade literacy level, said Marc Tucker, the center’s president.

“It’s not a case of having fallen from some earlier state of grace,” Tucker said. “We were never in that state of grace. For that reason, I think ‘recession’ is exactly the wrong metaphor”…

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign released a new television ad Tuesday that reiterates Bush’s mantra about the education recession. In the ad and on the stump, Bush has promised to reform the nation’s schools by pressing tough new accountability and discipline measures. He also is promoting an initiative to make sure all children can read by third grade.

For his part, Vice President Al Gore is promising universal preschool, more school construction and modernization, more teachers to reduce class sizes and new testing of teachers.

Despite the promises each candidate is making, serious questions remain over how much influence either one would have over education from the Oval Office. The president and the U.S. Department of Education play only limited roles in everything from textbooks to testing to teaching. Far greater powers rest with the nation’s governors–31 of whom are Republicans–and local school boards. Cities and states raise the lion’s share of money for schools through taxes.

“If you look at the broad sweep of educational performance trends and ask is this due to the federal government, I think the answer will be no in most cases,” said Dan Koretz, a senior research scientist at the Rand Corp. think tank in Washington. “Federal policy will have an influence. But I think it will be unlikely to see a sharp upturn or downturn in scores primarily because of federal policy alone.”

Virtually every state has launched initiatives over the last decade to reform education through new academic standards, tests and accountability measures. Most of that activity has occurred over the last five years.

Now, 49 states have standards for what students need to know in the core academic subjects, and 48 states test their students. More than half the states, including California, are developing high school exit exams.

“Rather than backing away from higher standards and accountability, it’s just gaining momentum across the states,” said Jennifer Vranek, director of benchmarking and state services for Achieve Inc., a consortium of state officials and business leaders who work for higher academic standards nationally. “We’re seeing more and more activity, not less.”

Those efforts have been prompted by poor showings on national and international tests–and the federal government’s own recognition over the last two decades that American students do not measure up to their counterparts around the world. In 1983, a Reagan administration report titled “A Nation at Risk” detailed the failures of the nation’s education system.

Texas is among the states that have been at the forefront of the reform movement–a fact that Bush has touted in his campaign for the White House. Texas is among the most effective states in helping students at all income levels learn, according to a recent national study. But that same study, by the Rand Corp., said more resources–not necessarily the tough accountability measures pushed by Bush–make the biggest difference.