COMET • Vol. 1, No. 29 – 23 October 2000


(1) “High School Exit Exam Resources for Teachers”

Source: Judy Welcome, Curriculum and Instruction Consultant, Shasta County Office of Education — 530-225-0200 —

Judy Welcome presents an extensive collection of web links to sites related to the topics covered on California’s High School Exit Exam (Mathematics plus English/Language Arts). Many sites are appropriate for a wide range of grade levels.

(2) “Sophomore Volunteers Say The Exam Is Not Bad, But A Report Predicts 50 Percent Will Fail When It Is Implemented” by Lisa Shafer

Source: Contra Costa Times – 15 October 2000

Several students found it easier than the usual state exams. Many felt the essay questions were less than inspiring, rather vague in direction. Most were glad to be mere guinea pigs for the ultimate in high-stakes tests — the high school exit exam.

A random selection of sophomores in Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Moraga, Orinda and Walnut Creek got a sneak peak last week at the test that soon will be a diploma do-or-die. They were among about 12,000 who missed regular classes to test the test and help the state gear up for the real thing.

“Be ready for a long test,” sophomore Sean Sullivan advised underclassmen after taking an exam prototype at Moraga’s Miramonte High. “And know your algebra — that was a big part.”

Beginning with the class of 2004 — this year’s freshmen — students in California public schools won’t receive a diploma unless they pass a six-hour test based on new state standards in reading, writing and math. The language arts questions are based on standards up to 10th-grade level; the math goes up to algebra…

Freshmen will get their first crack at the two-day test next semester on a volunteer basis. By their sophomore year, all will have to take the exam.

Students who don’t pass as freshman volunteers or sophomores will have multiple chances to retake the exam, up until the summer after their senior year. Schools must give those students extra instruction.

The test is intended to be the linchpin of Gov. Gray Davis’ ambitious plan to salvage the state’s public schools. He has pressed to keep the test on track, despite a recommendation for a one- to two-year delay.

In a June report, Human Resources Research Organization of Virginia called the exam a quality measurement, closely aligned with standards the state has told schools to teach. But the firm, hired by the state to monitor the exam, said field tests and principal surveys in the spring indicated that more than half the state’s 10th graders would fail if the passing score was 70 percent. The firm suggested the state wait until schools had more time to train teachers and purchase appropriate classroom material.

The governor’s office responded that four years was enough time to prepare the class of 2004, especially with enormous infusions of state money for education. The state Board of Education will set a passing score in January…

“This isn’t a ‘gotcha’ exam,” said Jan Chladek, a consultant at the Department of Education. “The governor didn’t want it to be a test to ‘get’ students.”

Les Axelrod, another state consultant, said he expects the following results when the real test kicks in: “About 25 percent (of the students) don’t have to worry. Another 25 percent will pass on their second try; another 25 percent eventually will pass.”

“The bottom 25 percent is what you really have to worry about,” he said. “Those are the students that you have to identify.”

With 438,999 members of the class of 2004, California may have in excess of 100,000 students to worry about.

(3) “‘Exemplary’ Texts Withdrawn From Calif. Adoption Process” by David J. Hoff

Source: Education Week – 18 October 2000

The mathematics instructional programs judged to be the best by a federal panel of experts may be scarce in California’s classrooms over the next six years.

Of the six K-8 math programs lauded last year by the U.S. Department of Education’s panel, only two have been submitted to committees that will determine which textbooks the Golden State’s K-8 schools will be allowed to buy with state textbook funds.

One publisher whose materials were deemed “exemplary” by the federal panel said he withdrew from consideration in California because the state’s new skills-based curriculum guidelines differ from his products’ approach. Many of his colleagues who won plaudits from the panel decided against even submitting their materials, he added.

“Why would I want to submit my books when [decisionmakers] are on record as opposing them?” asked Brian F. Hoey, the publisher of CPM Educational Program, which sells the College Preparatory Mathematics Program. “The deck is stacked against any math program that isn’t in a traditional format.”

California is adopting a new list of materials that will match the standards the state adopted in 1998. The criteria used to evaluate books this year reflect a shift in the standards away from conceptual understanding of mathematics and real-life problem-solving skills-two themes of the 1989 standards published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Instead, the new curriculum frameworks favor a traditional instructional approach that reinforces basic skills and repeated practice of math functions.

Limited Options?

One mathematician who helped write the new frameworks and is reviewing the textbooks says that the state is looking for products that can document success in raising student achievement and challenge students to solve problems using commonly accepted approaches.

“If test scores in these programs don’t go up, California isn’t interested,” said R. James Milgram, a professor of mathematics at Stanford University.

Mr. Milgram was one of nine members of the California review committee who signed an open letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley saying the federal panel’s selections differed with the “mainstream views of practicing mathematicians and scientists”…

Some bidders say California’s approach is fair because it reflects the content of the state’s standards. “If you look at the criteria established for this adoption and compare that to the ones [the expert panel] looked at, they’re diametrically opposed,” said Maureen DiMarco, the vice president of educational and governmental affairs for the Houghton Mifflin Co. and a secretary of education under former California Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican. “Those programs in general would not meet [the criteria]. It is a waste of money to submit a book”…

Those who advocate the NCTM’s approach of teaching the underlying concepts of math say that the makeup of the panels evaluating the textbooks almost guarantees the state’s schools will be limited in what they can offer their students.

As a result of the textbook adoption, “I don’t think California children will be given a full range of options,” said Ruth Cossey, a professor of education at Mills College in Oakland and the president of the California Mathematics Council, which includes teachers, administrators, and college professors…

Of the 15 programs that are undergoing evaluations by the California curriculum- and textbook-review commission, only Everyday Mathematics and Carnegie Learning’s Cognitive Tutor won laudatory reviews from the federal panel.

While most observers say that the publishers of the so-called reform programs were wise to sit out the current process, one of Everyday Learning’s authors says his books have a chance to win the endorsement of the state school board. It is scheduled to vote on the review panel’s recommendations in January.

“We’ve tried to reach out to some of these folks … and tried to educate them about what we’re all about, and I think it’s paying off,” said Andrew C. Isaacs, an author of the Everyday Mathematics series, which is a project of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project [UCSMP] and published by the McGraw-Hill Cos…

“Some of the stronger [NCTM-oriented] curricula should get through in a fair process,” Ms. Cossey said. “They get the coverage of the content standards, but they also have good pedagogy”…

The conventional wisdom is that textbook publishers must win the California state board’s endorsement to market a successful product both within the state and nationwide. The state allocates $131 million a year for K-8 textbooks. Schools must spend 70 percent of their state money on titles from the approved list.

Curriculum materials approved by the state board in January will be on the state’s list until 2007. The board will review titles again in 2003 and add new ones to the list…

The College Preparatory Math products published by Mr. Hoey were created at the University of California, Davis, in the mid-1990s, after the state board of education’s last math-textbook adoption in 1994.

Mr. Hoey said he has sold 40,000 copies of College Preparatory Math’s middle school book, most of them in California.

Still, he said, it’s difficult to reach many schools without the state’s seal of approval. “A lot of places won’t look at us because we’re not on the list,” he said.

While College Preparatory Math is counting on grassroots efforts to keep its products in the schools, Mr. Isaacs of Everyday Mathematics thinks that many of the mathematicians who have controlled the debate in the past four years are starting to soften their hard-line stance on how the subject should be taught. “They’re starting to step back from their overcorrection [toward basic skills],” he said. “It’s not ‘my way or the highway’ anymore.”

“Making the Cut”

Source: Education Week – 18 October 2000

Below are the publishers that have submitted curriculum materials for consideration in California’s 2001 mathematics adoption and those that have withdrawn their materials.

Programs Submitted

Publisher — Program Name — Grade Level
Carnegie Learning Inc. — Cognitive Tutor, Algebra I 8
CSL Associates Inc. — Success with Mathcoach K-5
Everyday Learning Corp. — Everyday Mathematics, 2nd Ed. K-3
Everyday Learning Corp. — Everyday Mathematics 4-6
Everyday Learning Corp. — Course 2 Impact Mathematics 7
Everyday Learning Corp. — Course 3 Impact Mathematics 8
Harcourt School Publishers — Harcourt Math 2002 K-6
Holt, Rinehart and Winston — Algebra I, California Edition 8
Houghton Mifflin Co. — Mathematics by Houghton Mifflin K-5
JRL Enterprises Inc. — I Can Learn 6
JRL Enterprises Inc. — I Can Learn 8
McDougal Littell Inc. — Concepts and Skills 6-8
McDougal Littell Inc. — Structure and Method 6-8
McGraw-Hill School Division — McGraw-Hill Mathematics K-6
Prentice Hall Inc. — Prentice Hall Pre-Algebra, California Edition 7
Prentice Hall Inc. — Prentice Hall Algebra I, California Edition 8
Riverdeep Inc. — Destination Math 7
William H. Sadlier Inc. — Progress in Mathematics California Edition K-6
Saxon Publishers Inc. — Saxon Math K-3, An Incremental Development K-3
Saxon Publishers Inc. — Math 54, 65, 76, and 87 3-6
Saxon Publishers Inc. — Algebra 1/2 and 1 7-8
Scott Foresman — Scott Foresman California Mathematics K-6
Wasatch Interactive Learning — Math Expeditions K-5

Programs Withdrawn

Publisher — Program Name — Grade Level
CPM Educational Program — College Preparatory Mathematics 6- 8
Encyclopedia Brittanica Inc. — Mathematics in Context 5- 8
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill — Mathematics: Applications and Connections 5- 7
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill — Glencoe Pre-Algebra: A Transition to Algebra and Geometry 7
Glencoe/McGraw-Hill — Glencoe Algebra I: Applications, Connections 8
Dr. Dean Lawrence — Understanding Algebra 8
Prentice Hall Inc. — Prentice Hall Middle Grades Math: Tools for Success 5- 8
Prentice Hall Inc. — Prentice Hall: Tools for a Changing World, Algebra 7- 8



(1) CBMS Mathematical Education of Teachers Project Draft Report – September 2000

Source: Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences

From the Web site:


This report is designed to be a resource for mathematics faculty and other parties involved in the preparation of mathematics teachers. It seeks to distill evolving thinking on curriculum and policy issues affecting the mathematical education of teachers. It is meant to stimulate efforts on individual campuses to improve programs for prospective teachers. It is also intended to marshal the backing of the mathematical sciences community for important national initiatives, such as mathematics specialists starting in middle grades and expanded time for professional development in the schools…

Part I

* Chapter 1. Changing Expectations, New Realizations
* Chapter 2. General Recommendations
Introduction to Content Chapters
* Chapter 3. Mathematical Content Recommendations for Elementary School Teachers
* Chapter 4. Mathematical Content Recommendation for Middle Grades Teachers
* Chapter 5. Mathematical Content Recommendations for High School Mathematics Teachers
* Chapter 6. Technology
* Chapter 7. Professional Development [Not available yet, coming soon.]

Part II

* Chapter 8. Extended Discussion of Mathematical Content Recommendations for Elementary School Teachers
* Chapter 9. Extended Discussion of Mathematical Content Recommendations for Middle Grades Teachers
* Chapter 10. Extended Discussion of Mathematical Content Recommendations for High School Mathematics Teachers

(2)  “Doctor’s Orders” by Barbara Kantrowitz and Pat Wingert

Source: Newsweek – 2 October 2000

“[Pediatrician Mel] Levine says the old, one-size-fits-all approach allows too many youngsters to fall through the cracks-kids who may be perfectly intelligent but struggle in school. Instead, he helps teachers understand how different children think so that they can tailor their teaching to each student. “There’s a huge amount of knowledge about how learning works that hasn’t gotten to the front lines, the teachers,” says Levine, 60. Armed with new science about how kids’ brains develop, he says a teacher can, for example, help a disorganized child remember his homework or show a socially awkward child how to work in a group”

(3) “Company Foundation Offers a Hand in Math”

Source: Boston Globe – 25 September 2000

Students who think math is tough to learn can now turn to a new foundation that aims to help them master it.

According to a Roper Starch Worldwide study being released today, 80 percent of surveyed students called math “very important” in finding a career after graduation, but 32 percent rate themselves as being “excellent” in the subject.

The results of this study and others on how students view math have prompted employees of Cambridge-based Akamai Technologies to establish a foundation to make math not only interesting, but also more attainable for students.

Employees made donations to the foundation in amounts ranging from several hundred to more than a million dollars of their own money.

“We wanted to give something back because we know that math is important,” said Tom Leighton, a director of the foundation.

Akamai, which is Hawaiian for intelligent, clever, and cool, writes software to accelerate delivery of streaming media, video, and audio on the World Wide Web, reducing Internet congestion.

How do they do it? Math.

“Akamai was conceived and founded on mathematical innovation,” said George Conrades, chairman and chief executive of Akamai. “This is a first step in creating the next great generation of problem solvers for our technology-driven world.”

Leaders of the foundation have already set lofty goals. They plan to establish a college scholarship program to recognize top math students in every state, to sponsor math competitions, and to help develop math education programs for students.

The foundation has unveiled a Web site, called “The Magic of Math.” Filled with trivia, math games, and a chat room, the site is operated by Akamai mathematicians who offer homework help and answer students’ questions about math.

“For technology companies to prosper and compete, you need the talent, and for that you need kids who have focused and excelled in math,” said Akamai spokeswoman Wendy Zine. “As a country, our students are lagging right now. We think we can do something about that”

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).