COMET • Vol. 2, No. 22 – 4 September 2001


National Board for Professional Teaching Standards”

Source: Kay Garcia, Consultant, California Dept. of Education – (916) 323-5832 (
Web link:

What is National Board Certification?

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers advanced certification in 24 certificate areas based on the subject matter and grade level taught. In response to specific prompts, teachers must create a portfolio of their teaching practice. The portfolio includes written analyses of student work and classroom videos as well as documentation of the teacher’s involvement in a professional community and community outreach. The four-part portfolio is assembled over the course of several months of a school year. During the summer, teachers must attend a one-day Assessment Center where they take six 30-minute tests on their content knowledge for their certificate area. California currently has 780 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs). [See 46 NBCTs are secondary mathematics teachers; 21 are middle school mathematics teachers.] Many of the teachers report that this is the most rewarding professional development experience of their careers.

How Long Will It Take?

The process is designed to be completed during one school year, but candidates are allowed to “bank” passing scores and resubmit portions of the portfolio and retake assessment center exercises for two additional years. This means you have a total of three years to successfully complete the process.

How Much Does It Cost?

The assessment fee is $2,300…

The Certification Incentive Program

California has a one-time incentive award of $10,000 for its NBCTs. An additional one-time $20,000 award is also available for NBCTs who teach [for 4 years] in schools with a statewide API ranking of 5 or below.

The California Subsidy Program

Through a combination of state and federal funds, California was able to provide a $1,000 fee subsidy for each of our National Board Candidates last year. The 2001-2002 State Budget includes funding to continue this program for the current year. For more details please visit the CDE Web site listed below. In addition, more and more school districts are offering teachers local fee subsidies, local incentives, increased salary, release time, and logistical support. The business community is also very supportive of National Board Certification. Teachers have received fee support from Target, State Farm, and Intel.

Where Can I Find More Information?

The National Board For Professional Teaching Standards maintains a web site with detailed information about the process as well as online candidate resources. Please visit You may request a free application from the National Board that includes a useful guide about the process by calling (800) 22TEACH.

The California Department of Education maintains a web site with specific information for California teachers seeking national certification. This includes information about fee subsidies, incentive awards, candidate support, district support and university-based support, including the potential linking of a master’s degree with the process of national certification: The California Department of Education has a National Board Certified Teacher on staff as a resource for candidates in California: Kay Garcia [contact information in header].



(1) “Math Fears Subtract from Memory, Learning” by Bruce Bower

Source: Science News, Vol. 159 (26) – 30 June 2001, p. 405
Web link:

By about age 12, students who feel threatened by mathematics start to avoid math courses, do poorly in the few math classes they do take, and earn low scores on math-achievement tests. Some scientists have theorized that kids having little math aptitude in the first place justifiably dread grappling with numbers.

That conclusion doesn’t add up, at least for college students, according to a study in the June Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. On the contrary, people’s intrusive worries about math temporarily disrupt mental processes needed for doing arithmetic and drag down math competence, report Mark H. Ashcraft and Elizabeth P. Kirk, both psychologists at Cleveland (Ohio) State University.

Math anxiety exerts this effect by making it difficult to hold new information in mind while simultaneously manipulating it, the researchers hold. Psychologists regard this capacity, known as working memory, as crucial for dealing with numbers.

“Math anxiety soaks up working-memory resources and makes it harder to learn mathematics, probably beginning in middle school,” Ashcraft says…

In the first experiment, Ashcraft and Kirk found that students with a high level of math anxiety enrolled in fewer math courses, received lower math grades, and scored worse on working-memory tests involving numbers than their peers did.

Math anxiety’s disruptive effects on working memory appeared in the next experiment. In a series of trials, students first saw a set of letters to be remembered. They were then timed as they performed a mental addition problem. After solving it, volunteers tried to recall the letters they had seen.

High-math-anxiety students scored poorly on both tasks but especially on the mental addition. Their performance hit bottom on problems that involved carrying numbers, such as 47 + 18. However, when permitted to use pencil and paper during trials, they did as well as students without math worries did, indicating an underlying math competence.

The third experiment found that high math anxiety translates into poorer performance on an unconventional number-manipulation task that also taxed working memory. In some trials, for instance, students had to add 7 to each of four numbers that they briefly viewed, one at a time, and then verbally report the transformations in the proper order.

Earlier studies have found that math anxiety temporarily boosts heart rate and other physical indicators of worry, notes psychologist David C. Geary of the University of Missouri in Columbia. Psychological therapies that reduce math worries improve math performance, he adds.

“Ashcraft’s study is the first solid evidence that math-anxious people have working-memory problems as they do math,” Geary says.


Ashcraft, M.A., and E.P. Kirk. 2001. The relationships among working memory, math anxiety, and performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 130 (June): 224.


(2) “SAT Scores Aren’t Up. Not Bad, Not Bad at All” by Richard Rothstein

Source: New York Times – 29 August 2001
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The College Board released its annual SAT report yesterday. Average scores, math and verbal combined, were 1020, barely higher than a quarter-century ago. The other college testing service, the ACT, has also announced a stable average score, of 21 (equivalent to about 990 on the SAT).

Contrary to much official hand- wringing, though, stable in this case does not mean unimproved. Hidden in the data is more hopeful news than most people would expect.

These tests are voluntary. If only high achievers take them, average scores mean one thing. But if a broader range of students take them, the results must be interpreted differently.

The number taking the tests has in fact grown a lot. This year 59 percent of all 18-year-olds took the ACT or the SAT, up from 40 percent in 1976. By itself, this big expansion should push average scores down, because more modest achievers are now participating, whereas high achievers as a group have always done so. That results remained steady (even improving a little) suggests real gains.

Scores of both minority and white students, examined separately, increased in this time. But because the number of minority students as a share of all test-takers has grown, and because their scores have continued to be lower than those of whites, the overall average has not risen as much as the separate minority and white averages. The growth in the number of lower-scoring (but improving) minority students taking the tests is a good sign, even if it stunts the overall average.

While these realities are now widely understood, few experts recognize another positive trend: growth in the number of top-scoring students. Unchanging mean scores mask gains of not only average students but the most able and affluent ones as well.

Consider those at the top, with combined math and verbal SAT scores of over 1500 (or roughly 34 on the ACT). This year about four of every 1,000 18-year-olds did so well; only one of every 1,000 scored that high in 1976…

Improvement is also found at other high levels. In 2001, about 51 of every 1,000 18-year-olds scored over 1300 on the SAT (or 29 on the ACT), nearly double the number who scored that high 25 years ago.

Another way of looking at improved trends among the highest achievers comes from scores of affluent seniors, most of whom have taken college entrance exams from the start. Their scores are higher partly because of intellectual stimulation they get from their better-educated parents. (The best predictor of test scores has always been students’ social class.)

This year, students from the highest-earning fifth of families had average SAT scores of about 555 (verbal) and 567 (math). In 1987 (the earliest year in which the College Board collected family income data), comparably affluent students had averages of only about 542 and 535.

Like so many leaders today, officials of the testing services sometimes seem to look for negative news about student performance. The College Board, for example, stressed yesterday that the racial test score gap remained, but gave little emphasis to the rise in minority scores. The reason the gap did not narrow is only that white scores rose even more…

The annual college-entrance reports can be used to comment on the state of American schooling, but not without more sophisticated analyses than the testing services typically provide.


(3) “SAT’s Gender Gap Widening” by Martha Groves

Source: Los Angeles Times – 29 August 2001
Web link:

After years of narrowing the gap with males on the SAT college-entrance exam, female students in this year’s high school graduating class fell further behind, the College Board reported Tuesday… In this year’s results, males outscored female students by 42 points on the combined verbal and math portions of the SAT, up modestly from 38 points the year before. Math scores accounted for most of the difference, as in years past…

Critics say the results should sound alarms about possible “gender bias” in the SAT exam, upon which 90% of four-year schools rely to help pick their freshman classes.

Female students, these critics noted, outperform males in the real world of high school and college and by all rights should significantly outperform them on the exam…

Researchers speculate that young women are more likely to answer the multiple-choice math test questions the way they were taught in school. Young men are more likely to figure out shortcuts. “It’s a very complicated question, related to larger things about society,” said Ann Gallagher, a researcher with Educational Testing Service. “It has to do with the way men and women live their lives and solve problems.”

The College Board, the nonprofit organization that owns the SAT, disputed the notion that the test is weighted against women. Gretchen W. Rigol, a vice president with the College Board, noted that this year’s test takers included 92,000 more female students than males, with women making up 53.6% of the tested group…Thomas G. Mortenson, a higher-education policy analyst in Iowa, agreed that such circumstances could account for some of the disparity. “We’re dipping farther into the ability pool with the girls.”

Overall on the SAT, verbal scores for college-bound students nationwide increased one point this year to 506, the highest average score in more than a decade. The math scores remained at last year’s 30-year high of 514. Each portion of the exam is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. A perfect combined score would be 1,600.

Ethnic minorities made up more than one-third of the record 1.3-million high school seniors taking the exam in the last academic year. That is the largest proportion of such students in history…African American students nationwide scored an average of 201 points lower than whites on the combined math and verbal SAT, worse than last year’s 198. Mexican Americans scored an average of 151 points below non-Latino whites, versus 147 in 2000. Asian American students outperform all other groups on the math section of the SAT.

In California, the number of college-bound students taking the SAT rose by 5,830 to nearly 162,000. The growth represented more than a third of the increase in the total number of students nationwide. California students overall scored 498 on the verbal, eight points below the national average, and 519 on the math, three points better than the national average…


(4) “School Style Can Raise Achievement” by Linda Gorman

Source: National Bureau of Educational Research
Web link:

Though state curricular standards have proliferated since 1983, there remains a stunning lack of consensus about what comprises a good education, an inability to agree on how one measures it, and a lack of evidence about whether particular teaching practices or school organizational forms do a superior job of imparting it. In “Do High Grading Standards Affect Student Performance?” (NBER Working Paper No. 7985,, authors David Figlio and Maurice Lucas explore one of these questions. After controlling for student and family effects, they find that, on average, elementary school students with teachers who are “tough” graders have fewer disciplinary problems and show greater improvements in their reading and math scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. High-achieving students in low-achieving classes, and low-achieving students in high-achieving classes appear to benefit most from tougher grading standards…

In a related paper, “School Choice and the Distributional Effects of Ability Tracking: Does Separation Increase Equality?” (NBER Working Paper No. 8055,, authors David Figlio and Marianne Page note that along with tougher grading standards, schools traditionally have sought to challenge high achievers by putting them in classes, or “tracks,” with peers of similar ability… Figlio and Page however find no evidence that ability tracking harms disadvantaged students. If anything, they find that the effect of tracking is “positive for members of the low ability group” and that tracked settings appear to do a better job of educating low achievers. Finally, their results suggest that gifted and remedial programs help schools maintain an economically diverse student body by attracting students from higher income families…


Related articles:

“What Makes Sally Learn” by Gene Koretz

Source: Business Week On-Line – 27 August 2001
Web link:

Comment on High Grading Standards and Student Performance by Judith Kleinfeld

Source: Anchorage Daily News – 31 August 2001


(5) “Later School Start Benefits Teens, Study Concludes” by Marc Kaufman

Source: Washington Post – 29 August 2001
Web link:

High school students are less likely to miss classes or stop coming to school regularly if they can sleep later on school mornings, according to the largest study done into the impact of high school start times.

The study of thousands of Minneapolis high school students also found that they got more sleep, got slightly better grades and experienced less depression after the district switched from a 7:15 a.m. start to an 8:40 a.m. start in 1997.

Many districts have made high school classes start earlier in recent years for financial reasons and to accommodate after-school activities. But those near-dawn starts have become controversial around the country as research suggested that teenagers behave better and appear more ready to learn when classes start later. The new research is the most comprehensive yet to look at the issue…

Wahlstrom… pointed to a strong effect noted with students “continuously enrolled” in the Minneapolis school district — defined as being in the same high school two years in a row. Before the change, she said, only 50 percent of ninth-graders were continuously enrolled, but that increased to 58 percent after the later starts were implemented. For 10th-graders, she said, the percentage of continuously enrolled students grew from 55 percent to 67 percent.

“Something is keeping students from coming and going so much,” said Wahlstrom, who conducted the research for the Minneapolis school district and works at the University of Minnesota Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement.

A smaller analysis involving 3,000 students also found students tended to behave better in school and experience fewer signs of depression after they were able to sleep later, Wahlstrom said.

Some skeptics of the possible benefits of later start times have said that high school students are likely to just go to sleep later if they know they can sleep later on school mornings. But Wahlstrom also found that Minneapolis students went to sleep at almost the same time before and after the school start switch — around 10:45 p.m. That means, she said, that they were sleeping about an hour more a night because they were getting up later.

The switch made by Minneapolis in 1997 is being implemented this year in Arlington County, where high school students will report to class at 8:15 a.m., rather than last year’s 7:30 a.m. Officials there proposed the change after being persuaded by sleep research that students’ natural body clocks make them go to sleep later and wake up later than younger children.

Some parents in Montgomery and other surrounding counties have also lobbied for the change, but school officials have questioned its value and have said it would be expensive and complicated to change bus schedules. Coaches and others who oversee after-school activities — as well as retailers who hire students — have objected to any changes, too…

Advocates of later high school starts were encouraged by the results from Minneapolis. Richard Gelula, director of the National Sleep Foundation, said that he hopes other school districts will follow the city’s lead.

“We have known that inadequate sleep affects mood, concentration, memory, error rates, speed and other measures of cognitive performance,” he said. “But until the Minneapolis study, we did not know how changing the high school start time from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. would directly affect students. These findings are a terrific indicator of how much benefit there may be by aligning school start times with the biological sleep patterns of teens, who get too little sleep with current, early start times.”

Minneapolis has about 12,000 high school students, and is one of the most economically and ethnically diverse districts in the nation. The suburb of Edina, which implemented later high school starts before Minneapolis and has reported similarly positive results, is a far more wealthy and homogeneous district.



National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles and Standards

Web link:

It has been a little over a year since NCTM released its Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (PSSM) document and launched its accompanying Web site at At this site, teachers can link to the full text of PSSM (, as well as of the three previous Standards documents released by NCTM (including 1989’s Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics). The Web site includes interactive activities to support PSSM(, internet resources to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics (, information about NCTM-sponsored professional development programs.



School Science and Mathematics’ 100th Anniversary Meeting

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The 100th Anniversary and Annual Conference of the School Science and Mathematics Association will be held at the DoubleTree Guest Suites and Esplanade Conference Center in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, IL on November 1-3, 2001. This historic meeting offers a number of unique and informative opportunities for professional sharing and growth with sessions dealing with topics of interest to both researchers and practitioners…

The Thursday early afternoon “Kick-off” keynoter will be Rodger Bybee, Executive Director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). Other “special” sessions planned include Nobel Laureate, Leon Lederman, a visit to the Fermilab National Accelerator facilities including the Science Education Center, and a very special arts performance event on Thursday evening with “Dr. Schaffer and Mr. Stern – Two Men Dancing About Mathematics.” The Friday evening banquet will provide the setting for the 100th anniversary celebration. The speaker/entertainment will be John Rennie, the Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American. The evening is sure to be an enjoyable entertaining, and informative celebration with door prizes from the Association to the attending members…

There will be lots of other surprises which will make attending very worthwhile! For example, every SSMA member registered for the conference will receive an anniversary gift from the Association, a searchable CD pack containing all 100 years of the SSMA journal, valued at over $250. This exceptional product is only available free of charge to those members attending the anniversary conference.

The registration deadline is 1 October 2001.