COMET • Vol. 10, No. 11 – 27 April 2009


California High School Exit Exam Receives a Failing Grade in Stanford Study

Source: Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice, Stanford University
URL (Link to Report):

Graduation rates for low-achieving minority students and girls have fallen nearly 20 percentage points since California implemented a law requiring high school students to pass an exit exam in order to graduate, according to a study released last Tuesday by Stanford’s Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice.

The study used longitudinal student data from school districts in Fresno, Long Beach, San Diego and San Francisco to estimate the effects of the exit exam requirement on student persistence (whether students stayed in school through the 11th and 12th grades), their academic achievement (as measured by their scores on another state standardized test given in 11th grade), and their graduation rates.

The study compared the persistence, achievement and graduation rates of students who were not subject to the exit exam requirement (those who were scheduled to graduate in 2005) with students who had to pass the test in order to receive high school diplomas (those who were scheduled to graduate in 2006 and 2007).

The 60-page report, entitled “Effects of the California High School Exit Exam on Student Persistence, Achievement and Graduation,” noted that the exit exam, which is first given in 10th grade to help identify students who are struggling academically and need additional instruction to pass the test, has failed to meet one of its primary goals: to significantly improve student achievement.

“There is no evidence that the exit exam policy as currently implemented has any benefits for students,” said Sean Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford and the study’s lead author. “It does not serve students well, and appears to have sharply inequitable effects.”

“The exam has had a disproportionately negative impact on students of color and girls,” Reardon said. “That is consistent across all four school districts we studied. It’s a statewide phenomenon, not just a problem of one or two districts. These findings are troubling.”

The exit exam has two sections: mathematics and English language arts. Students who fail the exam in 10th grade have at least five opportunities to retake the sections they have not passed–twice in 11th and 12th grade, and at least once after high school.

California, like the other two-dozen states with exit exams, spends millions of dollars and a considerable amount of time administering the exam, preparing students to take the test and offering remedial classes to students who fail the exam, the study said.

“Our analysis suggests that, to date, this is neither money nor time well spent,” stated Reardon and his three co-authors.

The researchers found that minority students–blacks, Hispanics and Asians–received lower scores on the exit exam than white students who had the same level of prior and current academic achievement. They also found that girls received lower scores on the math section of the exit exam than boys who had the same level of prior and current academic achievement.

The researchers ruled out differences in school quality, as well as racial and gender bias in the test, as explanations for the large racial and gender differences found in the study.

Instead, they attributed the differences to a phenomenon known as “stereotype threat,” which prevents minorities and girls from doing as well as they could on the high-stakes test.

While white students and boys may experience stress from fear of failing the test, the study’s authors assert that minority students and girls taking the test “experience stress from two sources: fear of failing the test and concern about proving a negative stereotype” about their performance.

“If exit exam policies like California’s are to be retained, it is imperative that they be accompanied by serious efforts to ameliorate their negative effects on minority students and girls,” the researchers wrote.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement in response to the release of the study:

“I appreciate the efforts of the research team from Stanford, and I applaud the James Irvine Foundation for supporting this and other important education research aimed at improving public education in California. Closing the achievement gap is a social, economic, and moral imperative, and is the top priority of my administration. The findings of this study deserve careful review, as does the ongoing analysis of the Exit Exam conducted by the Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO).

“I continue to believe that the Exit Exam plays an important role in our work to ensure that a high school diploma has meaning. Passing the exam signifies that a student has critical basic skills that will help them survive in the competitive global economy. I’m indeed pleased that the report supported the technical quality of the exam and found no test bias. I agree with the report’s recommendations that we need to provide additional instruction to struggling students and explore new ways to improve education and hold high schools accountable for the academic achievement of all students.

“The heart of this report speaks to why I’ve called out California’s racial achievement gap and why I am so committed to implementing the 14 recommendations made by my P-16 Council aimed at closing these gaps (see  The recommendations include the creation of a statewide strand of culturally relevant pedagogy and a culture survey of our students and education staff to discuss and address issues of unconscious racial bias in our schools.

“I believe that the biggest mistake we could make is to view this report as a reason to lower our expectations for any student, but especially for our students of color and females. While reports like this call for us to redouble our efforts to improve instruction and effective interventions, I remain wholly committed to maintaining a high standard of expectations for all students. As a result, I have asked my staff and HumRRO, the CAHSEE evaluator, to conduct further review of the study so we can look for ways to better meet the educational needs of all students and help them succeed in school, on the CAHSEE, and in life.”



(1) Upcoming Live Chat on the National Mathematics Panel Report

Source: Education Week

Education Week is hosting a free online live chat entitled “Does the National Math Panel’s Report Add Up?” on Tuesday, May 5, from 11 a.m. until noon, PDT.

The National Math Panel, a White House-commissioned task force, has called for a new, streamlined teaching approach for early-grades math to better prepare students for algebra. The panel’s report calls for more focus on whole numbers, fractions, and geometry, but it also makes broader suggestions about the work that parents, teachers, and others can do to encourage young students’ learning of math. While there has been support for these recommendations, critics say the math strategies outlined by the panel are too narrow.

Join Education Week for this live online chat with two National Math Panel members to discuss the report’s impact on teachers, curriculum directors, academic researchers, and education publishers. Sean Cavanagh, assistant editor at Education Week, will moderate this chat.  (Participants may begin submitting questions 30 minutes before a chat starts. Visit the Web site above for more information.)


(2) NCTM Annual Conference Concluded Saturday with a Keynote Address by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

The Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) concluded last Saturday in Washington, D.C., with a 35-minute keynote presentation and question/answer session by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A webcast of the speech is available for viewing through a link on the Web site above. The NCTM Conference blog contains one observer’s account of this presentation at (Another blogger recently noted that while teacher Ron Clark shared Supt. Duncan’s time slot and followed his presentation, Ron Clark’s presentation isn’t currently available for online viewing, so the blogger recommended that those interested in Clark’s story visit his Web site at

The NCTM Web site also contains webcasts of the following sessions:

Opening Session (April 22, 2009): The first 22 minutes of this Webcast highlight the NCTM Board of Directors, the outgoing Executive Director of NCTM, the conference planning committee, and NCTM’s Focal Points. Then NCTM President Hank Kepner introduces the opening session speaker, whom he calls “one of the country’s most important voices on the state of education today. Dr. Pedro Noguera is an expert on school reform, diversity, and the achievement gap, and he is a powerful advocate for public educational systems…” The topic of his presentation was “Challenging Racial Inequity in our Schools.” In this talk, he “offers a dynamic, profound perspective on the challenges of racial inequality and diversity. He tackles the problems of race relations, desegregation, vouchers, and violence within schools and gives some solutions that you can use to bring equal opportunity in education to our schools.” Some of Dr. Noguera’s written works can be viewed at

– Dr. Julian Weissglass 
(April 23, 2009) — Topic: “Equity: the Most Important and Challenging Issue Facing Our Schools” — Changing inequitable practices and policies can be challenging since they can be subtle or blatant, personal or institutionalized, aware or unaware. Dr. Weissglass discusses some insights that will increase the likelihood that discussions will be meaningful and productive and asks you to reflect on and talk about your experiences with inequity.

– Dr. Hank Kepner 
(April 23, 2009)
 — In this session, Dr. Kepner provides an update of the Council’s promotion of mathematics teaching through its focus on curriculum, the dissemination of teachers’ and researchers’ reflective professional experiences, professional development, and the creation of community and policy support for change.

– Dr. Lee Stiff (April 24, 2009) – Topic: “Never Could Have Made It: A Tribute to Iris Carl” — The annual Iris M. Carl Equity Address was established to underscore the crucial need for collective action in advancing understanding of equality and equity in education. Inaugurated in 2008, the address commemorates Iris Carl’s lifelong commitment to educational equity and celebrates the vision and inspiration that she provided for achieving the goal of “more and better mathematics for all children.”

– Dr. Francis (Skip) Fennell (April 24, 2009) – Topic: “Coherence, Connections and Communication and Fraction Sense” — What about fractions? What do we mean by fraction sense? What is it about these a/b, 0.007, and 2% kinds of numbers? This session examined issues about learning fractions, decimals, and percent and considered issues around curricular coherence and the processes of connection and communications.


(3) In National Academy of Sciences Speech, President Obama Announces Major Investments in Research and Education, Encourages NAS Members to Think About New Ways to Engage Young People in Science

Source: National Academy of Sciences (NAS) – 27 April 2009

In a speech today to members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), President Barack Obama announced new initiatives and investments in scientific research, innovation, and education.

Calling science “more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, and our environment than it has ever been,” Obama said he is going to make major investments–3 percent of the gross domestic product–in research and innovation. The president committed to doubling the budgets of three key science agencies–the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Obama was introduced to the audience by his science adviser and NAS member John Holdren, who said that Obama “wanted to bring science back into the center of how the government thinks, what it says, and what it does; and he is doing it.”

Obama used the occasion to announce the members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a council of leading scientists and engineers that will help the administration formulate policy. (See article below for more details.)

The president challenged NAS members to use their love and knowledge of science to inspire American students to pursue careers in science and engineering.  In addition, he urged NAS members to “think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, like science festivals, robotics competitions, and fairs that encourage young people to create, build, and invent–to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

Obama reiterated his commitment to education and announced a national initiative, “Race to the Top,” designed to improve student achievement in math and science and move U.S. students from the middle of the pack to the top on international benchmarks over the next decade.

The speech took place during the Academy’s 146th annual meeting with more than 600 NAS members in attendance including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Nina Fedoroff, science adviser at the State Department, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, and Larry Summers, who directs the White House National Economic Council.

– Video of Event
– Podcast (audio recording):
– Photographs

[Footnote: The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a 1863 congressional charter.  President Obama is the fourth U.S. president to deliver a speech at an NAS annual meeting.  Past addresses include President George H.W. Bush in 1990, President Jimmy Carter 1979, and President John F. Kennedy 1961.]


(4) President Obama Announces Members of Science and Technology Advisory Council

Source: Office of Science & Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President of the United States

During remarks today at the National Academy of Sciences, President Barack Obama announced the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

PCAST is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who will advise the President and Vice President and formulate policy in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people. PCAST is part of the Executive Office of the President and is administered by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“This council represents leaders from many scientific disciplines who will bring a diversity of experience and views,” President Barack Obama said. “I will charge PCAST with advising me about national strategies to nurture and sustain a culture of scientific innovation.”

PCAST will be co-chaired by John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Eric Lander, Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project; and Harold Varmus, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, former head of the National Institutes of Health, and a Nobel laureate.

“This PCAST is a group of exceptional caliber as well as diversity, covering a wide range of expertise and backgrounds across the relevant science, engineering and innovation fields and sectors,” Holdren said. “The President and I expect to make major use of this extraordinary group as we work to strengthen our country’s capabilities in science and technology and bring them more effectively to bear on the national challenges we face.” Visit for a complete listing of the members of PCAST, as well as short bios of each.