COMET • Vol. 11, No. 27 – 13 December 2010



Free Webinars on the Common Core State Standards

Source: National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM)



On November 30, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) presented a Webinar entitled “Getting Started with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): First Steps for Mathematics Education Leaders.” NCSM will present a follow-up Webinar on February 23, 2011 (12:30-1:30 p.m. PST) entitled “Deeper Dive into the Common Core State Standards: Focus on the Standards for Mathematical Practice.”


Following is the description for both Webinars: “The Common Core State Standards present new opportunities, as well as challenges, for mathematics education leaders to provide all students access to high quality mathematics instruction and assessment. Learn about the most productive ways to begin CCSS implementation, common pitfalls to avoid, and tools and resources that NCSM will be providing to support this work.” Webinar presenters are Diane Briars, President of NCSM, and Suzanne Mitchell, President Elect of NCSM


A video of November’s Webinar is now available for online viewing at


NCSM’s Webinar page contains links to the following documents:

1. Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (expanded version):
2. Common Core State Standards for Mathematics Appendix A: Designing High School Mathematics Courses based on the Common Core State Standards (model course pathways):




PISA 2009 Results in Mathematics, Reading, and Science

Source: Program for International Student Assessment (PISA)



Results from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released on December 7. Visit for details. PISA measures student performance in reading literacy, mathematics literacy, and science literacy and is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of 34 highly industrialized countries. Conducted every three years, each PISA data collection effort assesses one of these three subject areas in depth, although all three are assessed in each cycle. The subject covered in depth is considered the major subject area, and the other two subjects are considered minor subject areas for that assessment year. The major subject area in 2009 was Reading; in 2012, it will be Mathematics.


In 2009, PISA was a 2-hour paper-and-pencil assessment that measured 15-year-old students’ capabilities in reading, mathematics, and science literacy across 65 countries/education systems (see Assessment items included a combination of multiple-choice and open-ended questions. Students also completed a 30-minute questionnaire about themselves. In addition, the principal of each participating school completed a 30-minute questionnaire about the school.


PISA emphasizes the application of knowledge to everyday situations by asking students to perform tasks that involve interpretation of real-world materials as much as possible. Analyses based on expert panels’ reviews of mathematics and science items from PISA, TIMSS, and NAEP indicate that PISA items require multi-step reasoning more often than either TIMSS or NAEP. The study also shows that PISA mathematics and science literacy items often involve the interpretation of charts and graphs or other “real world” material. [For additional details regarding a comparison of these three assessments, visit]


On the PISA 2009 reading assessment, girls outperformed boys in every participating country by an average of 39 PISA score points among OECD countries, which is equivalent to more than half a proficiency level or one year of schooling. On average across OEDC countries, boys outperformed girls in mathematics by 12 score points while gender differences in science performance tended to be small.


A summary of the results for mathematics ( and science ( follows below:


Mathematics Literacy Performance of 15-year-olds


The U.S. average score in mathematics literacy (487) was lower than the OECD average score (496) in 2009, as it was in 2003 and 2006. In 2009, among the 33 other OECD countries, 17 countries had higher average scores than the United States, 5 had lower average scores, and 11 had average scores not measurably different from the U.S. average. Korea, with a country mean of 546, performed highest among OECD countries in the PISA 2009 mathematics assessment. However, the partner countries and economies Shanghai-China, Singapore, and Hong Kong-China ranked first, second, and third, respectively.


Proficiency Levels 

PISA describes six mathematics literacy proficiency levels ranging from level 1 to level 6, the most advanced. Twenty-seven percent of U.S. students scored at or above proficiency level 4. This is lower than the 32 percent of students in the OECD countries on average that scored at or above level 4. At level 4 students can “complete higher order tasks” such as “solving problems that involve visual or spatial reasoning…in unfamiliar contexts.” Twenty-three percent of U.S. students scored below level 2. Below level 2 students may not be able to consistently “employ basic algorithms,” or make “literal interpretations of the results” of mathematical operations in real-life settings.


Trends in Performance in Mathematics Literacy 

The U.S. average score in mathematics literacy in 2009 was higher than the U.S. average in 2006 but not measurably different from the U.S. average in 2003, the earliest time point to which PISA 2009 performance can be compared in mathematics literacy.


Science Literacy Performance of 15-year-olds


On the science literacy scale, the average score of U.S. students (502) was not measurably different from the OECD average (501). Among the 33 other OECD countries, 12 had higher average scores than the United States, 9 had lower average scores, and 12 had average scores that were not measurably different from the U.S. average score. Shanghai-China, Finland, Hong Kong-China and Singapore were the four highest performers in the PISA 2009 science assessment. While the gender gap among top-performing students is small in science (1% of girls and 1.5% of boys), it is significant in reading (2.8% of girls and 0.5% of boys) and in mathematics (3.4% of girls and 6.6% of boys).


Proficiency Levels


PISA describes six science literacy proficiency levels ranging from level 1 to level 6, the most advanced. Twenty-nine percent of U.S. students and students in the OECD countries on average scored at or above level 4 on the science literacy scale. At level 4 students “select and integrate explanations from different disciplines of science or technology” and “link those explanations directly to…life situations.” Eighteen percent of U.S. students and students in the OECD countries on average scored below level 2. Below level 2 students may not be able to consistently “provide… explanations in familiar contexts or draw conclusions based on simple investigations” or consistently “make literal interpretations.”


Trends in Performance in Science Literacy


The U.S. average score in science literacy in 2009 was higher than the U.S. average in 2006. While U.S. students scored, on average, below the OECD average in science literacy in 2006, the average score of U.S. students in 2009 was not measurably different from the 2009 OECD average.


For more details, visit  An Executive Summary is available at




Parental Attitudes Toward Mathematics-related Learning in the United States, England and Singapore

Source: Raytheon Company



On December 6, Raytheon unveiled new research exploring parental attitudes toward mathematics, math homework, parents’ perceived math capabilities, and the level of active engagement in math-related learning among 10-14 year olds across the United States, England, and Singapore. Raytheon conducted this study of 1144 parents as part of its continuous focus on education and the five-year anniversary of the company’s MathMovesU program (, which is designed to inspire middle school students to get excited about math and science.


“I am excited about this research and the opportunities for the United States to increase its global competitiveness by improving students’ math and science experience,” said Raytheon Chairman and CEO William H. Swanson. “This study identifies areas we can explore to help create an environment that encourages excellence in engineering and technology in the future.”


“Ensuring that middle schoolers are on-track in math is essential to their graduating from high school college- and work-ready. Parents are a critical factor in this process,” said Brian F. Fitzgerald, executive director of the Business-Higher Education Forum. “This research demonstrates that parents must be better equipped with sound information and strategies in order to support their child’s math learning.”


“Cross-cultural research of math learning activities provides parents and educators insight into how to reinforce the delicate balance of support versus autonomy required for adolescent-age students,” said Lia Schultz, senior consultant and research analyst at Eduventures. “Because parents are so influential in the college decision-making process, they have a profound need for concrete information on college preparedness for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pathways.”


Key findings include the following:


– Parents in all regions lack a clear understanding of their children’s math performance, though the gaps are most evident in the U.S. and England. Seventy-eight percent of U.S. parents and 76 percent of English parents believe their child performs in the top 20 percent of their peer group in math.

– U.S. parents are more confident in their ability to help in all areas of math than their peers. However, once middle school-level math is introduced, confidence wanes. Only 45 percent of U.S. parents report a high ability to help with algebra; 37 percent report the same for geometry.

– While few parents believe they have a high ability to help students with more math concepts commonly assigned to middle school students, this does not seem to deter them from taking the lead role in helping their children. In the U.S., 77 percent of parents responding to the survey say they provide math help while only 10 percent report engaging tutors; trends were similar in England. Forty-two percent of parents in Singapore turn to tutors.

– Parents may be the most common provider of math support, but those in the U.S. and England are less likely to report receiving information about how to help their child. In fact, 51 percent of parents in Singapore say they receive information from their child’s school to help prepare for math exams; only one in four parents in the U.S. and England report the same.

– While 92 percent of parents in Singapore ensure their children receive extra math instruction beyond regular classroom work (e.g., worksheets, workbooks, or assessment books not assigned through school; camps focused on math or science; and robotics fairs/competitions), only 47 percent of parents in the U.S. and 48 percent of parents in England do the same.

– While U.S. students are more likely than those in Singapore to participate in spelling competitions, the opposite holds true in math. One-third of parents in Singapore say their child participates in math competitions, while less than one-tenth of U.S. parents report such activity. One-fifth of parents in England say their child participates in a math competition.


The report summarizing key findings of this study, titled “A Cross-Country Exploration of Math-Related Learning in the United States, England and Singapore: Parent Perceptions and Practices Regarding Math Education During the Middle School Years,” is available at




Time Warner Cable Campaign Explores Global Teen Attitudes Toward Math and Science


URL (CAMM Worldwide):


In November 2009, Time Warner Cable (TWC) launched Connect a Million Minds (CAMM), a 5-year philanthropic commitment of $100 million cash and in-kind donations designed to inspire students to pursue learning opportunities and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) so they can solve the economic, environmental and community challenges of the future.


In August 2010, TWC announced the launch of CAMM Worldwide, an effort to explore differences in attitudes toward math and science between young people in the U.S. and their peers around the world. The goal of CAMM Worldwide is to put a human face on the United States’ relatively low international ranking in math and science performance and to better understand how young Americans’ views on these subjects contribute to the low rankings.


Earlier in the year, TWC conducted interviews with groups of young people, ages 12-16, in the U.S. and three countries that rank significantly higher in math and science literacy–Finland, China and Australia. Each group also included a small number of parents and teachers. Interview subjects in all four countries were asked the same questions.


“What we heard in our interviews was that youth from outside the U.S. take it as a given that if they want to be successful in life, they have to do well in math and science, said Ellen East, Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer.  “We did not hear this from the U.S students,” she continued.  “Outside the U.S., young people were more aware that they will compete in a global marketplace.  There was also much less of a social stigma attached to being smart and doing well in school in other countries. In fact, the smart kids are considered cool.”


To highlight this issue and spark a public dialogue, TWC edited the interviews into on-air public service announcements (PSAs), and exclusive web video content, to continue the conversation online at


While there are numerous ongoing efforts to address STEM education at the school level, this campaign is designed to address broader cultural and attitudinal issues that contribute to the low rankings for American students.  “It’s going to take a culture-wide shift to truly inspire young people to reach the levels they need to effectively compete on a global level,” said Tessie Topol, Senior Director of Strategic Philanthropy at TWC.  “We want to challenge parents, educators and other adults to do more to motivate American youth to confront these issues.”


See the article below about the recent Global Online Town Hall Meeting that brought together the young people featured in the PSAs (one from each of the four countries), STEM representatives, and members of the public. The PSAs and other CAMM videos can also be viewed at




Global Online Town Hall Meeting: “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation”

Source: Time Warner Cable



On November 17, 2010, Time Warner Cable (TWC) sponsored a live interactive online town hall meeting entitled “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation” and hosted by former Vice President Al Gore. Simultaneous “viewing parties” were held across the country. The event was part of TWC’s Connect a Million Minds initiative.


The town hall connected young people from the United States with students from Australia, China and Finland, and with inventor Dean Kamen (see article below on FIRST), astronaut Sally Ride, Discovery Channel’s MythBusters–Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, Microsoft Xbox creative visionary Kudo Tsunoda and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The discussion focused on attitudes among American youth toward math and science, and how to inspire and motivate them so they will be successful in a competitive global marketplace. A significant portion of the conversation centered on using technology to help achieve this goal.


Teachers may be interested in viewing videos of Al Gore’s brief interviews with each of the guests at  Segments may be useful in sparking discussions at school sites among faculty or among students.


In announcing the town hall meeting, TWC CEO Glenn Britt stated, “We want to put a human face on a very sobering statistic–[according to PISA 2006,] the U.S. ranks 35th in math and 29th in science worldwide to spark a new level of interest among our kids so they are prepared for what lies ahead. As parents, educators, elected officials and business leaders, we need to do all we can to encourage our youth to take an active, enthusiastic interest in STEM and connect them to opportunities that stoke this passion.”




Related articles:


“Science ‘Dorks’ See Need”

Source: The Columbus Dispatch – 18 November 2010



Students Discuss How to Improve Science Skills”

Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle – 18 November 2010






NASA Looks To FIRST To Build Next Generation of Scientists and Engineers

Source: FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology)



FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a not-for-profit organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, announced on November 24 that NASA has awarded a five-year agreement to FIRST to provide support for hand-on robotics competition events to address the critical shortage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields that the nation is facing. The multi-year cooperative agreement, worth up to $20 million, was granted by NASA through the year 2014.


“This is the largest NASA-funded student program geared toward robotics activities,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “For the next five years, approximately 25,000 students across the country will not only learn from our nation’s best and brightest, but also compete and have fun at the same time.”


FIRST Robotics Competition ( and FIRST Tech Challenge (, two of four robotics programs offered by FIRST, will be supported by the NASA award to increase America’s talent pool by improving science and mathematics education for youth.


“NASA has been, and continues to be, a fantastic supporter of FIRST and the FIRST Robotics Competition,” said Jon Dudas, President of FIRST and former Undersecretary of Commerce and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. “They have opened up their resources, their training, and their employees to help us achieve our vision. This award will greatly assist NASA and FIRST in realizing a world where science and technology are celebrated, and young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”


Under the terms of the award, FIRST will provide participants with hands-on experience with robotics, and the NASA Robotics Outreach Competition (ROC) will provide students with exposure to NASA scientists, engineers, and program mangers working on a range of NASA projects and missions to ensure that students receive meaningful training during their experience.


“From its inception 20 years ago, FIRST has been dedicated to the mission of inspiring young minds to become the best of what this country can offer–smart, talented, hardworking, and creative citizens,” said Bill Miller, Director of the FIRST Robotics Competition. “At FIRST, we know that today’s students will be creating new jobs, new industries, and new companies to meet challenges we cannot yet comprehend.”


For more information about FIRST, visit