COMET • Vol. 1, No. 28 – 16 October 2000


(1) Curriculum Commission Vacancy Announcement
* Application Deadline: 27 October 2000
* Term: January 2001 – December 2004
* Classroom teachers are particularly encouraged to apply.

Description: The Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission consists of 18 members, 13 of which are appointed by the State Board of Education upon the recommendation of the Superintendent of Public Instruction or the members of the State Board of Education. The commission is responsible for advising the State Board of Education on matters related to curriculum and instruction.

The commission recommends curriculum frameworks to the State Board; develops criteria for evaluating instructional materials submitted for adoption; studies and evaluates instructional materials submitted for adoption; recommends to the State Board instructional materials which it approves for adoption; and recommends to the State Board policies and activities to assist the department and school districts in the use of curriculum frameworks and other available model curriculum materials.

The State Board of Education makes its appointments so as to ensure that, at any one time, at least seven of the public members are current classroom teachers, or mentor teachers, or both assigned to teach kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive. In making the remaining appointments to the commission, and in establishing the commission’s advisory task forces or committees, the State Board of Education considers the role of other representatives of the education community in the development of curriculum and instructional materials, including, but not limited to, administrators, school governing board members, and parents and guardians who are reflective of California’s diversity.

(2) “CSUSM Professor Helping Get Teachers Ready For High-Tech” by Bruce Kaufman

SourceNorth County Times – 8 October 2000

Peggy Kelly says her challenge is to train teachers to be comfortable and adept with the computer and the Internet because the technology can be among the most powerful tools around for opening a child’s eyes to the world.

As a Cal State San Marcos education professor, Kelly…has long been engaged in figuring out what teachers, especially those in training, should know about high-tech so that their students learn better. In fact, she said, sometimes there can be no better way of illustrating certain concepts.

In a visit last week to an elementary school in the Bay area, she said, she saw students engaging in “wonderful, rich conversation” about…geometry as they rotated a building around on a computer screen and identified the different shapes incorporated into the architecture…

“The question is, how can you use technology to help kids learn better and more deeply?” Kelly said. “What can I do in my class to teach things that I could not teach in any other way?”….

As a director of the National Educational Technology Standards Project, Kelly has been working to develop what she calls a “set of competencies” teachers should possess before venturing into a classroom in the age of the new technology.

With money from the federal government and private sources such as Apple Computer Inc., the project aims for a level of technological literacy in teachers that ranges from adeptness at fixing a hardware glitch in the classroom computer to fluency in the legal and ethical issues that surround the Internet.

The standards hold out a way for colleges of education, such as the one at Cal State San Marcos, to produce “a really well prepared” person who goes on the job knowing how to stimulate learning with high-tech….

Today, she said, “the bottom line is trying to use technology in teaching and learning.” The problem right now, she said, may be that some kids are coming in to class knowing their way around a computer better than the teacher. “But it’s surfing the Net these kids know about, and not necessarily surfing the Net for learning purposes,” said Kelly. And the possibilities for teaching and learning with the aid of computers seem endless in the “technology-rich environments” that can be fostered now, she said…

(3) Re: “All High Schoolers Will Take Algebra” by Maria Sacchetti

Editor’s note: After this article appeared in last week’s COMET, I received a message disputing the following statement from the article: “All California students – starting with this year’s ninth-graders – must take Algebra I to graduate under a new law…” The message writer noted: “SB 1354 states that all students must have courses in grades 7-12 that cover the algebra content listed for 8th grade. This does not mean they must have a course called Algebra 1. There are integrated courses that cover the same content.” The specific language from Senate Bill 1354 (available online at is as follows: “This bill would specify that the adopted course of study for grades 7 to 12, inclusive, include, as part of mathematics instruction, algebra. The bill would also specify that commencing with the 2003-04 school year, for high school graduation, at least one or a combination of the 2 required mathematics courses meet or exceed the rigor of content standards for Algebra I that are adopted by the State Board of Education…”



(1) “Most Eighth Graders Fail State Math Test” by Abby Goodnough

Source: New York Times – 13 October 2000

More than three-quarters of New York City’s eighth graders failed to reach acceptable levels on a statewide mathematics test last spring, raising serious questions about whether they will be able to pass a newly required Regents math exam before they graduate from high school in 2004…

“The clock is running and there is a great urgency here,” said Richard P. Mills, the state education commissioner, as he announced the results yesterday at an Albany news conference. “Far too many students are not learning math right now, and if we concentrate on this, we can change the situation”…

Harold O. Levy, the New York City schools chancellor, released a brief statement yesterday saying he was disappointed with the test results. Last week, he announced that he had appointed a panel to study how math is taught in city classrooms and recommend changes by next spring. In particular, he wants the panel to ensure that “there is alignment between what is taught and what is tested,” he said.

“Currently, what is taught is different from what the state standards require and what the fourth- and eighth-grade math exams test for,” Mr. Levy said. “In my own view, it is also different from the kinds of math that students need later in life.”

Results from the statewide math test for fourth graders were more heartening, although they were worse than last year’s: 65 percent of the state’s fourth graders met standards on that test, compared with 67 percent in 1999. In New York City, the fourth-grade passing rate was 46 percent, down from 50 percent in 1999.

One way to interpret the trend in math test results from fourth to eighth grades is that students seem to fall further behind in math as they advance from grade to grade. Another explanation experts offer is that many middle-class and affluent parents pull their children out of the public schools when they reach middle-school age. Still a third factor could be that many middle-school math teachers, especially in New York City, are not certified to teach the subject…

And while Mr. Levy’s math panel is to report back to him with recommendations in a few months, it usually takes at least three years to integrate major changes into curriculums, said Anne Wheelock, an education researcher in Boston who has written extensively about middle schools.

“Nobody wants to admit that changing high-need schools takes very focused effort and a lot of time,” Ms. Wheelock said. “It doesn’t just happen with a set of carrots and sticks and grandiose rhetoric about how we’re setting the bar higher”…

Board of Education officials in New York City pointed out yesterday that the city’s 40 lowest-performing schools adopted a new mathematics curriculum in the fall of 1999 that includes intensive, ongoing training for teachers. But they said it was too soon to tell whether the new curriculum would boost test scores.

Although Mr. Mills acknowledged yesterday that middle-school curriculums were weak, he said the state had made “tremendous efforts” to ensure that fourth and eighth graders passed the new tests. “We have put in place standards, published curriculum guides, offered professional development, fought for and won more resources,” he said. “It’s clear that we have worked on this”…

(2)  “More Va. Schools Hit Test Target” by Victoria Benning

Source: Washington Post – 12 October 2000

The number of Virginia public schools meeting state benchmarks for performance on the Standards of Learning tests more than doubled this year, according to an analysis of preliminary figures released by state officials yesterday.

All public schools must attain the test-score targets by 2007 to keep their state accreditation. Last year, 116 public schools–6.5 percent of schools statewide–met the benchmarks…

The SOL exams cover basic subjects and are given to students in grades 3, 5 and 8 and in high school. In most cases, a school will risk losing its accreditation in 2007 if fewer than 70 percent of its students have passed the exams. The required passing rate is 75 percent for third-grade and fifth-grade English, and 50 percent for third-grade science and third-grade history…

Testing experts said the gains are not surprising. They said that students are becoming more familiar and comfortable with the tests and that teachers are getting better at preparing their students. And, they said, the penalties for poor performance are a strong motivator.

“The loss of accreditation is a powerful motivator for a superintendent,” said Gary R. Galluzzo, former dean of the George Mason University Graduate School of Education. “Teachers are teaching to the content of these tests. Is that good or bad? If you believe these assessments accurately capture what children know and should be able to do, you think this is good. If you don’t believe that, you likely think this is compliance behavior of the lowest form.”

Some teachers, parents and school administrators contend that the SOL tests tend to reward rote memorization rather than analytical skill. Some also have complained that the penalties for low performance are too strong.

Galluzzo, now executive vice president of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, said some of the accommodations Virginia has made–such as giving schools the option of excluding certain students’ scores if it will boost the school’s rating–are unusual when compared with other states’ testing programs. But he said he thinks the accommodations are “politically appropriate” and necessary to win the public’s support.

(3) “Standard Tests Pose Questions for States” by Scott S. Greenberger

SourceBoston Globe – 8 October 2000

…The standardized test debate isn’t unique to Massachusetts. Nearly every state now gives students a standardized test in an effort to raise education standards, and many of the tests are controversial. Twenty-four states, including Massachusetts, have made passing such exams a graduation requirement.

But while the Bay State is in crowded company when it comes to testing, few states have created such a broad, challenging exam without providing an alternative route to graduation, such as the certificate plan proposed last month by Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll…

Several states with high school exit exams nonetheless award either diplomas or certificates to students who have attended class, earned solid grades, and have been recommended by their teachers. An increasing number are using end-of-course exams instead of broad math or English tests, and others have delayed their exams until they can be sure teachers are teaching what’s on it. In some states, students are tested only on eighth- or ninth-grade material.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, which covers high school material, is widely viewed as one of the toughest exams in the country. Its goal is not only to test basic skills, but to push schools and students to reach higher standards. Students in the Class of 2003 are the first who will have to pass the MCAS test to earn a diploma – no exceptions, at least not yet. Based on previous test results, as many as 30,000 may not make it….

Like Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Indiana have challenging tests, but they offer an escape route for good students who are poor test-takers. In Wisconsin, local school boards must have policies to evaluate students based on the test, grades, portfolios of work, and teacher recommendations. Students who attend class and pass every required course but who fail the exam might still earn a diploma. Indiana has a similar system.

Other states, such as Alabama and South Carolina, give students who fulfill all nontest requirements an alternative graduation certificate that can get them into community colleges or the military…

Other states have dealt with the issue by making high school exit exams easier. Arizona, for example, is changing its math test, which is given in the 10th grade, so it includes only what the average 10th-grader – as opposed to the average high school graduate – should know.

Arizona officials say they were reacting to a Texas lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Pointing to high minority failure rates, the group argued that the Texas test discriminates against Hispanics and African-Americans. The judge in the case rejected the argument, but he said that any high school exit exam has to reflect what students have had the opportunity to learn….

Colorado Education Commissioner Bill Moloney is a proponent of tough statewide tests, such as the MCAS, that measure students against a standard as opposed to comparing them to each other….

(4) “Parents Mobilize Nationwide to Fight Standardized Tests” by Liz Sidoti

Source: Boston Globe – 27 September 2000

…In the past 18 months, parents who oppose the way standardized tests are used have mobilized in at least 36 states. Twenty states now have exams that high school students must pass to graduate, and all states except Iowa and Nebraska test children.

“This issue is striking very close to home because parents are seeing the impact of these tests in their living and breathing kids,” said Karen Hartke, a project director with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing in Cambridge, Mass. “They’re so passionate about this issue that they have created a movement.”

Opponents argue that the exams place too much stress on children, miscalculate their abilities, limit what they are taught, and weigh too much in determining whether they are held back. Supporters say the tests ensure solid education by holding schools and students accountable.

“For decades, we’ve graduated students without the skills they need, and swept the problem under the rug,” said William Guenther, president of Mass Insight Education, a Boston-based organization that works to improve student achievement in Massachusetts’ public schools. He argues that standardized tests in core subjects can focus attention on areas where students aren’t proficient to ensure they get the help needed to learn basic skills”…

(5) “Minnesota & TIMSS-Exploring High Achievement in Eighth Grade Science” by the National Education Goals Panel

Source: TIMSS-Forum ( – 3 October 2000

Having clear, consistent standards and systemic alignment are key ingredients in achieving high performance in science, according to a case study released today by the National Education Goals Panel. The study, titled “Minnesota & TIMSS, Exploring High Achievement in Eighth Grade Science” is an in-depth examination of why eighth grade science students in Minnesota were second only to Singapore in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)

The authors of Minnesota & TIMSS identified several characteristics of science education that are unique to Minnesota that explain the state’s world-class performance in 8th grade science. These characteristics are:

  • High Expectations for All Students: In Minnesota, all 7th and 8th grade students are expected to take the same rigorous science courses.
  • Focus and Coherence in Curriculum: Unlike other American junior high science programs, Minnesota classes cover far fewer topics while devoting more time to developing them.
  • Alignment Fostered by the Existence of de facto Science Standards: Because all Minnesota science teachers were expected to teach the same content, over time a consensus emerged among classroom teachers, teacher educators, and state officials as to what constituted good science instruction.
  • Continuity: Minnesota’s statewide science program has its origins in the 1960’s and teachers, administrators, and state leaders have had ample time to develop a consensus, align professional development, and perfect instruction.
  • Capacity within the Teaching Profession: The statewide science program that has emerged was developed and has evolved from within the teaching profession.

“Not only is focus present in Minnesota, but there is coherence about the science curriculum concentrating on a small number of topics all within a given hare that gelled together within the broader sense of the discipline,” said Dr. William Schmidt, one of the authors of the case study. “Minnesota shows the nation a way to achieve what we want for all of our children and it shows us that we can achieve our goals if we have the will.”

The performance of Minnesota students on TIMSS, although slightly higher, was similar to that of the U.S. as a whole. However, a significant difference existed in eighth-grade scores. In mathematics, Minnesota eighth-graders were slightly above the international average but not in the top tier of nations. In science, Minnesota eighth-graders were second only to Singapore, one of the top performing nations on TIMSS. The Goals Panel commissioned a study to see if it could identify policies that could have contributed to the higher performance in science than in mathematics.

“This Minnesota study shows that high expectations for all students coupled with a focused, coherent curriculum and alignment with the system can produce world-class performance for students,” said Governor Tommy Thompson (WI), chair of the Goals Panel. “These are the goals of standards-based reform, and I think this study says that we are on the right course.”

“Minnesota & TIMSS, Exploring High Achievement in Eighth Grade Science” can be downloaded from the NEGP web site at …

To request print copies, contact the National Education Goals Panel, 1255 22nd Street, N.W., Suite 502, Washington, DC 20037, (202) 724-0015, or e-mail



Math Solutions Online Newsletter

Source: Math Forum Internet News – 2 October 2000

The “Math Solutions Online Newsletter” is a newsletter designed to provide up-to-date classroom activities and Math Solutions programs and materials for elementary and middle-school students.

Articles by Marilyn Burns and others offer ideas ranging from how to help children make sense of money and dates, to ways of using writing to help students learn. Suggestions for parent conferences and a brief history of trends in mathematics education (“Math for the 21st Century – Back to Basics?”) are also provided.

The newsletter is published twice a year by Marilyn Burns, and you are invited to add yourself to the Math Solutions mailing list.


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 during the regular academic year. 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).