COMET • Vol. 13, No. 06 – 20 April 2012


SMARTER Balanced Technology Readiness Tool Rollout

Source: California Department of Education

On Monday, April 16, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson sent the following letter to district and county office superintendents:

“As you know, in June 2011, California became a governing state in the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). SBAC brings states together to create an innovative assessment system for mathematics and English language arts/literacy that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The SBAC assessments will be delivered via computing devices; assessing our students using technology provides schools and districts much faster turnaround of results and a better opportunity to assess our students on twenty-first century skills with twenty-first century technology. This is indeed an exciting opportunity to enable our assessment system to assess those critical thinking skills that our educators are teaching.

“The purpose of this communication is to announce the statewide rollout of the SBAC Technology Readiness Tool. The statewide data collection window is now open and will close June 14, 2012. As California moves forward with the implementation of the SBAC computer-adaptive assessments, your efforts will be critical in gauging our schools’ readiness to administer these assessments.

“By using the Technology Readiness Tool, schools and districts will be able to submit information on key readiness indicators, including number and type of computers and devices; ratio of devices to test-takers; local network and bandwidth infrastructure; and local staff resources. This first data collection will be used as an inventory for baseline purposes to help determine the minimum system requirements for the SBAC system…

“If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact Jose Ortega, State Readiness Coordinator in the Education Technology Office, using a special e-mail account we have created specifically for this initiative:”

Related Articles

“How’s Broadband Use in your Neighborhood? Interactive Map”

Source: Computerworld – 16 April 2012
URL (Article):
URL (Map):

This interesting interactive map ( depicts broadband use in the United States. You can enter an address and view the percent of households subscribing to broadband Internet within that particular U.S. Census Tract (neighborhood) over time (December 2008-December 2010). The map also provides information about median household income, education (bachelor’s degree), and race/ethnicity for the same region.


Dissecting the Data 2012: Examining STEM Opportunities and Outcomes for Underrepresented Students in California

Source: Level Playing Field Institute
URL (Report):

Dissecting the Data 2012: Examining STEM Opportunities and Outcomes for Underrepresented Students in California reveals that opportunity and achievement gaps across all levels of schooling negatively impact the chances for underrepresented students of color to achieve success in STEM education and to pursue higher education degrees and careers in STEM fields. The second report in a series by the Level Playing Field Institute (LPFI), Dissecting the Data 2012 examines data on STEM preparation from K-12 through higher education among underrepresented students of color in the state and concludes with promising practices and recommendations to address these challenges within California.

Data within the report reveal disparate outcomes in math and science achievement in the earliest tested grades, culminating in low proficiency rates, low rates of college readiness and preparation, and limited enrollment and completion of STEM degrees in higher education among underrepresented students of color. Some findings follow below:

—  By 6th grade, just 35% of African-American and 42% of Latino student reached proficiency in mathematics, compared to significantly higher rates among their white and Asian peers (68% and 81%, respectively).
—  In the critical gatekeeper course, Algebra II, just 16% of African-American and 21% of Latino students reached proficiency.
—  Less than 2 in 10 African-American students reached proficiency in chemistry in 2011; and of the students who go on to take physics, just 25% of African-American and 35% of Latino students reached proficient levels of performance.
— Students of color are vastly underrepresented in AP courses. While Latino students represent 49% of the high-school aged population in California, they represent only 18% of the AP science test-takers and 19% of the AP math test-takers.
— Latinos account for only 18% of the STEM majors across both the University of California and California State University (CSU) systems. Only 3% of the STEM majors across both University systems are African-American.
— Among first-time freshman entering the CSU system declaring STEM majors in 2004, only 13% of African-American and 22% of Latino students graduated with a STEM degree within 6 years.
— Improving STEM education in California (particularly among underrepresented students of color) is critical, not only for California’s future but also for the future of the nation.

The Executive Summary of the report is available at  The full report is available at


International Comparison of Mathematics Teacher Preparation

Source: Michigan State University – 16 April 2012

The Teacher Education and Development Study in Mathematics, or TEDS-M (, is the first international comparison of mathematics teacher preparation. The six-year study was funded by a major grant from the National Science Foundation to Michigan State University, as well as by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and by the participating countries.

The researchers collected data from representative national samples that included almost 500 higher education institutions in 17 countries that prepare primary and secondary school teachers. Approximately 22,000 future teachers were surveyed and tested, and 5,000 instructors were also surveyed. The complete set of data from the report is expected to be published soon on IEA’s website:

The differences between top and bottom scoring countries were very large, study director Maria Teresa Tatto said. Taiwan and Singapore performed considerably better than other countries in preparing math teachers. The findings suggest that this may be due to several key factors: future math teachers in these countries receive rigorous math instruction in high school; university teacher preparation programs are highly selective and demanding; and the teaching profession is attractive, with excellent pay, benefits and job security.

Countries that rely on teaching specialists in lower grades (Poland, Switzerland, and Germany) also did well. The United States generally finished below this group but above other countries that scored considerably below the international average, Tatto said.

TEDS-M provides strong evidence of the benefits of teacher-preparation programs at colleges and universities. “Some critics of teacher education believe you can bypass colleges of education and prepare teachers in an easier, faster way, but our study doesn’t support that,” said Tatto.

“In Taiwan, for example, nobody graduates without the demonstrated ability to teach mathematics,” she said. “Here in the United States, far too many of our graduates lack the knowledge of mathematics and how to teach it, which they will need as they begin to teach.”

John Schwille, a researcher on the project and MSU education professor, said the results offer grounds for optimism about what can be done to improve teacher preparation and overcome a climate of skepticism.

The study, he added, is in part a response to the belief among many in the United States that teachers are “born and not made, so why are we wasting our time on university programs?” Critics argue that university-based teaching programs are costly and take longer than the alternative of just hiring talented liberal arts graduates and putting them more directly in classrooms. But this argument doesn’t hold up, Schwille said.

“There are some ‘born’ teachers, sure, but not enough to fill the classrooms,” he said. “So you’re going to have to prepare them. And the countries that do it best rely on university-based teacher education programs.”


Same-Ethnicity Mentors Boost Students’ Commitment to STEM Careers

Source: EurekAlert! – 17 April 2012

Youths from African American, Native American, and Latino backgrounds are underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (known as STEM subjects). Although having a mentor of the same ethnicity is widely seen as one way to engage these youths in STEM subjects, no study has asked these young people if they consider having a mentor who shares their background to be important. Now a new study of African American and Latino youths has found that having a “matched” mentor does matter, but only if having such a mentor is considered important by the adolescent.

The researchers surveyed 265 high school students who were attending a four-week summer residential science camp in California called COSMOS–the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Sciences. The teens were ethnically diverse and very high achieving–most had GPAs at or above 4.0; about a quarter were from underrepresented minorities (African American and Latino).

Students filled out surveys at the beginning and conclusion of the camp, answering questions about their prior contact with mentors of the same background, their desire to have a mentor who shared their ethnicity, and their feelings about being a science student. Teens had contact with mentors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds throughout the course of the camp.

The study’s results revealed a lot of variability in adolescents’ contact with same-ethnicity mentors and how important it is to them to have such mentors. About 65 percent of underrepresented students said they had such a preference, compared with 45 percent of White students. While the study confirmed the assumption that ethnic minorities prefer to have mentors who share their background, it also suggested that there are individual differences in students’ desires.

Further, taking preference into account mattered. Feelings of belonging as science students increased among those students who said that having a shared-background mentor was important and who had contact with such a mentor during the camp.

“Seeing and interacting with successful figures enables adolescents to envision themselves in similar roles, thereby strengthening their identities,” explains Moin Syed, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, who led the study.

“Having a strong sense of identity as a science student may be particularly important for underrepresented minority students, given the immense barriers they experience to pursuing careers in STEM fields.”

Mentoring programs that assign mentors on the basis of race and ethnicity should be sure to ask students about their preferences, and matches should be made accordingly, suggests Syed. “Doing so may help maintain underrepresented students’ interests in STEM fields.”


Free WestEd Webinar Series on Implementing Effective Online Professional Development


WestEd is hosting a series of webinars that examine strategies for implementing effective online professional development (OPD). The first webinar, “e-Learning for Educators: Effects of Online Professional Development on Teachers and their Students,” was held yesterday and has been archived for on-demand viewing (link and description available here:

The next webinar, “How Online Professional Development Can Support the Common Core Standards Roll-Out–Arizona’s Vision,” will be held on April 26. Description: “Lynne Meeks will moderate a presentation and discussion by Arizona Department of Education staff, who will showcase the process they are using to implement the e-Learning for Educators (eFE) model in their state to support training around the Common Core. They will also discuss the work of the e-Learning for Educators Consortium in continuing the work established in the eFE project.” For more information, visit

The third of the three webinars will be held on May 2 and is entitled “A National Perspective of K-12 Online and Blended Learning: Current Issues and Trends in Policy and Practice.” Description: “Do you want to learn more about models for integrating online/blended or competency-based learning programs? Join us for this free webinar with Susan Patrick, President and Chief Executive Officer of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), and [David Haglund,] a district-level educator [from Riverside School District] who will reflect on these programs.” For more information, visit


Early Math Teaching and Learning Convening

ContactMarcella Klein Williams – California STEM Learning Network (CSLNet)

The California STEM Learning Network (CSLNet) and the OC [Orange County] STEM Initiative are hosting an Early Math Teaching and Learning Convening next Wednesday, 25 April 2012, at UC Irvine. The focus will be on research, curriculum and pedagogy, professional development and articulation, and policy.

This meeting, sponsored by the Heising-Simons Foundation, will determine the role of CSLNet and its Regional Networks in bridging practice with current research. The goal is to increase awareness of the importance of early mathematics and to engage the diverse leaders attending the conference in documenting next steps.

Speaking at the conference will be Greg Duncan (see; also see

To learn more about CSLNet and the Regional Networks, visit

To register for the Early Math Teaching & Learning Convening, please visit  Contact CSLNet’s Chief Educational Officer Marcella Klein Williams at 415-489-7730 or with any questions.

Related Articles

“Math Matters, even for Little Kids” by Deborah Stipek, Alan Schoenfeld, and Deanna Gomby

Source: Education Week – 28 March 2012

Everyone knows that children who are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade are fated to struggle academically throughout school. Concerns about early literacy skills are justified because reading skills at kindergarten entry predict later academic achievement.

But guess what predicts later academic success better than early reading? Early math skills. In “School Readiness and Later Achievement,” [ ] a widely cited 2007 study of large longitudinal data sets, University of California, Irvine, education professor Greg Duncan and his colleagues found that in a comparison of math, literacy, and social-emotional skills at kindergarten entry, “early math concepts, such as knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning.” A large-scale Canadian study from 2010 echoes those findings: Math skills at school entry predicted math skills and even reading skills in 3rd and 2nd grade, respectively, better than reading skills at school entry. Although the mechanisms underlying such associations are not yet understood, the importance of early mathematics, and thus of access to it for all students, is clear…


Getting in Rhythm Helps Children Grasp Fractions

Source: San Francisco State University

Tapping out a beat may help children learn difficult fraction concepts, according to new findings published in the journal Educational Studies in Mathematics ( “Academic Music” is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming and chanting to introduce third-grade students to fractions. Research using the program, which was co-designed by San Francisco State University (SFSU) researchers, found that students in a music-based program scored 50% higher on math tests than their peers who received regular instruction.

“If students don’t understand fractions early on, they often struggle with algebra and mathematical reasoning later in their schooling,” said Susan Courey, SFSU assistant professor of special education. “We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math.”

“Students who started out with less fraction knowledge achieved final test scores similar to their higher-achieving peers,” Courey said. “Lower-performing students might find it hard to grasp the idea of fractions from a diagram or textbook, but when you add music and multiple ways of learning, fractions become second nature to them.”

Courey devised Academic Music with music teacher Endre Balogh. They borrowed aspects from the Kodaly method, a Hungarian approach to music education that includes movement, songs, and nicknames for musical notes, such as “ta-ah” for a half note.

The curriculum helps children connect the value of musical notes, such as half notes and eighth notes, to their equivalent fraction size. By clapping and drumming rhythms and chanting each note’s Kodaly names, students learn the time value of musical notes. Students learn to add and subtract fractions by completing work sheets, in which they draw musical notes on sheet music, ensuring the notes add up to four beats in each bar or measure.

The program has also proven itself at Allen Elementary School, a San Bruno public school (not included in the present study) that has been using the Academic Music program since 2007.

“Academic Music brings music into the classroom and gets children to learn math in a different way that’s symbolic and not dependent on language,” said Kit Cosgriff, principal at Allen Elementary School, who introduced the program to help the schools’ diverse student body learn math in ways that are not language-based. The school serves many students from low-income families, and 60 percent of students don’t speak English as their first language.

“In every lesson I’ve observed, the children have been excited and enthusiastic about learning fractions,” Cosgriff said. “It’s a picture of what you would like every class to look like.”

Cosgriff believes the school’s recent jump in standardized test scores reflects the impact of Academic Music. Since implementing the program for all third-grade math classes, the percentage of third-graders who scored proficient or above on the California Standards Test for math increased from 63 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008. On the California Achievement Test (CAT/6) for mathematics, the percentage of third graders who scored at or above the national average increased from 51 percent in 2006 to 72 percent in 2007 and 75 percent in 2008.

Academic Music is a 12-lesson program that is designed to be taught by regular classroom teachers without the help of a music teacher. Courey’s next step is to publish curriculum materials for teachers.

“We’re suggesting that teachers put music in their arsenal of tools for teaching math.” Courey said. “It’s fun, it doesn’t cost a lot, and it keeps music in the classroom.”


Connected Math Project (CMP) Teachers Sought for Study

Source: Uma Maedke – (888) 463-0110;

WestEd has received funding from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct a study to evaluate how revisions to the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) 7th grade curriculum affect student learning.

Participating teachers will receive an online and/or face-to-face two-day professional development workshop and a total stipend of $2000 (control group) or $2800 (experimental group) for their involvement in the two-year study.

In order to participate, 7th grade public school mathematics teachers must have had at least one year of experience teaching the 7th grade CMP curriculum.

To enroll, interested teachers should visit the study’s website at, download the teacher consent form, and return the form via fax to (650) 381-6401 by the end of the day (April 20) for the best chance to participate.