COMET • Vol. 13, No. 04 – 23 March 2012


SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium Factsheets


One-page topical factsheets about the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) are available on the SBAC Web site. A summary of the links is available on the California Department of Education’s comprehensive SBAC Web page:

Descriptive URLs have been provided below for the factsheets:

*  SMARTER Balanced Factsheet — Provides an overview of the assessment system:

*  Computer Adaptive Testing Factsheet — Describes the benefits of computer adaptive testing (CAT), which is an integral part of SBAC:

*  Factsheet for Parents — Explains the SBAC system for parents:

*  Factsheet for Policymakers — Explains key features of the SBAC system for policymakers:

*  Factsheet for Teachers — Describes how teachers are involved in the SBAC development process:

*  Higher Education Factsheet — Explains how the SBAC is working with the higher education community: 


March Meeting of the California State Board of Education Included a Number of Items Related to the Implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)


URL (Video)
URL (CSSS Implementation Plan)

The agenda for the March meeting of the California State Board of Education (SBE) included five items related to the implementation ofthe Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Brief reports for the first four are included below. For additional information on each of these items, please refer to the documents noted in the descriptions, as well as to the video of the meeting (URL above).

Agenda Item 2 (Video time marker: 25 – 41 min.) Appointment of members to the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), which will advise the SBE “on the implementation of all policies and programs related to the CCSS” (see
SBE member Ilene Straus led the screening committee and noted that 128 individuals applied for the Board’s 13 IQC slots (out of 18 total to be filled). Seven teachers were appointed to this committee, three of whom indicated that mathematics was an area of expertise. Of the remaining six individuals appointed to this committee, mathematics was given as an area of expertise by three, including former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig. During the Public Comment period, a representative from the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) expressed concern that only one appointee has expertise in science. (The CSTA representative spoke in support of the inclusion of science teachers on all of the advisory committees mentioned today.)
Tom Adams, who will serve as the Executive Director of the IQC, gave a presentation in which he provided background about the Curriculum Commission and explained the difference between the Curriculum Commission (CC) and the new IQC, which has a significantly broader scope than the CC.

Agenda Item 3 (Video time marker: 41 min.- 1:23) Barbara Murchison provided an overview of the updated implementation plan of the CCSS in California (see for presentation slides). She noted that this is a starting point for discussions that will occur over many years. Murchison said that more specificity in timelines and stakeholder roles was included in this version than in the document provided to the SBE in January. Appendix D contains the “Cliff’s Notes” version of the implementation plan, graphically showing the timeline for various events.
Murchison urged those interested in this topic to refer to the CDE’s CCSS Web site ( and to subscribe to the CCSS listserv. She pointed out that there are currently many CCSS implementation webinars available on iTunes U for teachers. (See for CDE’s K-6 curriculum webinar links.) Murchison also shared the URL for the CDE’s SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) Web page, as well as the address for subscribing to the SBAC listserv for updates.
SBE President Michael Kirst asked Murchison, “What about California’s 15% addition and the bifurcation in 8th grade mathematics that we have? How are you addressing that?” Murchison responded, “Those are complicated policy questions that we’re continuing to grapple with at this point. We expect that some of that will be addressed through the AB 250 [(] transition plan process for assessment. Those questions will be grappled with by that group. Some of the questions about the 15% in terms of curriculum and instructional materials–those are topics for the IQC. We’re working on that. We don’t have good answers for this right now, other than we know those are issues and that we have processes to begin addressing them.” (See time marker 1:04 for this exchange.)
   ** NOTE **: The 62-page implementation plan can be downloaded from

Agenda Item 4 (1:24-1:40) This item provided an update and discussion regarding the reauthorization of the statewide pupil assessment system and alignment with the CCSS.
Diane Hernandez (Assessment, CDE) presented this item, which included an update of progress to date and an initial list of the members of the Advisory Committee (see In addition to STAR, the committee will consider the CAHSEE, CELDT, and EAP. “The CDE’s Assessment Development and Administration Division will collaborate across CDE branches to plan for the implementation of AB 250, SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), AB 124 (newly revised English Language Development standards), and the next generation science standards” (Agenda Item text).
SBE Chair Kirst stated, “Hopefully we can have a much enhanced assessment system where we don’t have to do all of this redundant assessment, where we do high school CSTs and they do SATs and things don’t carry forward in a clean way…” ACSA supported reducing redundancy in high school testing.
Board Member Patricia Rucker noted that the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing would be making change in standards for teacher preparation in light of the CCSS.  She asked, “Particularly with the University of California and their Subject Matter Projects, where will assessment literacy blend into the changes and upgrades and improvements that they continue to make in their institutes and programs?”

Agenda Item 5:  (1:41-1:50) Reviewers for the evaluation of supplemental instructional materials aligned to the CCSS were presented for SBE approval by Tom Adams. Adams noted that 188 applications were received for general reviewers and content experts. Because he will not know how many reviewers will be needed until May 16, when submission lists from publishers are due, Adams recommended that all qualified applicants (i.e., those who have no conflict of interest) be approved. The SBE did so, approving 21 content experts and 96 reviewers for English Language Arts, as well as 6 content experts and 59 reviewers for Mathematics. The list of all those approved is available for download from
The six content experts in mathematics were as follows:
– Joseph R. Fiedler – Professor of Mathematics – California State University, Bakersfield
– Cindy P. Hendrix – Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction, Mathematics and Science, Antelope Valley Union High School District, Lancaster, California
– Philip I. Ogbuehi – Mathematics Specialist, Los Angeles Unified School District
– Barbara A. Parr – Academic Program Leader, Bakersfield City School District
– Felipe H. Razo, Assistant Professor – California State University, East Bay
– Barbara G. Wells – Director, Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project

Related Articles

Professional Learning Modules

Source: Common Core State Standards Systems Implementation Plan for California (page 6)

The California Department of Education (CDE) has compiled a list of professional learning activities and resources that are currently available and conducted needs surveys to determine what professional learning activities and resources are most needed by LEAs. The CDE has formed a design team to develop criteria for new professional learning modules designed to meet the identified needs of educators. Modules will be available for both individual study and group activity, web-based and school-based delivery, and will assist in the implementation of the CCSS and increase the effectiveness of teachers based on the California Standards for the Teaching Profession and the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning. Topics will include instructional strategies to support all learners, including English learners, pupils with disabilities, and underperforming students; instructional strategies that promote creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication skills; the integration of subject area content knowledge; and instructional leadership and coaching. The CDE will refine its existing Professional Development Opportunities Web site to identify activities aimed at transitioning to the CCSS.


Educational Technology Task Force Created

Source: California Department of Education

Last Saturday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced the creation of a 48-member Education Technology Task Force that is tasked with recommending strategies to bring modern technology tools into California’s classrooms to improve teaching and learning.

The Task Force will work in groups led by facilitators to explore education technology in five key areas–learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. Members will assess the state’s current education technology infrastructure and identify gaps between California’s most recent educational technology plan, which was approved in 2005, and the National Education Technology Plan (see

In creating the Task Force, Torlakson said he recognized the severe financial limitations currently facing schools, but was establishing the group now so that a plan for making better use of technology would be ready when more resources were available.

“Technology is changing nearly every aspect of our lives. But in California–home to Silicon Valley and the world’s leading technology companies–many schools have been all but left out of the technology revolution,” Torlakson said. “If we’re serious about providing our students a world-class education, we need a plan that leaves no school and no child offline.”

As part of its duties, the Task Force will invite input from stakeholders and experts in the field. A Web page also has been created on the Brokers of Expertise Web site for anyone who would like to contribute information, research, and case studies:

The Task Force is expected to present recommendations to Torlakson to revise and develop a California Educational Technology Blueprint over the next few months, followed by a series of public meetings to gather comments on issues identified by the Task Force.

Torlakson announced the Task Force during the annual Computer-Using Educators Conference in Palm Springs. For a list of Task Force members, please visit

For more information on the Education Technology Task Force, please visit the California Department of Education Web site at 

Related Web Site

Office of Educational Technology


The goal of the Office of Educational Technology (OET), housed in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan), is to provide leadership for transforming education through the power of technology. OET develops national educational technology policy and advocates for the transition from print-based to digital learning. Visit the Web site above to learn more about OET’s goals, as well as links to resources such as the National Education Technology Plan, projects and initiatives, research and reports, and grant opportunities.


Teacher Preparation Advisory Panel

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
URL (Charge)

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) has appointed 29 educators to serve on a new panel tasked with reviewing “the content, structure and requirements for California teacher preparation and licensure to ensure that these remain responsive to the conditions of teaching and learning in California’s public schools.” Visit to view the members’ names and affiliations. (Note: The one high school mathematics teacher on the panel, Sean Nank, is a recent recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching:   Sean is also the author of the recently-published book, The Making of a Presidential Mathematics & Science Educator An Autobiographical Archive of Presidential Awardees.)

According to the charge for the Teacher Preparation Advisory Panel (TAP), “the panel will consider whether the current K-12 credential classifications, subjects, and authorizations are appropriate to meet the complexity, demands and expectations of California’s public schools.

“Another important consideration will be the extent to which current expectations for teacher preparation can be met during a single year of coursework and field experiences followed by an induction phase or if adjustments should be made in expectations for both pre-service teacher preparation and induction.

“The panel will also consider the viability of current pathways to a preliminary teaching credential, including post graduate, blended, student teaching, internships, residency, the Early Completion Option (ECO), and examination routes. In addition the panel will consider the variety of delivery models including face-to-face, hybrid and online teacher preparation programs.

“A fifth consideration will be the use of performance assessments as one indicator of learning, demonstration of skills, prediction of future teacher success, and movement on a career ladder for those individuals who wish to pursue instructional and/or organizational leadership.

Additional information about the committee, its charge, and related links may be found at  An update on the work of this panel is expected to be given at CCTC’s June 14 meeting.

Related Links

APLU (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities) Discussion Paper: “The Common Core State Standards and Teacher Preparation: The Role of Higher Education”


APLU (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities) Forum: “Higher Education and Common Core State Standards”

URL (Descsription and link to video):


April is Mathematics Awareness Month

Source: The Joint Policy Board for Mathematics

Mathematics Awareness Month (MAM), held each year in April, was established by presidential proclamation in 1986 to increase public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics. MAM is sponsored by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM), which is a collaborative effort of the American Mathematical Society, the American Statistical Association, the Mathematical Association of America, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Activities for Mathematics Awareness Month are generally organized on local, state and regional levels by college and university departments, institutional public information offices, student groups, and related associations and interest groups

The theme for this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month is Mathematics, Statistics, and the Data Deluge. Every day, massive amounts of data are collected, often from information people have provided to the services they use regularly. Scientific data are generated daily from sensor networks, biometric devices and other sources — and all of that data need to be sorted out. In addition, personal data from numerous sources, including Google searches, Facebook and Twitter activities, credit card purchases, and airline and hotel reservations, are constantly being mined. All of these data sets provide great opportunities for marketers and others, but they create potential dangers as well.

Resources for this year’s Mathematics Awareness Month are designed to show how mathematics and statistics provide the tools to understanding these data and to helping mitigate against their misuse. At, articles and essays, can be downloaded, along with an 8.5 x 11″ copy of the 2012 poster, “What Would You Do with All This Data?”  Full-size copies of the poster may also be ordered by mail or online at

Activities for MAM are generally organized on local, state and regional levels by college and university departments, institutional public information offices, student groups, and related associations and interest groups. Individuals and organizations will find more information about participating in MAM on the website (


“Imaging Study Reveals Differences in Brain Function for Children with Math Anxiety” by Erin Digitale

Source: Stanford University School of Medicine – 21 March 2012

Scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have demonstrated for the first time how brain function differs in people who have math anxiety from those who don’t.

A series of brain scans conducted while second- and third-grade students performed addition and subtraction revealed that those who feel panicky about doing math had increased activity in brain regions associated with fear, which caused decreased activity in parts of the brain involved in problem solving.

“The same part of the brain that responds to fearful situations, such as seeing a spider or snake, also shows a heightened response in children with high math anxiety,” said Vinod Menon, the Stanford professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences who led the research.

In their new study, Menon’s team performed functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans on 46 second- and third-grade students with low and high math anxiety. Outside the fMRI scanner, the children were assessed for math anxiety with a modified version of a standardized questionnaire for adults, and also received standard intelligence and cognitive tests. Children in the high and low math anxiety groups had similar IQ scores, working memory, reading and math abilities, and generalized anxiety levels.

While prior research focused on the behavioral aspects of math anxiety, Menon and his team wanted to find biological evidence of its existence.

“It’s remarkable that, although the phenomena was first identified over 50 years back, nobody had bothered to ask how math anxiety manifests itself in terms of neural activity,” Menon said. His team’s observations show that math anxiety is neurobiologically similar to other kinds of anxiety or phobias, he said. “You cannot just wish it away as something that’s unreal. Our findings validate math anxiety as a genuine type of stimulus- and situation-specific anxiety.”

Identifying the neurologic basis for math anxiety may help to develop new strategies for addressing the problem, such as treatments used for generalized anxiety or phobias.

“The results are a significant step toward our understanding of brain function during math anxiety and will influence development of new academic interventions,” said Victor Carrion, MD, a pediatric psychiatrist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and an expert on the effects of anxiety in children.

In the children with high math anxiety, the fMRI brain scans showed heightened activity in the amygdala, the brain’s main fear center, and also in a section of the hippocampus, a brain structure that helps form new memories. They also had decreased activity in several brain regions associated with working memory and numerical reasoning. Interestingly, analysis of brain connections showed that, in children with high math anxiety, the increased activity in the fear center was driving the reduced function in numerical information-processing regions of the brain. Further, children with high math anxiety also showed greater connections between the amygdala and emotion-regulating regions of the brain.

The two groups also showed differences in performance: Children with high math anxiety were less accurate and significantly slower at solving math problems than children with low math anxiety.

The results suggest that, in math anxiety, math-specific fear interferes with the brain’s information-processing capacity and its ability to reason through a math problem.
 In addition to examining possible treatments and following the trajectory of math anxiety from early childhood throughout schooling, future research could provide insight into how the brain’s information-processing capacity is affected by performance anxiety in general, Menon said.

Request for Study Participants: 

Menon’s lab is now looking for children ages 7 to 12 in the San Francisco Bay Area for several brain studies, including studies of math anxiety, math cognition and memory formation. The researchers are especially seeking second- and third-graders who have difficulty with math for a study in which a month of free math tutoring will be provided.

They are also seeking children with high-functioning autism as well as typically developing children to serve as control subjects for ongoing studies of math, language, and social abilities.

Studies involve cognitive assessments and MRI scans. Eligible children will receive pictures of their brain and $50-200 for participation. An MRI scan is a safe, non-invasive procedure that does not use radiation or any injections.

To participate, visit, or contact Leslie McNeil at or (650) 736-0128.


Research Report: “The Aftermath of Accelerating Algebra: Evidence from a District Policy Initiative”

Source: Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd, and Jacob L. Vigdor – Duke University


In 2002/03, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools initiated a broad program of accelerating entry into algebra coursework. The proportion of moderately-performing students taking 8th grade algebra increased from less than half to nearly 90%, then reverted to baseline levels, in the span of just six age cohorts. We use this policy-induced variation to infer the impact of accelerated entry into algebra on student performance in math courses as students progress through high school. Students affected by the acceleration initiative scored significantly lower on end-of-course tests in Algebra I, and were either no more likely or significantly less likely to pass standard follow-up courses, Geometry and Algebra II, on a college-preparatory timetable. We also find that the district assigned teachers with weaker qualifications to Algebra I classes in the first year of the acceleration, but this reduction in teacher quality accounts for only a small portion of the overall effect.

[Visit the Web site above to read the full report.]


Survey Participation Invited: District Support for Algebra I Students

Contact: Josephine Louie, Educational Development Center, Inc.

The Education Development Center, Inc., with support from the National Science Foundation, is conducting a study to learn what supports are in place for students enrolled in Algebra I.  If you have knowledge of district intervention programs, you are invited to participate in the survey located at

The results of the study will be shared with all interested survey participants.  Questions may be directed to Josephine Louie or 617-618-2883.