COMET • Vol. 2, No. 15 – 30 April 2001


(1) “Trimming the Tests” (Editorial)

Source: The Fresno Bee – 30 April 2001,1733,262288,00.html

Gov. Gray Davis has heard and understood the justifiable complaints of teachers, parents and school administrators that California students are being tested nearly to death. Between the SAT-9 exam, the state standards test, the exit exam (taken as many as four times throughout high school) and the Golden State exams, which are optional but still taken by tens of thousands of middle- and high-school students annually, schools have begun to wonder when they’ll have time to prepare students for anything other than test taking.

But recently Davis announced he’s putting what was becoming an oversized testing regime on a sensible diet. Best of all, he wants to keep and hone the program’s most muscular features: the tests most closely aligned with the more rigorous academic standards California students are now expected to meet.

Davis’s plan, laid out in SB 233 by state Sen. Dede Alpert, would to keep parts of the nationally normed SAT-9, retaining an important measure of how students here stack up nationally in their mastery of basic skills. But that test, which has been the entire basis for the early years of the governor’s accountability program, will be de-emphasized in favor of state-developed, standards-based exams.

Up to now, measuring how well schools teach the materials laid out in state standards hadn’t been a factor in deciding school rewards and sanctions.

Now that the standards tests are farther along in their development, with both math and language arts — which includes an important writing assessment for grades 4 and 7 — being administered this spring and science and history to follow in coming years, California ought to be ready to wean itself from what had become over-reliance on the SAT-9…

[For the text of this bill, go to ]

(2) “Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program” (Assembly Bill 466)

Bill introduced by Assembly Member Strom-Martin

This bill would establish, until July 1, 2004, the Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program to be administered by the Superintendent of Public Instruction with the approval of the State Board of Education under which a local education agency…would receive incentive funding to provide training in mathematics and reading to teachers and instructional aides through professional development programs conducted by institutions of higher education or an approved provider of training…

As a condition of receipt of funds…, a local education agency shall submit a certified assurance…to the State Board of Education that contains its proposal to satisfy the following:

(1) It contracted with a provider whose training curriculum was approved by the State Board of Education or the local education agency’s training curriculum was approved by the State Board of Education…

(2) It or the provider with whom it contracted provided professional development training focused primarily on the following:

(A) The use of instructional materials that will be used by pupils and are aligned to the reading and mathematics content standards adopted by the State Board of Education…

(B) The reading and mathematics content standards adopted by the State Board of Education…

(C) The curriculum frameworks adopted by the State Board of Education for these subjects…

(3) (A) It provides each pupil with instructional materials that are aligned to the state content standards in reading and mathematics no later than the first day of the first school term that commences seven months or more after those materials are adopted by the State Board of Education in the case of instructional materials for grades 1 to 8, inclusive, or by the governing board of the school district in the case of instructional materials for grades 9 to 12, inclusive .

(B) If a local education agency has not adopted instructional materials as required by subparagraph (A) because it is piloting or evaluating those instructional materials, the local education agency may not participate in the program established pursuant to this article until the agency provides instructional materials aligned to the academic content standard… In order to participate in the program established pursuant to this article, a local education agency shall provide instructional materials aligned to the academic content standards adopted by the State Board of Education pursuant to Section 60605 no later than one year following the first day of the first school term that commences seven months or more after those materials are adopted by the State Board of Education…

(b) As an additional condition of receipt of funds…a local education agency shall certify that:

(1) Forty hours of professional development and 80 hours of followup instruction, coaching, or additional schoolsite assistance, in mathematics or reading, as appropriate, was provided to teachers…

(3) “Fresno School Goes Long for Scores” by Anne Dudley Ellis

Source: The Fresno Bee – 30 April 2001,1724,262264,00.html

Cooper Middle School officials knew they had to do something drastic. Enrollment was down, test scores were abysmal, and the school was facing tough new state standards aimed at raising student achievement. Cooper’s difficult situation last year was like that facing many middle schools across the state. The campus’ solution, however, is found nowhere else.

When students returned to classes in August, an extra hour had been added to the day and language-arts and algebra classes extended to 80 minutes. The extra hour for all students required a special waiver from the state Department of Education and has attracted interest from schools statewide…

Cooper uses its extra hour for an intervention period with about 20 students per teacher…Students go to school from 8 a.m. to 3:10 p.m., compared to 8:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. at most Fresno Unified schools… The real intervention, Michals said, has come from the extra-long language arts and algebra classes. Most middle schools offer 50 minutes for those classes. If they do have longer periods, the classes are usually offered every other day.

Cooper decided to try the extra hour and extended language-arts and algebra classes after seeing the boost a voluntary extra intervention class gave the students who participated. Of the 242 students who took the extra class before or after school, 39% improved in language arts or math by two grades or more and an additional 23% improved one grade level.

In addition, the school’s Academic Performance Index jumped by 33 points in July, a phenomenal one-year leap for a school that was not used to seeing gains on standardized tests, according to Cooper program manager Kathy Woods. The school’s target, established by a state formula, had been 19 points. “We saw such incredible success, we thought, ‘Boy, what if every kid went a longer day?'” Woods said…Robert Myers, a science teacher at Cooper, said they expect even greater gains on the index this year when results are made public this summer…

(4) “Measuring Minds” by Meredith May

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 29 April 2001


Mandy Hixon, a junior at Tamalpais High School in Marin, has filled in her last bubble for the state of California. While students across the state right now are taking the annual Stanford-9 achievement test, Hixon has retired her No. 2 pencil, using a waiver to boycott the exam.

“The test measures how well you can listen to facts and spit them back out, not if you comprehend anything,” said Hixon, who helped form Marin Students for Liberating Education…

After three years of standardized testing in California, a growing grassroots network of teachers and parents believes the exams are turning classrooms into basic fact factories where teachers teach to the test to win reform bonuses.

The Stanford-9, also known as the SAT-9, is the centerpiece of Gov. Gray Davis’ education reform plan and is taken by every student from second through 11th grade. Every spring, children as young as 7 sit for up to 10 straight days of multiple-choice testing.

Their scores will determine whether principals keep their jobs, teachers get a $25,000 bonus or youngsters advance or get held back a grade. Top-scoring students can even win a $2,500 college scholarship. The results rank the schools on an Academic Performance Index (API) ranging from a low 1 to a high 10…

This month, the California Teachers Association came out against using only the SAT-9 to rank students and schools.

“We call it the Affluence Performance Index,” said Judi Hirsch, who teaches algebra at McClymonds High School in Oakland. “These tests are set on a bell curve, based on a national norm of kids in middle America. My kids will never do well on this test, and telling them that is not helping them or the teachers.” Hirsch would like to see the state abandon high-stakes testing and replace it with an evaluation system based on student portfolios.

The naysayers, said [Kerry Mazzoni, the governor’s education secretary], are a small but vocal group that is making dangerous assumptions that children of color can never test above the national norm…”In California, we are saying there are no excuses, and all children are capable of learning,” Mazzoni said.

While early opposition to the test came from schools with large numbers of Spanish-speakers who objected to testing students in English, today even affluent districts that ace the exam are questioning its usefulness.

Mandy has at least one Tamalpais school board trustee, Richard Raznikov, on her side. He mailed letters and a waiver form over Easter weekend alerting Tamalpais parents that the Stanford-9 test is harmful to students. One elementary school principal in San Jose has said she would refuse any state rewards for improving on the test, calling it “blood money.”

In Santa Cruz, a group called School Voices leaflets cars with instructions on how to skip the test.

An Oakland mom is selling T-shirts that read, “High Stakes Are for Tomatoes. ” She is a member of the East Bay group, California Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education, which provides a form on the Internet for parents to use to excuse their children from the test.

“The horror is we will train them to fill in bubbles instead of explore ideas,” said Massachusetts author Alfie Kohn, the nation’s leading critic of high-stakes testing who drew a crowd of 500 in Oakland this month.

The scores are more for politicians to say they have “fixed” the schools, said Lisa Tabachnik, of School Voices in Santa Cruz.

Many teachers complain that they have had to adapt their teaching to the test because of public pressure to improve and maintain higher scores. “I don’t teach at all like I used to,” said Michael Roberts, who has a bilingual class of second-graders at Boronda Elementary School in Salinas.

His students got clobbered on last year’s vocabulary and math portions of the test, and the school scored a 1 on the API. Roberts is having to spend more time on those subjects in class, and less on science and social studies, he said.

“Last year when the scores came out, my kids came in chanting, ‘We’re No. 1! ‘ ” He explained that “1” meant the lowest, not the best. “That was a hard talk. They didn’t understand why they did so poorly. I told them the test is about who is rich and gets things and gets to go places. I told them they have to read more and stop watching so much TV so they can do things that are more helpful for their brain.”

A second-grader at Martin Elementary School in South San Francisco got so nervous about taking the test that he threw up on his exam, said teacher Rebecca Coolidge. “The children want to do well and have their teachers tell them they are smart,” Coolidge said. “But I don’t think it’s right that they have to compete against other kids and do better than them to get that approval…

(5) “Schools Prep for Test Time” by Erik N. Nelson

Source: Los Angeles Daily News – 30 April 2001

Standardized test season has arrived at Los Angeles Unified schools amid growing criticism that the value of the Stanford 9 Achievement Test may not be worth the year-round effort that goes into preparing for it…

At Mulholland Middle School in Van Nuys, the school has approached next week’s test taking like preparing for the big game. “In September, we started at the 10-yard line and each month, we’ve been moving up 10 yards,” said Principal John L. White. “Now we’re ready to go in for a touchdown.”

As most children prepare to take the test, educators, parents and policymakers nationwide have become torn between the desire to evaluate and reform education and the belief that testing has become an unhealthy obsession.

In Washington last week, a group of education experts called on Congress and President George W. Bush, who sees testing as key to his education reforms, to “rethink the current rush to make American children take even more standardized tests.” The group said the tests make children physically sick from stress, are subject to errors and even called them “the enemy of effective public schools.”

“We don’t want our schools to be test prep centers,” said Debbie Miller, mother of a Scarsdale, N.Y., eighth-grader. “The national movement of our president to standardize education throughout the country is something that we should all be fighting”…



(1) “Test Stress: Do Kids Suffer?” by Colleen McCain Nelson

Source: The Dallas Morning News – 26 April 2001

High-stakes tests are making kids sick.

So say psychiatrists, educators and child-development experts who urged President Bush and Congress on Wednesday to rethink their push for annual testing of students.

Researchers from Harvard, Yale and elsewhere cited increasing evidence that many students suffer from stomachaches, headaches and other maladies when faced with standardized tests.

As Congress considers Mr. Bush’s proposal to annually test all students in grades three through eight, the Maryland-based nonpartisan Alliance for Childhood is asking policy-makers to assess the toll that tests take on kids.

“We’re not saying we’re against testing or accountability,” said Edward Miller, a founding partner of the alliance. “But there’s been a lot of research on standardized testing, and very little of it has focused on the health impacts on children”…

Some recent studies have touched on the issue of test anxiety but have not explored the effects on students’ health. A study released in February by the research group Public Agenda found that 67 percent of students feel nervous when they take standardized tests; 28 percent said they don’t feel nervous; and 5 percent of students said they get so nervous, they can’t take the test.

In 1999, Boston College researchers asked fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders to draw pictures detailing their thoughts about Massachusetts’ standardized exam. About one-fifth of the students expressed positive feelings about the test, but 40 percent of the kids had negative reactions, ranging from anxiety to despair, said Walt Haney, a Boston College professor of education…

Dr. Haney said the study found that students are further panicked by the intense hype and scrutiny surrounding high-stakes tests. “Kids are stressed not just by the test but by all the public discussion of the consequences of the test,” he said. “Their fear and anxiety has been exacerbated by all the mania.”

In Texas, for example, schools promote their TAAS-based ratings on banners. And real-estate agents tout schools’ proximity to highly rated schools.

Beginning in third grade, students are faced with the knowledge that their schools’ success depends on their test performance. That’s enough to make many kids’ stomachs hurt, said Reba Vik, whose three children attend Dallas schools…


(2) “High-Stakes Test Prep Robs the Three R’s”

Source: – 17 April 2001

…Defenders of annual testing say it gives schools valuable information about students’ strengths and weaknesses.

Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said Maryland officials worked hard to develop a series of tests that reward critical thinking, embrace several subjects and don’t lend themselves to “teaching to the test.”

Peiffer said the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, or MSPAP, given to students in third, fifth and eighth grades, “doesn’t hijack the local curriculum. You ought to be able to continue teaching”…

A Harris Poll last month said 87 percent of Americans favor testing students annually in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math — a key Bush proposal — while 78 percent favor making principals and teachers more accountable for how well or badly students do on tests. But the poll said 59 percent don’t support punishing unsuccessful schools by taking away federal funds. …

Parents at Scarsdale Middle School, in prosperous Westchester County, New York, are leading a revolt against the state’s standardized tests, given in five subjects. Melanie Spivak, the school’s PTA president, said the parents of more than one-third of the school’s 297 eighth-graders will keep their children out of school during testing next month.

Spivak said the school’s high-quality curriculum is being gutted to make room for test preparation. For example, she said, a two-week unit on World War II was reduced to a two-day lesson, while a monthlong unit on hurricanes has been eliminated altogether…

(3) “Pointless Tests Hurt Students” by Alfie Kohn

Source: USA Today – 23 April 2001

Should affluent people subject their children to pointless and damaging standardized tests to ensure that poor students get tested? No, because these tests are equally pointless and at least as damaging to poor students.

Educators know better than to claim that such testing is necessary to tell us which schools are in trouble, or which kids need help. Visit classrooms, talk with students, and you’ll know. Moreover, research-backed ”authentic assessments” allow students to show what they understand, a superior alternative to stressful pencil-and-paper tests.

Just such alternatives have helped New York City students succeed in innovative schools. But now these schools are threatened with extinction, precisely because New York, like other states, is imposing a one-size-fits-all testing program.

Standardized tests are not accurate measures. They underestimate talented students who simply aren’t good test-takers. They overestimate students who memorize but don’t really understand.

Worse, the second-rate education that many poor kids have received is becoming third-rate as their schools become giant test-prep centers. If it’s not on the test, it’s not taught. Low-income, mostly minority students are often treated like trained seals, barking out answers on command. The result: higher test scores at the expense of meaningful learning., and a wider gap between rich and poor.

When rewards and punishments are based on scores, some of the best teachers are forced out — particularly where they’re most needed. And the current fad of making a high school diploma contingent on passing a single test may produce nothing short of an educational ethnic cleansing.

Already in test-happy Texas more than 40% of African-American and Latino ninth-graders never make it to graduation. In New York City, the dropout rate is climbing due to the state’s high-stakes Regents tests.

So why aren’t other parents boycotting the tests? They are. Scarsdale makes the news, but most families at the predominantly minority Mission Hill School in Boston also sat out tests this month, as did many at an inner-city Tucson, Ariz. elementary school.

It’s not that poor and minority families are silent so much as that they’re silenced. Bottom line: the ”accountability” driven testing craze is hurting all our kids.

(4) “Test Effort is a Dumb Solution” by Diane Carman

Source: The Denver Post – 20 February 2001

The standardized testing movement is “an educational fraud hoisted on taxpayers.” It dumbs down education, perpetuates racist attitudes and undermines the most important element of the learning process: student motivation.

But it accomplishes one important thing. It gives the American public the illusion of a quick fix to social problems they don’t much like to contemplate.

Peter Sacks doesn’t mince words. The author of “Standardized Minds: The High Price of America’s Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It” has evidence that standardized testing produces exactly the opposite of what it promises.

Instead of delivering a more highly skilled workforce, better able to compete and innovate in the global market, it diminishes the real-world value of education by reducing it to a limited set of superficial, repetitive, abstract exercises. And instead of giving children a ticket out of poverty, it brands them, their schools and their teachers as failures.

“We all know that some schools have a boatload of trouble in this society,” Sacks said. “The real problems in our educational system can be traced to the gaping disparities in economics, class and race. The rates of poverty, educational levels of parents … and the social and demographic characters of families all are outside the power of the schools to fix.”

And going back as early as World War I and the eugenics movement, Sacks contends, “tests traditionally have been used in ways to punish the poor, recent immigrants and minorities, and to serve as a tool for the elite to maintain their entrenched power.”

As for real improvement in academic skills, there’s no evidence that the testing paradigm delivers.

Sacks studied the Tacoma school district in Washington in the 1990s, when its superintendent launched a campaign to improve student test scores.

By repeatedly drilling kids with the kinds of questions they could expect, the average scores jumped 21 points for fourth-graders and 13 points for eighth-graders between the fall of 1994 and a spring re-test in 1995.

If actual language and math skills had improved so dramatically, these same students could be expected to perform at the consistently higher level the following year. However, once the teachers stopped teaching to the test, the scores returned to previous levels. “Those gains were phony because they didn’t last,” Sacks said.

Sacks traces the origins of the current testing trend to “A Nation at Risk.” The 1983 report, produced in the midst of an economic recession, painted a grim picture of Americans falling behind the Japanese and the Germans in the world economy.

It couldn’t have been more wrong, Sacks said.

By the 1990s, the American economy was “an amazing jobs machine” and the supposedly inferior American workers were the most productive in the world.

Sacks considers the testing movement “political propaganda.” “And right now, it’s entrenched. It’s like an alien from outer space that just won’t die.”

(5) “Testing May Cost States $7 Billion” by Greg Toppo

Source: Contra Costa Times – 28 April 2001

Fulfilling President Bush’s proposal to test every student in grades three through eight could cost states as much as $7 billion during the next seven years, the National Association of State Boards of Education said.

Spokesman David Griffith said education officials believe Bush’s plan asks states to test students more than necessary and, they fear, without adequate funding. “They’re just really concerned that … this whole rush in testing is coming so quickly,” he said.

In his budget, Bush requested $320 million for test development–a figure that wouldn’t even cover testing in California, let alone all 50 states, according to an association survey.

The survey gathered the figures based on per-pupil costs, ranging from $25 to $125 per student, to develop tests, and from $25 to $50 to administer and score them.

Only 15 states currently test students in reading and math in grades three through eight, Griffith said. Most rely at least partially on off-the-shelf tests that aren’t geared to the curriculum, as Bush’s plan proposes. According to the survey, states would need to spend as much as $7 billion in the seven-year period following passage of major federal education spending legislation now before Congress.

Bush’s education plan requires states to develop the tests by 2004 and give them each year through 2008…

According to the survey, about 21.6 million students will be enrolled in grades three through eight in 2004. Bush’s plan would link billions of dollars in federal funds to annual student performance on tests.

(6) In Defense of Testing — Call for Papers” by Jimmy Kilpatrick, Editor,

Contributions are requested for a new series of essays, Op/Eds, and short research pieces, to be entitled “In Defense of Testing.” Contributions will be accepted for the series that either:

Say something positive about testing; or

Counter the “research” claims or methods of testing opponents.

The series will appear in

(7) Leaving the testing debate for something a little out of the ordinary…

“X Equals Just About Everything I Learned of Math in School” by Dave Barry

Source: The Miami Herald – 22 April 2001

President Bush says our schools need to do a better job of teaching mathematics, and I agree with him 150 percent. Many high-school students today can’t even calculate a square root! Granted, I can’t calculate a square root, either, but I USED to be able to, for a period of approximately 15 minutes back in 1962. At least I think that was a square root. It might have been a “logarithm.”

But whatever it was, if I had to learn how to do it, these kids today should have to learn it, too. As President Bush so eloquently put it in his address to Congress: “Mathematics are one of the fundamentaries of educationalizing our youths”…

They can do this using “algebra,” which was invented by the ancient Persians. (They also invented the SATs, although they got very low scores because in those days there were no pencils.) The way algebra works is, if you don’t know exactly what a number is, you just call it “X.” The Persians found that this was a BIG mathematical help in solving problems… Several years later, when the ancient Romans invented Roman numerals, and it turned out that “X” was actually equal to 10, there was BIG TROUBLE in Persia…