COMET • Vol. 1, No. 09 – 29 March 2000


(1) High School Exit Exam (HSEE) Update

Source: Margaret DeArmond, Member of the HSEE Committee

The HSEE panel met Friday, March 24, 2000. Most of the meeting was spent in closed session so that panel members could review the test items that were selected by the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). TAC met March 16 and 17 to select items that matched the standards that the panel had selected for the HSEE.

Before the closed session meeting, it was announced that the May field test will involve 100 high schools for math and a different 100 schools for language arts. Low to high scoring schools, about 10 per decile of the API, have been randomly selected. Another random process will be used to select about 60 10th grade students per school to participate in the field test. There are not enough test items written yet, so there will be at least one and maybe two fall field tests.

The language arts exam will be composed of 100 multiple choice questions, 70% in reading (vocabulary, informational reading, and literary reading) and 30% in writing (written and oral language conventions and writing strategies). There will also be two written responses – one response to literature and one response not related to a text.

The mathematics exam will also be composed of 100 multiple choice questions and no open response questions (although the panel has recommended that items of this nature should be included). Calculators will also not be allowed.

More specifically, the math exam includes:

  • Mathematical reasoning – 8%
  • Number sense – 14 %
  • Measurement and geometry – 20%
  • Statistics, data analysis, and probability – 14%
  • Algebraic concepts from 7th grade – 17%
  • Algebra (linear) and functions – 27%
  • The next panel meeting is April 18th.

    The California Department of Education has a draft document on questions and answers concerning the HSEE (includes overhead masters). A final version should be ready next week. For more information or for a copy of the packet, check the HSEE Web site ( ) or call 916-657-3011. A revised draft should be ready in April.


    (2) Request for Proposals for the Governors Mathematics Professional Development Initiatives

    The final RFP for the Governors Mathematics Initiatives is available (pdf or fax) from Georgia Makris (510-987-9510). The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) expects the RFP to be posted on their Web site later this week: (specifically,


    (3) Update on the Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools

    To download or purchase a copy of the Framework, go to It is anticipated that a list of errors will be posted at this site later in the week. (Sample: Change “communicative” to “commutative”).


    (4) “The Governor Sends a Signal — And Maybe Twists an Arm” by Peter Schrag

    Source: The Sacramento Bee 22 March 2000

    The recent Friday-afternoon announcement that Gov. Gray Davis had appointed two new members to the 11-member state Board of Education got only the routine media attention that such appointments usually deserve.

    But in the ongoing policy battles between the board and state schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin over curricula, standards and testing, at least one of those appointments may be as loud a signal as any Davis is likely to send this year. Together with a subtler sign from Eastin, it’s another indication that Davis not only means to control school policy wherever he can, but maybe do a little micromanaging of school data reporting as well.

    The big appointment is that of Nancy Ichinaga, a no-nonsense veteran principal whose back-to-basics reading and math programs are widely credited with maintaining extraordinarily high achievement levels among her predominantly low-income students.

    Ichinaga, who’s nothing if not outspoken, has left little doubt on where she stands: for phonics, against social promotion, against bilingual education.

    Those positions, and her school’s success, have made her a hero of traditionalist school reform. Last year, she was one of the winners of the Heritage Foundation’s Salvatori Prize for American Citizenship. (The prize is named for Henry Salvatori, a conservative California oilman, who was one of President Reagan’s earliest supporters.) Her school is often cited as proof that all children can learn.

    With Ichinaga’s appointment, Davis makes clear his intention to hold tough on the academic standards put in place in the last years of the Wilson administration and that he supports Marion Joseph and the other Wilson appointees in their feuds with Eastin over the implementation of those standards.

    That wasn’t always a sure thing. Although Davis has frequently spoken about imposing tough curricular and testing requirements, at times some of his four appointees to the board seemed more sympathetic to the softer approaches favored by Eastin and the Department of Education. It was reliably reported that Davis told one of those appointees that the holdover members named by Gov. Pete Wilson had been more supportive of his program than were his own members. The Ichinaga appointment leaves no doubt that Davis wants his own appointees to march to his beat.

    Ichinaga brings a lot of credibility to the task. When she started as the principal at Bennett Kew in Inglewood in 1974, the school’s academic achievement scores were in the tank. In the ensuing generation, her uncompromising demands have lifted Bennett-Kew into the second-highest rank (of 10) on the state’s new Academic Performance Index. Compared to other California schools with similar student populations — her school of predominantly low-income children is now about half African American and half Latino — it’s almost certainly in the top rank.

    The Ichinaga appointment, which must be confirmed by the state Senate, probably won’t end the battles between board members and the superintendent.

    The board is supposed to set policy, Eastin to carry it out. But as long as the superintendent is independently elected and board members are gubernatorial appointees, the battles are likely to continue, especially when education is a high-profile public issue.

    Nor does Ichinaga’s record at Bennett-Kew prove that every principal or school can do what she does. It doesn’t even prove that her way is the only way. But it does make it much more likely that California will continue to pursue the conservative curricular course on which it set out four years ago.

    The more subtle sign is a letter Eastin recently sent to the National Education Association supporting Davis’ effort to change certain fiscal reporting criteria so that California’s dismally low national ranking for per-pupil spending will be higher than it’s generally been reported. At the same time she sent a letter to the governor that fell somewhere between cordial and servile. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with you on this very important issue,” she wrote the governor, “and am happy to continue our discussion. My staff and I are available should you need further information about our work in this area.” Coming just a month after she blasted Davis for his unwillingness to even talk about getting the state’s underfunded schools to the national average, and given the strenuous objections the effort is generating in the rest of the school lobby, the letters sound very much like those of someone who’s just gotten her arm twisted.

    The details aren’t crucial, but with pressure mounting to raise state spending toward the national average — something that could tie the governor’s hands in a recession and that Davis has resisted — the governor has a strong interest in making the official numbers look better. But what made Eastin go along?

    Two years ago, in an obvious move to show who’s boss, Wilson, cut a crucial $8 million from Eastin’s budget. Everyone denies that Davis threatened something similar this time around. Her staff simply says that she was persuaded that the numbers needed revising because circumstances had changed.

    But if she was persuaded on her own, why the long explanation to the governor of what she was doing? At the very least, it sends another message that Davis wants his way. Like all else in politics, school policy isn’t brought by the stork. Maybe not even the statistics.



    (1) “Looking East for Math Techniques” by Valerie Strauss

    Source: Washington Post — 21 March 2000

    In Baltimore, 25 students at Robert Poole Middle School are in a pilot program learning math from textbooks filled with old-fashioned drawings. The books were chosen for one reason: They are the same ones used by schools in Singapore.

    While the United States may be the envy of the world in many things, math education is not one of them. An extensive international study in the late 1990s confirmed that in that subject, U.S. students are well behind the world’s leaders: Singapore, Korea and Japan.

    Since then, a growing number of American educators have started looking to Asia to help rescue this country from its math doldrums. After battles over old, new and new-new math, some U.S. teachers and school officials are convinced that borrowing from Asia’s curriculum is the key to improving American students’ performance.

    Singapore math and the Japanese math curriculum known as “Kumon”–the method being used at the lunch-hour session at Hardy–are the two Asian approaches that have made the most inroads in U.S. schools.

    Both approaches have their share of critics. The notion that importing a foreign curriculum can cure America’s math ills ignores the cultural factors that play a role in student performance, some educators say. They also note that Asian math teachers generally are better trained than their American counterparts–most elementary school math instructors in Asia teach only math. And they warn that if these new approaches are forced on U.S. teachers without an adequate training program–as so often happens with education fads in America–math scores will fall even lower.

    Proponents of Singapore math agree that American teachers must be trained in the technique, but they view much of the criticism as little more than whining.

    The Singapore and Kumon curricula promote a versatility in basic math skills that makes it easier for students to venture later into more difficult problem-solving, advocates say. The curriculum used in most U.S. schools, they contend, pays superficial attention to a wide range of math concepts but fails to delve too deeply into any of them–or to carefully connect one concept to the next.

    “These books are just rich with really neat problems that keep the kids motivated,” said Felicity Ross, a teacher at Poole.


    (2) “Math Teachers Adding Technology to Help Students’ Skills Multiply” by Ian McCann

    Source: The Dallas Morning News — 19 March 2000

    More than 3,000 math teachers gathered at a downtown Dallas hotel Saturday, but there wasn’t a protractor or a sheet of graph paper in sight.

    This conference on classroom technology, like its predecessors in recent years, was all about the benefits of using modern electronics to teach. And most of those in attendance didn’t need convincing.

    “They help the kids learn the concepts,” Ms. Brooks said

    Franklin Demana, one of the co-founders of Teachers Teaching With Technology, or “T-cubed and conference co-founder Bert Waits were professors at Ohio State University when they developed a program that brought graphing calculators into math classes at high schools in Columbus, Ohio, in 1986

    J.E. Howell, a math teacher at the Townview Center in Dallas, said he combines the pencil-and-paper method of learning math with the technology-based way. He said he began using graphing calculators in his classes because he was looking for a way to improve students’ understanding of the material.

    “The math is the symbols for the graphs and the lines,” Mr. Howell said.

    “We’re in an age when students are into game-oriented technology. We can get them to think and to use technology to solve problems”


    (3) America Counts

    Source: Skip Fennell, Western Maryland College

    Last July the U.S. Department of Education issued a waiver to the Federal Work-Study (FWS) regulations allowing the Federal government to pay 100% of the wages of eligible college and university students who serve as mathematics tutors to elementary through ninth grade school children. Since this waiver went into effect, approximately 500 institutions nationwide have committed their campuses to the “AMERICA COUNTS” math tutoring initiative, and many more intend to launch programs next fall. As you can imagine, this effort may provide an excellent opportunity for preservice teachers to gain valuable classroom experience while underwriting their student expenses.

    If your campus is currently participating in AMERICA COUNTS (you can check by visiting, or you are interested in learning more about this opportunity for your preservice teachers, you, or a designee from your campus, are encouraged to attend a special AMERICA COUNTS information session–hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation–on April 13, from 5:00-7:00 pm at the Chicago Hyatt Regency, Acapulco Room, located at 151 East Wacker Drive (this session is being held in conjunction with the national NCTM meeting).

    Since seating capacity will be limited, please call 1-877-220-9684 or send an e-mail to to register, and include the following information: Your name, title, institution (or affiliation), and phone number.


    (4) TE-MAT (Teacher Education Materials) Project

    Source: Senta A. Raizen, Director of NCISE (National Center for Improving Science Education)

    The NSF-funded TE-MAT project ( has two goals:

    1. To create an online searchable database of published and readily-available materials for the professional development of pre-service and in-service K-12 mathematics and science teachers (i.e., to increase access to such materials); and
    2. To survey the landscape of unpublished or out-of-print materials for the professional development of pre-service and in-service K-12 mathematics and science teachers (i.e., to describe gaps to assist funders and PIs in targeting future development efforts to areas of greatest need).

    The National Center for Improving Science Education (NCISE), together with Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI), are trying to locate materials that are useful for the professional development of pre-service and in-service K-12 mathematics and science teachers. HRI is looking for materials that are already published and readily available (e.g., commercially published books and videos). NCISE is looking for unpublished materials (e.g., materials developed by you and your colleagues for teacher institutes) and out-of-print materials. Due to their limited circulation, we affectionately call unpublished or out-of-print materials fugitive.

    Please recommend:

    For each material, please provide us with the title of the material, how we may obtain a copy of it, and the name of the developer (with contact information, if available). Note that materials do not need to be in polished form.


    (5) Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) Mathematics Education of Teachers Project

    Source: Ronald C. RosierA new draft of the Report of the CBMS Mathematics Education of Teachers Project is now posted on the CBMS website at . You will recall that this is a project whose goal is to produce a document targeted at Departments of Mathematics to help them improve their efforts in the education future K-12 teachers of mathematics. In short, it is intended to answer the questions: “What do teachers of mathematics need to know and how should they come to know it?”

    The writers and the project steering committee are seeking comments and advice both from individuals and from formal math society groups such as committees on education or existing “Association Review Groups” (ARG’s) that were formed to review the NCTM Standards.

    It would be most helpful if we could receive your comments by June 1. We plan to go into publication in September and intend to use the summer for final revisions based on the thoughtful comments we hope to receive.

    We have posted a series of questions with the document to help start the discussion, but we welcome comments about any aspect of the report. Information about where to respond is also posted on the website. If you would like to receive hard copies of the draft, please email Ronald C. Rosier, CBMS Administrative Officer at and he will send them to you or to a list of addresses you specify.

    Thank you for your help in this review process.



    California K-16 Partners and Student Success Conference
    Dates: 21-23 June 2000
    Location Hyatt Regency, Long Beach
    [From the Web site] Guest speakers (e.g., Gary Hart) will explain California’s new accountability initiatives (e.g., California’s Academic Performance Index, High School Graduation Exam). California partnerships will share their strategies for success. Participants will share their experiences, concerns, and successes with colleagues from across the state. Participating K-16 teams will develop their own action goals.



    (1) “The Knowledge Loom”

    (From Kirk Winters–EdInfo) “The Knowledge Loom,” a new web-based resource on what works in teaching & learning, was unveiled this month.

    It offers a (a) growing searchable collection of promising practices on a range of topics, and (b) special focus on professional development that includes research-based practices & examples of those practices in real schools. There are also opportunities for you to participate in a panel discussion, ask an expert your question, and post your own ideas or stories.

    Note: The Knowledge Loom showcases the work of nationally-recognized technical assistance organizations, researchers, and outstanding schools and districts. It is being developed by the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory at Brown University for the U.S. Department of Education.


    (2) “Maths Posters in the London Underground”

    (From the Math Forum Internet News)

    Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences

    During World Mathematical Year 2000, a sequence of maths posters will be displayed month by month in the trains of the London Underground. Designed by Andrew D. Burbanks to stimulate and fascinate, they bring maths to life, illustrating the wide applications of modern mathematics in all branches of science: physical, biological, technological, and financial.

    The archive of posters includes explanatory notes for each topic. The subjects of the first three months are:

    January – Maths Counts: Fibonacci

    February – Maths Stirs: Hurricanes

    March – Maths Predicts: Chaos

    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 often 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 welcome!)