COMET • Vol. 12, No. 03 – 23 February 2011


California’s Push for Algebra I in 8th Grade Has Had Mixed Results

Sources: EdSource

URL (Policy Brief):

According to 2010 statewide test data, California schools have increased by 80% the number of students taking Algebra I in 8th grade since 2003. That change has been most dramatic among low-income, African American, and Latino students, many of whom did not previously have access to the course in the middle grades. A new study from EdSource makes clear, however, that while the state’s push to put students into Algebra I in 8th grade has opened up opportunities for many, it has also had some negative consequences.

The new analysis is a follow-up to a 2010 research project–Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades. Again working with research partners from Stanford University and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), EdSource has just released Improving Middle Grades Mathematics Performance. Its centerpiece is an analysis that used longitudinal student data to examine the relationship between students’ 7th grade math scores on the California Standards Tests (CSTs), their 8th grade mathematics placements, and their subsequent performance on either the Algebra I CST or the General Mathematics CST. The analysis included almost 70,000 8th grade students from 303 California schools and 195 school districts.

The authors conclude that for the state’s most prepared math students (as measured by their 7th grade CST scores), placement into Algebra I in grade 8 appears to have served them well, with these students generally scoring “proficient” or higher on the Algebra I CST. Moderately prepared students, if placed in Algebra I, generally did not score “proficient” or higher on the Algebra I CST in 8th grade, although most scored at least “basic.”

Placing all 8th graders into Algebra I without regard to their preparation sets up many students to fail. In the EdSource study sample, about a quarter of the students scored “below basic” or “far below basic” on the Grade 7 Mathematics CST, and of these students, almost one-third were placed in Algebra I in 8th grade. The vast majority of these students scored below the “basic” level when they took the Algebra I CST.  Schools serving predominantly low-income students were more likely to make these types of placement decisions than schools serving predominantly middle-income students.

In a policy and practice brief prepared by EdSource to accompany the study’s release –Preparation, Placement, Proficiency: Improving Middle Grades Math Performance — the authors argue in favor of 8th grade mathematics placements that are more nuanced and better attuned to wide variations in student readiness. They call on school district leaders to take an active role in facilitating schools’ decisions about student placements and to carefully evaluate the results of those decisions. The authors also call attention to a range of other local district and school practices — beyond placement — that correlate with higher student math achievement, other things being equal. Many of those were documented in EdSource’s original Gaining Ground study.

The analysis can also inform California’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards that were adopted by the State Board of Education last August. Along with a call for the state to provide districts with clear guidance about 8th grade math assessments and accountability for the next school year, the authors explain the implications of their findings for California’s transition to the Common Core. They cite actions that could be taken by California’s Legislature, public universities, State Board of Education, and Commission on Teacher Credentialing to strengthen the preparation of students to succeed in a college-preparatory curriculum in high school.

“California’s gains in Algebra I course taking and success have raised expectations, particularly for low-income and minority students” said Matt Rosin, senior research associate at EdSource and a member of the study team. “California’s middle grades educators should continue to widen appropriate access to challenging mathematics coursework. But in doing so, they need to build on a strong math foundation for students in earlier grades and base their placement decisions on a careful understanding of students’ preparedness. The objective of giving more students the opportunity to complete Algebra I in 8th grade should not be achieved at the expense of a large proportion of students who would be better served by having more time to master key algebra concepts. Students who complete Algebra I in 9th grade can still graduate from high school having met or exceeded the a-g course requirements of the state’s public universities.”

The EdSource Web site contains detailed and useful information about this study, including the 18-page Policy Brief mentioned above ( Also see “FAQ – Improving Middle Grades Math Performance”:


Middle School Mathematics Teachers Sought to Participate in “Making Middle School Mathematics Accessible to All Students” Study

Contact:  Katie Diaz (, WestEd

WestEd, a non-profit research, development, and service agency, is seeking 25 middle school mathematics teachers, teacher-leaders, special educators, and paraeducators to participate in a project entitled “Making Middle School Mathematics Accessible to All Students” (MAS). The project is designed to enhance the capacity of participants to support all middle school students in achieving mathematics proficiency. Participating teachers will be eligible to receive stipends of up to $1200. All participants will receive six days of all-expenses-paid professional development during July 2011 in the San Francisco Bay area.

Applicants are encouraged to enroll with a partner.  Partners can be any combination of teacher-leaders, teachers, special education teachers, and paraeducators who teach middle school mathematics.

To enroll, please visit and complete the consent form that applies to your position (teacher-leader, teacher, paraeducator), and fax the form to 650-381-6401 by Friday, March 4.


National Symposium on Mathematics Teacher Retention to be Held on 22-24 March 2012 in Los Angeles

Sources: Susie W. Hakansson, Executive Director, California Mathematics Project (CMP)

The California Mathematics Project (CMP) is a statewide network of 19 regional sites on university campuses funded to provide professional development for teachers of mathematics at the pre-K through university levels. Since 2007, 10 of the 19 CMP sites have participated in a 5-year Improving Teacher Quality project funded by the California Postsecondary Education Commission. Entitled “CMP Supporting Teachers to Increase Retention” (CMP STIR), the project serves as the impetus for a national symposium on Mathematics Teacher Retention to be held on 22-24 March 2012 at a hotel near the Los Angeles International Airport.

The Symposium will provide an opportunity for any individual or project that focuses on key components of mathematics teacher retention to share their expertise and knowledge. Strands for the symposium are the following: Mathematics Content and Pedagogy, Models of Support, Teacher Leadership, Communities of Practice, Research, and Policy. A request for Symposium speakers will be sent out at the beginning of May. Check the Symposium Web site ( for periodic updates. A “Save the Date” flyer is also located at this site.


“Former Astronaut Sally Ride Says Science Must Improve its Image to Encourage Kids Today” by Katy Murphy

Sources: Oakland Tribune – 7 February 2011

Sally Ride, the first woman and the youngest American to fly to space, told a UC Berkeley audience …[on February 7] that science badly needs to update its image.

Too many Americans — teachers and students included — see science as an impossibly hard, uncreative and solitary pursuit, she said. And you need only to Google “scientist” to see who, exactly, they are thought to be: nerdy white men with big glasses and wild hair.

Schools can help, she said, by exposing children to scientists of all kinds and backgrounds at an early age (preferably those without pocket protectors. If they have pets, even better). Making science class more interesting — a lot more like actual science — would also go a long way, she said.

“Scientists don’t memorize the periodic table. Scientists solve problems,” Ride said. “Often they get results that they don’t expect, and often they learn more than when they get results they do expect.”

The physicist and former astronaut came to campus as part of a speaker series sponsored by the UC Regents — a talk that drew a younger-than-usual crowd. She talked about the morning she learned, through an advertisement in the Stanford University student newspaper, that NASA was hiring women for the first time. She projected images of Florida and Brazil, as seen from space, and told the audience how wonderfully fun it is to be weightless.

But if America’s students don’t become better prepared in science and math, they will have a hard time finding living wage jobs, let alone flying to space, she said. In a national science test, less than half of all students in grades 4, 8 and 12 showed a solid understanding of the material, according to a 2009 report card released last month by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. California’s scores for grades 4 and 8 were lower than any state but Mississippi.

The tremendous pressure for public schools to deliver on literacy and math, combined with a teaching corps that’s underprepared in science, has contributed to the neglect of science education. In a recent report, the Santa Cruz-based Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning found that about one-fourth of science teachers are novices or teaching out-of-field.

“Many districts have turned science into an elective,” said Caleb Cheung, the science manager for the Oakland school district.

Last year, Oakland became the second district in the state to make the subject mandatory at its elementary schools. The school board passed a policy requiring 60 minutes of instruction a week in kindergarten through third grade and 90 minutes a week in fourth and fifth grades, starting in 2011…

[Ride] started Sally Ride Science, a science education company, to bring more children — girls, especially — into the fold…

Ride said she hoped Americans would embrace science as they did when she was growing up in the 1960s during the Space Race with the Soviet Union. “When I was growing up “… it was really cool to be a scientist or engineer,” she said.

“We need to make science cool again.”


House Passes Legislation Reducing FY 2011 Discretionary Spending, Eliminating Funding for Dozens of Programs, including the Mathematics and Science Partnership Program

Sources: U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations

URL (White House): 

On February 11, the House Appropriations Committee introduced a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) to fund the federal government for the last seven months of the current fiscal year (FY), which ends on 30 September 2011. Chairman Hal Rogers gave the following statement on the introduction of the Continuing Resolution (CR) legislation:

“…This legislation includes the largest reduction in discretionary spending in the history of our nation–over five times larger than any other discretionary cut package ever considered by the House… These cuts go far and wide, and will affect every community in the nation… My committee has taken a thoughtful look at each and every one of the programs we intend to cut, and have made determinations based on this careful analysis… It is my intent–and that of my Committee–that this CR legislation will be the first of many Appropriations bills this year that will significantly reduce federal spending.”

After more than 60 hours of public debate and consideration of nearly 600 amendments offered by both Democrats and Republicans, the House passed H.R. 1 by a vote of 235-189 on Saturday morning (February 19). The legislation will now go to the Senate for a vote. If the CR is not enacted before the current funding measure’s deadline of Friday, March 4, Congress must pass another short-term funding resolution or risk a government-wide shutdown.

A table available at includes the funding amounts proposed in H.R. 1 for U.S. Department of Education programs and activities.  (This table was last updated on February 16 before the final vote.)  A number of items in the budget were marked for fiscal elimination or reduction. The American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) has created a table showing these programs (see Sixty education programs were marked for fiscal elimination in the budget, including the Mathematics and Science Partnership program, the Teacher Quality Partnership program, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the National Writing Project, Tech Prep State Grants, Programs for BA/MA Degrees in STEM and Critical Foreign Languages, and Statewide Data Systems.

President Obama may veto the proposed budget once he receives it from the Senate. He wrote on February 15, “The Administration does not support deep cuts that will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world” (for the full text, see

See the item below for President Obama’s FY 2012 request for federal education funding.


President Obama’s FY 2012 Budget Request for Education

Sources: U.S. Department of Education

On February 14, President Obama submitted his Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget. A summary of the proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Education can be viewed at  The budget includes the following funding for “Improving STEM Education” (from page 8 of the budget summary):

The 2012 request would continue to support President Obama’s focus on improving STEM education by (1) increasing STEM literacy so that all students can master challenging content and think critically in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields; (2) improving the quality of math and science teaching so American students are no longer outperformed by those in other nations; and (3) expanding STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups. Key activities include:

– $206 million to improve the teaching and learning of STEM subjects aligned with college- and career-ready standards through the Effective Teaching and Learning: STEM program. This proposed program, which would receive an increase of $26 million, or 14 percent, over the current Mathematics and Science Partnerships program [which would be replaced by the proposed program], would support professional development for STEM teachers; implementation of high-quality assessments and instructional materials; and improved systems for linking student data on assessments with instructional supports such as lesson plans and intervention strategies. [See p. 22 for more information.]

– A priority for STEM projects under the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which makes awards to develop, validate, and scale up innovative programs, practices, and strategies that have evidence of effectiveness in improving educational outcomes for students. [See p. 4 for more information.]

– $80 million under the proposed Teacher and Leader Pathways program to help prepare 10,000 new STEM teachers over the next 2 years as part of the Administration’s goal to recruit and prepare 100,000 effective STEM teachers over the next 10 years. [See p. 5 for more information.] [From page 14] The 2012 request for elementary and secondary education programs supports the Administration’s comprehensive plan for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as outlined in A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act released in March 2010 and available on the Department of Education website at …[A table on page 15 of the proposed plan] shows the ESEA [Elementary and Secondary Education Act] and related programs that would be consolidated under the Administration’s 2012 request.

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Winning the Race to Educate Our Children: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education in the 2012 Budget

Source: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy