COMET • Vol. 12, No. 12 – 12 June 2011

COMET will resume publication in August. Hope you have an enjoyable summer!


California to Join the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and Help Develop a New Generation of Student Assessments


On Thursday, June 9, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst announced that California will join the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium as a governing state. The announcement came as a surprise to some, because California had made a decision last year to become a participating state in the second major multistate assessment consortium, PARCC ( That agreement would have committed the state to using PARCC’s assessments to meet the ESEA Title I testing requirements during the 2014-2015 school year.

California was able to switch consortia because the PARCC MOU included a clause requiring any state that elected a new governor or chief state school officer to reconfirm the state’s participation within five months of the official(s) taking office (i.e., by May 2011). Governor Brown and SSPI Torlakson did not do so, choosing instead to go with SMARTER Balanced. (For more background on the earlier decision, visit

In announcing the new partnership, Torlakson said, “Today marks the beginning of a new era in student testing and accountability. By working together, we’ve put California where it belongs–poised to play a leadership role.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for California to step up as a leader in assessment design and provide much more timely information to teachers, parents, and students,” Kirst said.

Currently, a total of 30 states have signed up to become members of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. Of those, California is one of 18 governing states, which allows decision-making participation. The remaining 12 are advisory states.

The consortium has received a $176 million Race to the Top assessment grant from the U.S. Department of Education to design a new assessment system aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The system will include assessments in English-language arts (ELA) and mathematics in grades three through eight and grade eleven. The new assessments will be in place for the 2014-15 school year.

Torlakson, Kirst, and Governor Jerry Brown signed a Memorandum of Understanding to give California greater involvement in the development of a new generation of student assessments that will emphasize a deep knowledge of core concepts within and across disciplines, problem solving, analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking.

As a governing state, California will have an active role in all decision making, and provide representatives for various work groups and steering committees. The goal of the consortium is to prepare students for college and career by improving teaching and learning through the development of an innovative system of assessments of the Common Core State Standards in ELA and mathematics that is valid, reliable, and fair for all students.

The SMARTER Balanced assessment system will be designed to meet federal- and state-level accountability requirements and provide teachers and parents with timely and accurate information to measure and track individual student growth.

The assessment system will utilize computer adaptive technologies to design assessments that will minimize the amount of time that students are out of the classroom and away from their teachers, better measure student abilities across the full spectrum of student performance, evaluate growth in learning, and provide more information to teachers, administrators, and parents within weeks of testing.

Teachers will play a critical role in the development of the new assessment system as they will be involved in the design, development, and scoring of assessment items and tasks. More information on the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium can be found at more information on the Common Core State Standards Initiative, visit

Related Articles

“California Jumps to Other Test Consortium: Kirst sees upside with SMARTER Balanced technology” by John Fensterwald



Instructional Materials Legislation Related to California’s Common Core State Standards

(a) A.B. 250 – Instructional Materials: Pupil Assessment

Source: Assemblywoman Julia Brownley

This measure would establish a process to implement common core academic content standards by developing and adopting curriculum frameworks and professional development that are aligned to the common core standards and are appropriate for all pupils. The bill also would extend the sunset of the state’s assessment system by one year to allow the state to adapt to changes in federal law and transition to the new assessments aligned to the common core standards.

Bill Status: Awaiting hearing in Senate Committee on Education

Track the bill here:


(b) S.B. 140 – Instructional Materials: Common Core Academic Content Standards


This bill would require the State Department of Education to develop a list, on or before July 1, 2012, of supplemental instructional materials for use in kindergarten and grades 1 to 8, inclusive, that are aligned with California’s common core academic content standards in language arts and mathematics. The bill would require the State Board to either approve or reject the supplemental instructional materials as proposed by the Department. The bill also would permit the governing boards of school districts to approve supplemental instructional materials other than those approved by the State Board if the governing board determines that other supplemental instructional materials are aligned with the Common Core academic content standards and meet the needs of the pupils of the district. The bill would require the Department to maintain on its Internet Web site a list of supplemental instructional materials approved by the State Board.

The bill is currently in the Assembly.

Track the bill here:…………………………………………………..

(c) SB 613 (Alquist) – Instructional Materials: Open Source


This bill would require at least one-half, or one-half plus one in the case of an odd number, of the basic instructional materials adopted by the State Board to be open-source instructional materials. The bill also would authorize the governing board of a school district maintaining a high school to adopt open-source instructional materials. The bill would define an open-source instructional material as an instructional material that is available in a digital format, is free to view online, meets the same requirements imposed on other printed instructional materials, and may be developed in a specified manner. The bill would authorize the State Board to adopt fewer than the required number of open-source instructional materials in specified instances.

The bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Track the bill here:


California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Approves Title 5 Regulations for New Mathematics Credentials


At its meeting on June 2, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) approved proposed amendments and additions to Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations pertaining to the Mathematics Instructional Added Authorization (MIAA) and Mathematics Instructional Leadership Specialist (MILS) Credential.

The changes included updating the title, requirements, and authorizations for the MILS credential and adding regulations and authorizations for the MIAA. Details can be found in Item 2K of the CCTC agenda: In addition, a video of the agenda item discussion may be found at (begins at the 39-minute marker)

Alexandra Condon from the California Teachers Association expressed concern that districts might use the new math specialist credentials as a reason to remove teachers who are currently serving as mathematics coaches because they don’t have one of the new credentials. Some Commissioners echoed that concern. CTC’s Terri Fesperman tried to allay such concerns, responding that one section of Title 5 regulations already “allows individuals who hold a teaching credential to serve as a staff developer.” She continued, “That is not part of the teaching credential but is something that we put into regulations. This is based on the local level determining that the person has the knowledge and experience in which to serve. And the other section [of Title 5] is for an individual to serve as a program coordinator–again based upon whether they have the experience and the knowledge as approved by the employing agency….[If these math specialist regulations are approved,] we are going to put that information in the correspondence to the field as well.”


Call for Proposals: Mathematics Teacher Retention Symposium

Contact: Susie Hakansson, California Mathematics Project Statewide Executive Director – 

In 2007, the California Mathematics Project (CMP) received funding from the California Post-secondary Education Commission for the CMP STIR (Supporting Teachers to Increase Retention) project. The goal of this statewide project has been to increase the retention of high-quality teachers of mathematics, as well as to promote mathematics teacher leadership within the teachers’ schools and in the profession.

Ten of the nineteen CMP sites throughout California participated in this project, and there have been many lessons learned. To share these, as well as to hear from other researchers and professional development providers who have examined and addressed the topic of mathematics teacher retention, the “2012 CMP STIR Mathematics Teacher Retention Symposium (MTRS): Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned” was planned. The symposium will be held on March 22-24, 2012 at a location near the Los Angeles International Airport.

The symposium’s three keynote speakers will be Richard Ingersoll (University of Pennsylvania), Ed Silver (University of Michigan), and Ellen Moir (New Teacher Center, University of California, Santa Cruz). Speakers for each of the six major symposium strands include Axelle Faughn (Research), Susan Johnson (Teacher Leadership), Tim Kanold and Jackie Goldberg (Policy), Miriam Leiva (Mathematics Content and Pedagogy), Christine Thomas (Communities of Practice), and Chris Yakes (Models of Support).

If you are interested in speaking at this symposium or have recommendations for potential speakers, please contact Susie Hakansson, California Mathematics Project Statewide Executive Director, at Also visit for more detailed information. The proposal submission deadline is July 15, 2011.


Three California Educators Receive Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowships

Source: Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program is designed to offer K-12 teachers an opportunity to serve in the national policy arena and to bring the insights and practical experience of the classroom teacher to Congress and the executive branch of the federal government. The program is open to current public or private elementary and secondary science, technology, engineering and mathematics classroom teachers with demonstrated excellence in teaching.

Candidates compete in an extensive selection process that includes peer review, agency review for top candidates, and interviews in Washington, DC. During the Fellowship year, each Einstein Fellow receives a monthly stipend of $6000 plus a $1000 monthly cost of living allowance. In addition, there is a moving/relocation allowance as well as a professional travel allowance.

Three teachers from California (one math, two science) were selected as 2011-2012 Einstein Fellows (see for photos of the new Fellows):

– Peg Cagle, who teaches honors algebra and honors geometry at Lawrence Gifted/Highly Gifted Magnet in the Los Angeles Unified School District, will be working as a Capitol Hill Fellow for the U.S. Department of Energy.

– Zeke Kossover
, who teaches physics and environmental science and is the Dean of Math and Science at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, will be working for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.

– Jean Pennycook, a secondary science educator, will be working for NSF’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings. Jean is a second-year fellow, so her profile is available online at

For more information about applying and about this prestigious fellowship, visit


“Duncan Working on ‘Plan B’ for U.S Schools” by Dorie Turner (with contributions by Chris Williams)

Source: ABC News (Associated Press story)

Frustrated by what he called a “slow motion train wreck” for U.S. schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he will give schools relief from federal mandates under the No Child Left Behind law if Congress drags its feet on the law’s long-awaited overhaul and reauthorization.

That could mean everything from granting waivers on test score requirements to flexibility on how schools spend federal funding, though Duncan offered few details because he said the department is just beginning to work on its plan.

The Obama administration has called for an overhaul of the 9-year-old federal education law by the fall, but lawmakers have indicated that won’t be possible. Duncan told reporters Friday that his first goal is for Congress to rewrite the law but he wants to put other plans in place in case that doesn’t happen this year.

“This is absolutely plan B,” Duncan said. “The prospect of doing nothing is what I’m fighting against.”

Duncan has warned that 82 percent of U.S. schools could be labeled failures next year if No Child Left Behind isn’t changed. Education experts have questioned that estimate.

Still, no one thinks states will meet the law’s goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014. A school that fails to meet targets for several consecutive years faces sanctions that can include firing teachers or closing the school entirely.

And Duncan hasn’t been shy about granting waivers. In 2009, he granted more than 300, significantly higher than the number given out a year earlier by his predecessor.

Federal lawmakers–even Democrats–aren’t thrilled about Duncan’s new plan after months of closed-door, bipartisan meetings hashing out changes to the law, which is four years overdue for reauthorization.

“It seems premature at this point to take steps outside the legislative process that would address NCLB’s problems in a temporary and piecemeal way,” said Senate education committee Chairman Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa.

House education committee Chairman John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota, said he’s slowed down the reauthorization process because Democrats on his committee “have really started to engage.”

Kline plans to introduce a bill that would give local school districts more flexibility in how they spend federal money. For example, he would like to allow them to move money for teacher training to underfunded special education programs.

Republicans and Democrats agree the law is broken. The Bush-era legislation has led to schools being labeled failures even though they are making improvements, and has discouraged states from adopting higher standards.

Duncan said he’s encouraged by talks with federal lawmakers in recent weeks indicating the law might see revisions this year. But he said he wants a backup plan in case that doesn’t happen.

“We can’t afford to do nothing,” he said.

Duncan said the department is talking to state officials, teachers, principals and parents about how to help schools if the law isn’t rewritten. He said any actions taken by the department would not prevent Congress from continuing to negotiate reauthorization.

The news comes as relief for governors, who say their schools should not be punished because of an outdated law. In Georgia, for example, the state Department of Education is creating a “performance index” that measures growth in academic achievement rather than just year-to-year test scores and looks at more subjects than just reading and math, the only two required under the federal law.

“I would like the flexibility to use this performance index as it focuses on what makes a school successful and academic growth in each area,” said Gov. Nathan Deal.

But some observers say Duncan’s plan might backfire with Congress because waivers aren’t popular with lawmakers who want more accountability for schools.

“I don’t get all the drama. It almost has the feel of a threat to Congress,” said Sandy Kress, who served as an education adviser to President George W. Bush in the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001. “One has to worry that what they’re really saying is, ‘We’re going to open up the candy store and let people in and they can have as much as they like.'”

RFP Released for U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Competition; Reviewers Needed

Source: Michael Lach (Special Assistant for Science, Technology, Engineering,and Mathematics Education, U.S. Department of Education) via NCSM Past-President Diane Briars 

Below are two recent news items from the U. S. Department of Education that I [Michael Lach] wanted to make sure that you were aware of:

– The new Investing In Innovation (i3) grant competition RFP was released on June 3. Details are online at This competition is for $150 million, and this year we’ve added an absolute priority for programs that focus on STEM education. Individual school districts, groups of districts, and nonprofits in partnership with districts or a consortium of schools are invited to apply.

– We need STEM-knowledgeable reviewers for our competition. Details are online at It’s crucial we get a large pool of top-notch reviewers, so please pass this information out to your networks, members, and colleagues.

Note: To aid the i3 application process, the Department will offer pre-application workshops in the coming weeks along with several webinars on key i3 topics. Grant applications will be due on 2 August 2011. Awards will be made no later than 31 December 2011.

The National Academies Press Makes All PDF Books Free to Download; More Than 4,000 Titles Now Available Free to All Readers 

Source: The National Academies Press

All PDF versions of books published by the National Academies Press (NAP) can now be downloaded by anyone throughout the world free of charge from the NAP Web site: This includes a current catalog of more than 4,000 books plus future reports produced by the Press. The mission of the National Academies Press (NAP)–publisher for the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council–is to disseminate the institutions’ content as widely as possible while maintaining financial sustainability.

“Our business model has evolved so that it is now financially viable to put this content out to the entire world for free,” said Barbara Kline Pope, executive director for the National Academies Press. “This is a wonderful opportunity to make a positive impact by more effectively sharing our knowledge and analyses.”


Science News for Kids

Source: Science for Society & the Public

Science News for Kids was launched in 2003 by Society for Science & the Public (SSP) as a youth edition and companion to SSP’s Science News magazine.

SSP is a nonprofit membership organization based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1921, and first known as Science Service, SSP advances the popular understanding of science through publications and educational programs.

SSP’s flagship publication, Science News, has been published since 1922 and provides concise coverage of all fields of science daily. Reaching the global community with professional, intelligent, accessible, award-winning coverage, online and in print, Science News delivers news from across the range of scientific disciplines (see

SSP also administers education programs, including the Intel Science Talent Search, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and the Broadcom MASTERS competitions for students, and offers the SSP Fellowship for teachers. For 70 years, SSP’s science education programs have inspired generations of science enthusiasts, including Nobel Laureates, Lasker Awardees, National Medal of Science recipients, and nearly 50,000 other distinguished alumni.

More information about the people and the mission and goals of SSP can be found at

To receive regular updates on the latest science news and other information from the Science News for Kids site, sign up for the free weekly SNK E-Blast at