COMET • Vol. 2, No. 26 – 3 October 2001


(1) EdSource Parent/Student Guides

Source: EdSource – (650) 857-9604
EdSource Parent/Student Guides provide free, easy to use information on issues pertaining to California’s Public Schools. The guides are available in both English and Spanish and are available free online…

Parent Guide: California’s New Mathematics Standards
(9/11/01) This parent guide describes California’s new mathematics standards and the reasoning behind them. It also discusses the challenges ahead and what the state is doing to help students and teachers reach the new goals.

Parent/Student Guide: Recent Changes in UC Admissions Policies
(9/11/01) This parent/student guide describes recent changes to UC admissions policies as well as some of the thinking behind them. It also gives an overview of what students need to do to be admitted to UC.

Parent/Student Guide: California’s New Merit-Based Scholarships 
(2/01/01) Every high school student and parent should read our two-page description of California’s new state-funded merit scholarship programs.

Parent Guide: California’s Public School Ranking and Reward System
(9/05/00) This two-page guide provides impartial, factual answers to frequently asked questions about ranking and rewards.

Parent Guide: California’s New High School Exit Exam 
(9/05/00) This two-page guide provides impartial, factual answers to frequently asked questions about the exam.

Parent Guide: California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR)
(9/05/00) This two-page guide on California’s STAR program provides factual answers to frequently asked questions.

(2) “Web Site To Offer Classroom-Based Tutorials, Testing” by Tim Bragg

Source: The Bakersfield Californian – 26 September 2001

Education for some Kern County students is shifting into cyberspace with the launch of a Web site making tutorial information and supplemental assessment tests available on the Internet.

The Kern Learn Curriculum and Assessment Project–a partnership between the Kern High School District, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, the Bakersfield City School District and the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District–will launch a Web site on Monday, 1 October 2001, giving selected students, teachers and parents from the participating districts access to instructional material reinforcing what’s learned in the classroom. [See to explore the site.]

Initially the site will focus on assessments and tutorials based on the minimum California standards for high school students in math, English, social studies and science. Developers of the three-year project, which started in June, plan to eventually provide a standards-based, supplemental curriculum for students in grades kindergarten through 12. This will give students an opportunity to hone their skills inside and outside the classroom.

Students will be chosen for participation in the pilot program by school districts and will be introduced to the site in their classes. But the system will be accessible from any computer, said KHSD instruction services director Dean McGee. People can access the system at schools, at home or anywhere else they go for Internet access.

During the summer, a team of teachers from the districts worked to develop the first assessment tests and tutorials. As the project progresses, McGee said information on student attendance, guidance counseling and a homework hot line will be added.

“If a parent gets a report card and they see a grade that doesn’t look good, they can work with their student through some lessons,” McGee said. “The tests are supplemental, so they can be taken anytime, anywhere.”

Teachers who see students needing extra help in certain areas can assign them to work through tutorials on their own, or assign them as a class.

The system saves the results of the tests, allowing teachers and parents to track progress and compare a student’s performance to state standards…


(1) “NAEP Board Considers Changes in Math Tests” by David J. Hoff

Source: Education Week – 3 October 2001

Should 4th graders master addition, subtraction, and other simple arithmetic?

Should 8th graders be tested on the basics of algebra even though the subject still isn’t usually taught until high school?

Should any student taking a math test have the aid of an electronic calculator?

The debates over such questions have been centered on state and local decisions–until now.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the only federal testing program, is proposing to change the guidelines that define the content on its mathematics exams. In doing so, the board has spawned a debate over what should be tested on the flagship National Assessment of Educational Progress, and what help students should receive in taking the tests.

A committee of mathematicians and educators impaneled by the board has recommended slight changes to the existing frameworks that spell out what will be on the math tests that are given every four years.

The tests produce national results and scores for individual states that participate in the program. Results of the math tests administered last year showed 4th and 8th graders posting steady increases over the decade since NAEP began using the current form of the tests.

At a public hearing in Washington last week on the proposed changes, different sides in the controversies over how to teach mathematics and what student knowledge to assess aired familiar arguments.

The proposed changes would continue a pattern of reducing the emphasis on basic arithmetic skills, according to Tom Loveless, the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The proposal would shrink the proportion of NAEP questions that gauge 8th graders’ skills in “numbers and operations” to 20 percent of the test. That would be 5 percentage points lower than on the current test. About 40 percent of the 4th grade exam would be made up of such arithmetic functions.

“That’s far too low,” argued Mr. Loveless, especially because NAEP’s survey of teachers finds that 87 percent of 4th grade teachers and 72 percent of 8th grade teachers place a “heavy emphasis” on such skills…

By contrast, the leader of the nation’s largest group of math educators supports the current frameworks and the proposed changes for the most part. But by raising the proportion of 8th grade questions that incorporate algebraic principles to 30 percent, NAEP may not get a fair measure of students’ skills, said Lee V. Stiff, the president of the 100,000-member National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

“Algebra as an 8th grade course does not exist for a lot of students,” said Mr. Stiff, a professor of mathematics education at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “When we evaluate young people, we should evaluate them on what they have had an opportunity to learn.”

The process of revising the frameworks included voices from across the spectrum of mathematics education. The committee included many representatives of the NCTM and other advocates of teaching both the concepts of math and its functions.

It also had members who say math education must stress the basic skills. “They’ve cured some of the defects,” said Frank Y. Wang, the chairman of Saxon Publishers Inc., a privately held Norman, Okla., textbook company noted for emphasizing skills, and a member of the planning committee that produced the proposed frameworks. “But I still have some nuts-and-bolts reservations with some of the aspects of the frameworks.” For example, NAEP would continue to allow the use of calculators on about a third of the exam questions–a decision that runs contrary to those who believe students need to master arithmetic.

Mr. Stiff, however, said students should continue to be allowed to use calculators on portions of the exam. “Calculators and technology are important tools in learning mathematics, so they should not be ignored,” he said. “They should be included in some way because they reflect what’s happening in the schools and what’s happening in the real world.”

The governing board is scheduled to decide on the mathematics frameworks at its November meeting, according to Lawrence Feinberg, the board’s assistant director of reporting and analysis.

(2) “Experts Say Young Children Need More Math” by Linda Jacobson

Source: Education Week – 26 September 2001

Some educators are worried that early-childhood education’s heavy emphasis on encouraging children’s literacy skills could be overshadowing the development of skills in another important area: mathematics.

In response to those concerns, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is working with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to draft a joint position statement about appropriate math instruction for 3- to 6-year-olds.

“This originated from concerns that we needed to send a message to the field about the importance of high-quality mathematical experiences,” said Marilou Hyson, the associate executive director for professional development at the Washington-based NAEYC, a 100,000-member professional organization.

The position statement is the latest in a series of activities over the past few years that has brought early-childhood educators and experts in math education together.

In 1998, the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a conference for early-childhood educators and researchers to talk about math and science for preschoolers. Shortly after, the National Science Foundation asked for grant proposals from individuals or organizations working with young children in those subjects.

One of the projects to receive funding from the NSF and the ExxonMobil Foundation was a 2000 invitational conference organized by Douglas H. Clements, an education professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

At the conference, 110 people–including representatives from more than 40 state education departments–gathered to discuss mathematics standards for preschool and kindergarten. Mr. Clements is compiling the discussions and recommendations from that conference into a report titled “Engaging Young Children in Mathematics,” which is expected to be released next year.

Authors of the new document are planning to organize it into two sets of recommendations.

The first part will offer descriptions of high-quality mathematical experiences for young children and the types of materials and activities that teachers can use to develop children’s awareness of such concepts as numbers and geometric shapes.

In the other section of recommendations, the authors will explain what it takes to equip early-childhood teachers with the knowledge and skills to strengthen their teaching of math. Simply taking more mathematics courses in college is not the answer, Ms. Hyson said.

The position statement–especially those areas focusing on teachers’ professional development–is being influenced by a National Research Council document released early this year. That 444-page report, “Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics” [] recommended an overhaul of elementary and middle school mathematics and stressed that children need to acquire skills as well as a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. It also emphasized that such learning should begin before children enter formal schooling. And so, beginning with prekindergarten, teachers should allot as much as an hour a day for math activities, the report recommended.

With this current project undertaken with the math educators’ group, the NAEYC is continuing its practice of forming partnerships with subject-oriented professional associations to bring knowledge to early-childhood educators that they might not be exposed to otherwise…

Three years ago, the NAEYC worked with the International Reading Association to produce “Learning to Read and Write: Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Young Children.” The document, which is still cited by literacy experts, was meant to communicate young children’s need for early reading experiences to the child-care providers and others who care for them.

While the new joint statement is not intended to counteract the strong emphasis on early literacy development–a top education priority for President Bush–Ms. Hyson said that an “exclusive focus on literacy” can inadvertently send the message that mathematics is not important…

(3) “New Math Standards on Way” by Jason Wermers

Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch – 27 September 2001

Just two months after [Virginia] adopted a revised set of history standards and corresponding teachers guide, a new set of math standards is almost ready for approval…

The math standards feature mostly cosmetic changes, either in wording or placement. For example, a third-grade standard that called for pupils to analyze plane and solid geometric figures now defines plane as two-dimensional and solid as three-dimensional. A fifth-grade standard calling for students to locate the point for an ordered pair on a coordinate plane was moved to fourth grade.

Patricia I. Wright, the state’s assistant superintendent of public instruction, said she has not received any feedback on the standards since they were posted last week on the Department of Education’s Web site, at …

The new standards come up for final adoption at the next board meeting, set for 9 a.m. Oct. 22 at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, 616 E. Beverley St., Staunton…

(4) “Handheld Computing: New Best Tech Tool or Just a Fad?” by Andrew Trotter

Source: Education Week – 26 September 2001

…Handheld computing, once associated with only the most gadget-prone teachers and business people, is cropping up in classrooms all over the country, with iPAQs by Compaq Computer Corp., Palms by Palm Inc., and Visors by Handspring Inc. competing for the classroom turf. More and more school officials believe that the devices, which are relatively inexpensive compared with laptops or personal computers, are the best way to put a computer in the hands of each student…

Some districts that have been skeptical of the educational value of handhelds…are running up against more teachers who believe the devices have a place in 21st-century schools.

Mark A. Evans, a district technology teacher in the 32,000-student Klein Independent School District near Houston, said he plans to survey school administrators next month to determine if they support reversing the district’s ban on student electronic devices. “I want to make it allowable, so if students purchase [a handheld computer], they can use it on campus,” he said.

Advocates like Mr. Evans point out that the devices are relatively cheap, with popular models priced between $250 and $550, depending on their memory and screen capabilities. That makes the goal of one computing device per student–what some education technology boosters say is the ideal ratio–almost within grasp…

In Orland Park, Ill., Consolidated High School District 230 has equipped nearly 1,700 of its 2,200 students and 65 teachers with Palm III handhelds. Students purchase or lease the machines, which include software for standard office activities and for collecting data from scientific probes, such as temperature gauges. Classroom sets of handhelds and portable keyboards are available for loan.

Josh Barron, a history and world-geography teacher at District 230’s Stagg High School who uses handhelds as a supplement to other ways of teaching, said he was pleased that they have appealed especially to students who are struggling in school.

Last year in a history class, his students built a fantasy stock portfolio starting with $5,000 in fake money. They used their Palm III handhelds daily to check stock prices on the Web and wrote reports using lightweight folding keyboards that are a common accessory in classrooms that use such computing devices.

This year, Mr. Barron’s geography classes are using a Palm-based program called PiCoMap-one of Mr. Soloway’s software tools-which lets students create concept maps that show connections between various facts and ideas. For example, in studying a wetland ecosystem, a student types in key words– maybe “frog,” “dragonfly,” “water,” “trees,” and “air pollution”–into cyber bubbles that appear on the screen and then connects them to related bubbles. The concept map can be shared with other students or turned in as homework by using the handheld’s wireless infrared-communications link.

Mr. Barron said that “the kids who do have Palms get more into their homework; they do it on the Palms and beam it to me; you eliminate paper, eliminate notebooks.”

Even so, he cautioned that handheld computers cannot replace books because “on the Palm, it’s too hard to read.”

What’s more, he acknowledged that the gadgets can cause distractions. For instance, he said, students often use them to play computer games rather than to do schoolwork. “The games are an issue,” he said. “You have to be careful”…

In just the next few months, handhelds will be challenged by a new generation of electronic books, which have larger screens that are more suitable for diagrams and paragraphs of text, said Carole C. Inge, the executive director of the Institute for Teaching Through Technology and Innovative Practices, in South Boston, Va. The institute, a part of Longwood College, is funded by the Virginia legislature to come up with ways of using technology to help teachers cover the state’s academic standards.

Since 1999, Ms. Inge has been devising “virtual reality” software for handhelds that uses the Windows CE operating system. She has worked with Palms, too, but has found the 3-by-3-inch screen sizes of the little machines too limiting for virtual reality and other multimedia uses.

“I’ve got a spider, and I can look at it three-dimensionally, but if I want to look at the spider in an ecosystem, the screen size is too small [on a handheld],” said Ms. Inge.

In contrast, she said, an e-book with a 7-by-7- inch screen is large enough for virtual reality. And, she added, it is also easier to use to read large amounts of text, view detailed pictures and diagrams, and deliver computer-based assessments.


“Professional Learning CD from ENC”

Source: Eisenhower National Clearinghouse

ENC’s latest CD-ROM will accompany the January 2002 issue of ENC Focus. The CD, By Your Own Design — A Teacher’s Professional Learning Guide, and Focus will help teachers shape their own professional learning.

When ENC envisioned this project, we wanted to produce the most complete professional learning resource possible. So, we were delighted when the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) agreed to work with us to create and disseminate the disc. ENC and NSDC worked hand-in-hand to develop the format and content of the CD. Organizations such as the Eisenhower Regional Consortia and the Council of Chief State School Officers and various publishers also contributed to the project.

To receive the CD, you must be registered with ENC as a subscriber to ENC Focus. Make sure that you are registered by visiting

Note: The theme of October’s issue of ENC Focus is “New Horizons in Mathematics and Science Education.” Here you will find articles by classroom teachers who are introducing the future to their students through the latest technology as well as interviews with leading innovators in the search for new methods to improve mathematics and science instruction. More than 100 books, CD-ROMs, kits, web sites, and videos dealing with new technologies and methods are featured in the magazine, which is available online at