COMET • Vol. 2, No. 16 – 7 May 2001


(1) “Bill Would Start New Study of Exit Exam” by Jim Sanders

Source: Contra Costa Times – 4 May 2001

A much-heralded California law requiring every high school student in the class of 2004 and beyond to pass an exit examination before receiving a diploma may soon be changing.

New legislation would give the State Board of Education the authority to postpone the consequences for students failing the mathematics and language arts test.

The Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved AB1609 — sponsored by the governor’s secretary for education — to launch a new study of the high-stakes test and give the board authority to delay the withholding of diplomas, if necessary, once the research is completed.

“We believe we’ll be ready, but we also realize that we must have a valid and legally defensible test,” said Kerry Mazzoni, the governor’s secretary for education. “Questions have been raised about whether all students have had the opportunity to prepare. So that’s the purpose of this study.”

The new legislation is supported by the state Department of Education and by the California School Boards Association. No opponents appeared at Wednesday’s hearing.

Current law requires all high school graduates, beginning with the class of 2004, to pass the two-part exit examination. The test can be taken annually until both sections are passed.

The new legislation by Assemblyman Thomas Calderon, D-Montebello, marks the latest twist in a long-running battle over whether an exit examination holding schools accountable for performance is a case of demanding too much, too soon and whether it could leave the state vulnerable to legal challenges.

If AB1609 is adopted into law, the State Board of Education would have to decide by Aug. 1, 2003, whether to delay the test’s consequences and, if so, for how many years.

After resolving that issue, the board would have to live with whatever decision it makes. The bill would not allow the panel to enact similar delays in years to come…

Even if the bill is passed, the exit examination will be given again next year. The bill would not kill the test, only delay imposing consequences on those who fail it. Ninth-graders who pass the test this year need not take it again.

Under the new legislation, only 10th-, 11th- and 12th- graders would be given the high-stakes test next year and thereafter.

Much of the impetus for the bill lies in the threat of legal challenges. Lawsuits have been filed in at least two other states that adopted similar testing, officials said.

In California, questions have been raised about whether the test is adequately aligned to new content standards and whether all classrooms have adequate books and materials to cover the standards.

A consultant hired by the state…recommended delaying the test for a year or two, concluding the state needs more time to ensure that students are prepared to take it.

The Legislature earlier this year rejected that proposal. The bill seeks a middle ground by opening the door to delay, but not requiring it, once a new study is completed.

(2) “Marin Students Boycott State Test” by Kelly St. John

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 4 May 2001

Administrators of an affluent Marin County school district were stunned this week by a student protest against standardized testing that will leave two of California’s top high schools ineligible for state reward money.

More than 35 percent at Sir Francis Drake High School’s and more than 22 percent of Tamalpais High School’s ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade students got their parents to sign waivers excusing them from the annual Stanford-9 achievement test.

“This extraordinary rate of refusal…will be heard in the state capital,” said Richard Razikov, a school board trustee who supported an organized student campaign against the test.

The boycott reflects a small but growing movement among teachers, parents and students who believe standardized tests are dumbing down school curriculums and adding unnecessary stress for overworked students and teachers…

The Stanford-9 is a centerpiece of Gov. Gray Davis’ education reforms and has been administered to students from second through 11th grades for three years now. California uses the test scores to dole out teacher bonuses, school funding and student scholarships.

The results rank schools on an Academic Performance Index (API), ranging from a low of 1 to a high of 10. At least 90 percent of a school’s students must take the exam to receive an API ranking.

Last year, the district received about $750,000 in financial rewards, including 339 students who won $1,000 scholarships. The Tamalpais Union High School District’s three comprehensive high schools — Drake, Tamalpais and Redwood — all scored a 10, said the district’s superintendent, Dr. Bill Levinson. The test was being given this week starting on Tuesday and ending today.

“This is taxpayer money on the table that would otherwise go to other kids, ” Levinson said. “I don’t know that all the parents recognized the consequence for signing off on those waivers.”

But parent Michele Gedris Hixson said she understood exactly what she was doing by supporting the boycott. “It was worth the sacrifice,” she said. “The money is such a bribe”…

Statewide, fewer than 1 percent of students get a nod from their parents to opt out of the tests, said Linda Lounes, a consultant at the state’s Department of Education. But many of the ones who do opt out are high achievers already overwhelmed by college placement exams and honors courses. “What we’re faced with is the potential to have a skewed picture of what students are achieving,” Lounes said…



(1) “Scarsdale Mothers Succeed in First Boycott of 8th-Grade Test” by KATE ZERNIKE

4 May 2001

Rebellious mothers here declared a victory today in their insurgency against state standardized tests, having carried out the first of several planned test boycotts with the precision and organization of a military exercise.

This was the first of several days of eighth-grade tests that parents had vowed to boycott in protest of what they see as a test prep culture and the lock-step instruction it engenders. Of the 290 eighth graders who were supposed to take the tests, only 95 did, as 67 percent of the class participated in the boycott…

“This is not an activist community, this is a law-and-order town,” said Ellen Golden, another parent of an eighth grader. “For people to have done this despite the difficult logistics really speaks to the commitment of parents to speak up and say to Albany that this is wrong, that we will not sacrifice our children so that some politician can wave numbers around to talk about how our schools are doing”…

“Other communities look to us,” Ms. Antell said. “People call this an elite town, but that puts us in a position of power. I, for one, have a social conscience – part of what we’re trying to do is help other communities”..

At a time when President Bush is advocating national tests as the center of his education strategy, the parents here say they want to send a message to Washington.

“It’s been kind of insidious — states have introduced tests at a slow rate,” said Deborah Rapaport, one of the leaders of the boycott. “I don’t think anybody began to put the whole picture together. Educators and parents have not until now understood that this is bigger than one school, one community, one state”…

The parents say they do not object to the tests so much as the philosophy behind them: that all children can be assessed using the same test. The state should set high standards, they say, but each district should be allowed to determine how to assess whether its students are learning…

(2) “Panel Seeks to Extend the Reach of City’s Trained Math Teachers” by Karen W. Arenson

Source: The New York Times – 26 April 2001

A panel of experts on mathematics education is calling for inventive ways to extend the impact of the small number of New York City teachers who are well trained in the subject.

Saying that there are too few qualified mathematics teachers to educate children effectively, a draft of a report by the panel, set up by Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy, said that one way the city could fill in the gaps would be to develop a corps of highly trained specialists to move from class to class to teach basic mathematics or to serve as consultants for other teachers.

The city could also make judicious use of technology, the report said. It said computers could assess where students were having problems, help teach, and give teachers more training in mathematics.

The report by the panel, known as the Commission on Mathematics Education and headed by Matthew Goldstein, the chancellor of the City University of New York and a mathematical statistician, is to be delivered to Mr. Levy next month, but he has seen a draft. A draft was also made available to The New York Times.

Dr. Goldstein declined to comment yesterday because the final report had not yet been delivered. But Mr. Levy said last night that the panel’s report had provided a platform “to launch a systemwide math initiative aimed at ensuring improved student performance”,,,

The panel said testing and curriculum were not significant problems compared with the shortage of trained teachers.

(3) “Math Panel: Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Count” by Carl Campanile

Source: New York Post – 26 April 2001

Kids in city public schools flunk math because many teachers barely understand it themselves, an explosive report prepared for Schools Chancellor Harold Levy charges…

Part of the problem is that college teacher-education programs haven’t required challenging math courses, the report said. “There is no substitute for deep understanding of mathematics, but this understanding is found in far too few graduates of teacher preparation programs,” the report said.

In a stunning admission, the report said many teachers hate math. Teachers chose the profession “in part because it did not, when they were [college] students, require mathematics,” the report added. Many of these teachers are now struggling to help students meet tougher state math standards.

The commission calls for more math instruction in the teacher colleges, particularly at the City University of New York. It also calls for revised teaching methods to prepare new teachers for the new standards…

(4) “Parents Hungry for ABC’s Find Schools Don’t Add Up” by Kate Zernike

Source: The New York Times – 28 April 2001

…Much attention has been given to parents and educators in Scarsdale, N.Y., and elsewhere in the country who rail against new standardized tests. Their children need critical thinking skills, they complain, not a steady diet of details.

But there is an equally potent rebellion taking place in communities like this with comfortable homes and reputations for excellent schools. In these places — Fairfax County, Va.; the northwest suburbs of Chicago; Hanover, N.H., to name a few — parents say they want the memorization, the emphasis on content and basics so detested elsewhere.

The idea of moving back to basics is not entirely new. Conservatives have pushed the idea for years, especially as a way to reform failing urban schools. But now, with a new emphasis on choice in education, parents themselves are embracing the idea.

In a desire to move from “teacher-centered” to “student-centered” classrooms, to satisfy multiple intelligences and foster self-esteem, these parents say, most schools have moved so far away from the fundamentals that their children come home knowing about the Holocaust but not World War II, Babylonian math but not fractions. Children cannot think critically, they retort, if they do not have the basic content to think about. Many tried for several years to change the system by talking to principals or running for a seat on the school board. Others hired tutors. But increasingly, parents horrified by what they call progressive education run amok have been starting their own schools, teaching what Charles Marsee, the head of school at the Princeton Charter School, calls enlightened back-to-basics, grounded in grammar and spelling, historical facts and mathematics…

The governing philosophy in education today is that children need to do more than learn, they need to learn how to learn. Technology, the argument goes, has rendered obsolete skills like writing perfectly curved letters and figuring simple equations. The vast amount of information on the Internet has highlighted the need for students to develop their own kind of intellectual filters. Memorization and plot lines no more interesting than Dick and Jane walk the dog turn children off. Let them color outside the figurative lines, and they will come to love learning.

But as a result, parents in Princeton and elsewhere complain, schools have replaced essays with a “cardboard curriculum” of dioramas and posters. Calculators replace flash cards, word problems replace equations…The motive is well intentioned, the parents say. But the theory is not working…

“Five or ten years ago, most parents fell into the category of believing my school knows what is right and best for my child,” said Mychele Brickner, a member of the Fairfax School Board, who keeps lists of “reading parents” and “math parents,” grouped by gripe. “That trust level has eroded.”

In Los Angeles, parents are pushing the superintendent to use Saxon math, a more basic approach. A Web site for a California group called Mathematically Correct operates as a kind of national clearinghouse for parents looking for more traditional approaches. The Core Knowledge Foundation, based on the work of E. D. Hirsch Jr., the author of “Cultural Literacy,” started its curriculum in one school in 1990. By 1995, 250 were using it, and this year, 1,100 schools are…

(5)“Save Us From the ‘New-New Math’” Commentary by Tony Snow [See,2933,12855,00.html for an interview conducted by Tony Snow with Lee V. Stiff and Merryl Tisch; excerpts were included in last week’s COMET.]

Source: The Boston Globe – 21 April 2001

(6) “Keegan Resigns As Schools Chief” by Pat Kossan

SourceThe Arizona Republic – 4 May 2001

Lisa Graham Keegan promised Thursday to continue reforming education in Arizona, despite quitting her job as state schools chief 18 months early.

The superintendent of public instruction announced Thursday that she was resigning to head a Washington, D.C.-based school-reform think tank she founded…

Keegan vowed not to run for political office again, but said she’ll continue to live in Arizona, spending half her time in Washington and on the road pushing her ideas, including vouchers and annual student testing.

She is married to Peoria Mayor John Keegan and both served in the state Legislature. But for the first time in her six years as the state’s elected schools chief, Keegan is at the losing end of this year’s legislative session, and admitted that it played into her decision to leave. Lawmakers didn’t back many of her ideas and, so far, have failed to give her many of the millions she requested to keep state testing on track.

“Sure, the environment that you work in always affects your decision to stay where you think you’re effective,” Keegan said Thursday, “and move on to where you’ll think you’ll be more effective”…

Keegan, who plans to quit next Friday, and her aides never shied away from criticizing the state’s educational leaders, district officials and the education lobbyists. She called herself a “polarizing” figure in the state’s education reform movement…

She wants to be known for improving what students learn, a goal she said her department met. Keegan and her former colleagues at the Capitol created statewide academic standards and testing in elementary and high schools.

But after a majority of high-schoolers failed the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, she ran into resistance when she tried to make the test a graduation requirement. High school students now must pass the AIMS reading and writing test by 2002 to graduate. The Class of 2004 must also pass math…

Keegan denied Thursday that she is bailing out of the AIMS “sinking ship,” and said the state will not abandon the effort. Her decision to run the Education Leadership Council, she said, is “nothing more than a recommitment of mine to the principles we believe in.”


Related articles:

“Keegan’s Agenda Only Partly Completed” by Pat Flannery; The Arizona Republic – 4 May 2001

“Keegan Took On Those She Stood For” by Anne Ryman; The Arizona Republic – 4 May 2001

Who Will Be The New Chief Of Schools?” by Chip Scutari; The Arizona Republic – 4 May 2001

A Leading Lady in a State That Leads in Education Reform” by Marjorie Coeyman; The Christian Science Monitor – 1 May 2001



(1) “Scores Of Schools Sign Up For King’s Online Maths” by Catherine Marsters

Source: The New Zealand Herald – 14 March 2001

…A new interactive online service is intended to make maths fun and, for the mathematically challenged child, if not exactly simple, a lot easier.

MathsOnline has been set up by the King’s Institute, attached to Kings College in Auckland, and was the creation of maths teacher of 25 years, Ro Bairstow, with help from a team of maths educators, web designers and technicians.

One hundred and fifty schools have already registered for the site, which contains the entire secondary school curriculum, split into 300 topics. There are 3000 pages of notes and examples. It is simple to use and very interactive. There are plenty of tests, which it automatically marks.

Mr Bairstow believes the site is a world first in its completeness and interactivity. “You can’t say for definite there’s nothing like it, but I certainly haven’t seen anything that covers a whole country’s secondary school maths curriculum online and available like this”…

“The site will be an invaluable aid for students of all abilities to reinforce what is learned in the classroom, to study extension and revision material and evaluate their progress with the tests, quizzes and practice exam papers.

“It will help parents monitor their children’s progress and requirements and teachers to keep up to date with fast-changing trends and issues in mathematics education. It also utilises the technology of the net generation, and for that reason we are expecting the site to be a popular one”…

The Minister of Education, Trevor Mallard, has just launched the site, which is free to students at school during school hours. But parents have to subscribe for their children to use it at home.

The site covers the New Zealand maths curriculum for Year 9 (form three) to Year 13 (form seven) students. Once in the site, students can access a complete set of notes, exercises, summaries, self-marking tests and frequently asked questions. There is an illustrated glossary, a problem of the week, past exam papers, a study guide and links to the best maths sites on the web. It has details of national and international maths competitions; software, texbooks and calculator information. It also has numerous links to other useful maths information sites.

“If a student gets asked to write something about a mathematician, if they didn’t have a site like this they would go into a search engine, they would type in ‘mathematicians’ and they would get 10,000 links and they wouldn’t have a clue where to go,” said Mr Bairstow.

“I’ve been a mathematics teacher for 25 years so I know where these sites are and I know what sort of information they need.”

Overseas sites exist on maths, but, naturally, are not designed for the New Zealand curriculum.

Jan Kerr, the director of the King’s Institute, has approached the Ministry of Education to see if research can be carried out into how valuable the site is in helping students with their maths, possibly by comparing one class using the site against another class not using it…

(2) “Forty Things Beijing Teachers Can’t Say to Kids” by Robert Marquand

Source: The Christian Science Monitor – 3 May 2001

While public school teachers in China are venerable icons, they are also known for their tough language, used in an effort to harden students for competition.

Yet it is no longer acceptable to say, for example: “If I were you, I would not continue to live. You are hopeless.” Or, “You are a wood post with two ears. Get out.” Banned, too, is a phrase students say is among the most unpopular and most heard phrases: “Whoever teaches you has the worst luck.”

The new mandates derive partly from a growing middle class of parents bringing pressure against a harsh experience for their offspring, and from China’s economic reformers wanting graduates to be competitive in a world of high-tech accomplishment…In fact, the language alert is only part of the larger changes brewing in China’s schools. For the past year, school officials here have been mandated to emphasize student “personhood” and “participation”…

Central to the new moves are efforts to change the relationship between teachers and students. “We’ve been teacher-centered since the late 1970s. Kids were taught to be absolutely obedient,” says Mrs. Wang, a Party Secretary in Haidian district who did not want her first name used. “When you add the competition for college and the pressure on teachers to perform, it is almost inevitable that they will be verbally hard.”

In one public middle school, for example, teachers are now asked to speak for only 30 minutes of the 45-minute class time – leaving the rest of the period for student questions, or for interaction. In the same school, every child is required to take a turn as classroom monitor – a prestige job usually given to the class’s top scorer – and must plan with the teacher contributions to the class…

With the enormous competition for good scores in a country of 1.3 billion people, and with an average class size of 50 students, teachers say they are under extreme pressure to “unify” the class so that everyone can learn quickly. They say forcing discipline is needed in order to keep the class moving forward. They complain that new innovations to let students participate more take away from learning.

[One teacher complains,] “What counts is our testing percentages, not how civilized we are.” In many schools, teacher bonuses, income, and advancement are based on performance of the students, teachers say…

Teachers in China occupy a position of authority – greater even than parents. Children learn that their futures can be made or broken by a sympathetic or hostile teacher…As far as the “40 forbiddens” are concerned, some officials say it is a warning to older teachers too comfortable with their position as “little emperors” in class. “The 40 sentences issue perfectly reflects tensions between the old way of teaching and the new teachings we hope for,” says Party Secretary Wang. “We must have something like these [words and] sentences for a guideline. We may later need to discipline those teachers who ignore it.”

(3) “Go Figure, Ashley Can’t” by Margaret Wente

Source: The Globe and Mail [Canada] – 5 May 2001

…Tressa doesn’t understand Caitlin’s homework… What she does know is that her daughter hasn’t grasped the fundamentals of arithmetic. “In Grade 4 they’re doing fractals. But they don’t even seem to have the basics down,” she says in frustration. Finally she showed Caitlin how to divide 27 by 9 — the unapproved, old-fashioned way.

Welcome to the world of new new math, the pedagogical fad gripping most of Canada’s education system. Enthusiasts…say it unlocks higher-order thinking skills. Critics…call it a huge miscalculation.

“This is probably the biggest disaster in education in my lifetime,” says John Mighton, a brilliant mathematician who also teaches math to children who’ve been labeled remedial learners. “It’s going to wipe out a whole generation of kids.”

New new math — also known as fuzzy math, whole math, or constructivist math — relies on a child-centered philosophy that encourages students to lead each other to knowledge. The teacher is “the guide on the side,” not “the sage on the stage.” It is intensely process oriented. In new new-math classrooms, children work collaboratively in groups to explore different approaches to problems. They work with “manipulatives,” concrete objects that are supposed to help them connect math with the real world. Creativity and communication are as important as right answers.

New new math discourages the teaching of standard algorithms (that is, the methods used to solve problems). In fact, it discourages all direct instruction, repetition and memory work. Times-tables drills (and, in some schools, long division and fractions) are out the window. These are thought to deaden interest in learning…

New math comes from the United States…In most of Canada, new new math is becoming more entrenched even as it’s being repealed in much of the United States. In California, parents rose up in revolt and forced the school system to back off. Last month, New York Schools Chancellor Harold Levy was forced to reassure parents that new new math is out and traditional math is in again. “Children must be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide,” he said…

Parents in Ontario are under the impression that math has been “reformed” as part of the Tory government’s determination to raise standards. What they don’t know is that the math curriculum and teaching methods are determined by education theorists in the Ministry of Education and the current leaders of the teachers’ math association…

Barry Onslow, a professor of education at the University of Western Ontario, helped develop Ontario’s new math curriculum. He regards opposition from teachers and parents as uninformed and backward-looking. “Some people don’t accept that we don’t sit in a high stool with quill pens writing in ledgers any more,” he told me. “Change is hard!”

Prof. Onslow, who is teaching the next generation of math teachers, outlined some of the progressive new-math methods for me…

“So, you can’t get an A just by getting all the answers right on your tests?” I asked.

No, he told me. “You have to explain your thinking and problem-solving to me and be able to communicate. If you’re not doing that, then you won’t get an A, because you haven’t shown you really understand.”

Tressa Kirby doesn’t buy it. “One plus one equals two!” she says. “It’s a fact! There’s nothing to explore! In the elementary grades, it is not necessary to understand why!”…

Prof. Mighton runs a remarkable program in Toronto called Jump [(416) 348-9545]. He and 80 volunteers teach failing kids, many of them poor, who need remedial help. “Every kid is capable of understanding mathematics,” he says with passion. “Even the ones who appear to be slow learners can do math at an extremely high level”…



(1) MathematicallySane Mission Statement


There are at least two sides to every issue, including the so-called “Math Wars.”

= For too long, however, the public has heard primarily from the side of the traditionalists. [a new Web site] has been developed to balance the equation.

= For too long, the case for reform has been unfairly characterized as “Fuzzy Math.” MathematicallySane has been created to provide an alternative–and more accurate–view of reform by making a compelling case that changes in our nation’s mathematics programs are imperative for our students’ future success and for the economic health of our nation.

= For too long there has been an insidious–and often unanswered–campaign to return mathematics instruction to the failed practices of the past. MathematicallySane has been developed to provide a broad array of evidence that reform initiatives have been successful and have raised student achievement in school districts across the country.

Accordingly, MathematicallySane’s mission is to advocate–broadly and persuasively–for the rational reform of school mathematics.

(2) ASCD SmartBrief

Source: Gene R. Carter, Executive Director, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

ASCD SmartBrief is a new service from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development for members and others involved in teaching and learning. This free, daily e-mail news service takes readers directly to the most salient news and trends affecting education today. The hope is that each SmartBrief will help you break through information overload and provide quick, easy-to-read summaries of top news in areas important to you.

To sign up to receive ASCD SmartBrief on a regular basis, fill out the form located at