COMET • Vol. 2, No. 27 – 9 October 2001


(1) California Academic Content Standards Now Available in HTML

Source: Dan Holt, Coordinator, CDE Curriculum & Instructional
Leadership Branch Web Team (916-657-3837)

A new Web page (above) has been posted to facilitate access to the content standards adopted by the California State Board of Education. This page provides links to pdf and the new HTML versions of the Reading-Language Arts and Mathematics Standards HTML versions of the standards for History/Social Science, Science, and Visual and Performing Arts are currently being developed.

(2) Curriculum Commission Application Deadline is Friday, 19 October 2001

Source: California State Board of Education – (916) 657-5478
Web Link:

Reminder: The Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials
Commission (Curriculum Commission), which is responsible for advising the State Board on matters related to curriculum and instruction, is seeking 4 new members to serve terms that will commence on 1 January 1 2002 and expire on 31 December 2005. The deadline for applying is 19 October 2001. See the 27 August 2001 issue of COMET for more information. (Classroom teachers are especially encouraged to apply.)

(3) “Exit Tests Tough on 9th-Graders” by Nanette Asimov and Meredith May

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 4 October 2001
More than half of California ninth-graders who took a required new graduation exam failed the math portion, while more than a third failed the language arts part, the state revealed yesterday.

Although students will have more chances to take the so-called exit exam before graduation, the fact that just 34 percent of ninth-graders passed both parts means that school districts must find some way to improve or face the possibility that thousands of young people will fail to graduate in 2004, the first year the test will be required for a diploma.

“We must remember that this test is the toughest of its kind in the nation and that many of these freshmen had not yet taken the courses covered by the exam, such as algebra,” said state schools chief Delaine Eastin.

Eastin says she is heartened that a new state law requires students to take algebra during high school. Algebra questions are on the exam. Still, Eastin believes the test should be delayed at least two years to allow more preparation.

That could happen if Gov. Gray Davis signs Assembly Bill 1609 by Montebello Democrat Thomas Calderon, which Davis supports. It is intended not so much to get students up to speed but to keep the test process legal…

The Calderon bill would require an independent study of the exam next year to see whether it measures what the state wants students to know. If not, the Board of Education could delay that graduation requirement until it has greater confidence in the test.

In addition, the bill would prohibit ninth-graders from taking the test. To be on sturdy legal ground, the state needs to have a valid baseline score against which to compare all future results. That means one group of students – – the state prefers 10th-graders — needs to take the test all at one time. This year, since not all ninth-graders took the test, no such baseline exists.

“This is something we could be sued on,” said Valerie Martinez, Calderon’s spokeswoman.

About 22 states require students to pass an exit exam to earn a diploma. Last year, a Texas judge upheld that state’s exit exam, ruling against students who tried to throw it out.

In California, a small but growing anti-testing movement is exploring the fairness of the test based on whether students who fail have the same academic opportunities as those who pass, such as access to qualified teachers and modern textbooks.

Meanwhile, test-preparation companies are sniffing around California with interest, well aware that districts will have to invest heavily in helping students pass the test. No sooner did yesterday’s results arrive on the Internet than a company called Kaplan began contacting the press. Kaplan sells materials to teach kids test-taking strategies, charging $9 to $16 per pupil for each subject…

To view complete results, go to Sample questions from the spring test are at

(4) “Affluent School Districts Score Higheßr in Exit Tests” by Jessica Portner and Kate Folmar

Source: The Mercury News – 4 October 2001

Where students live played a large role in whether they passed the first round of California’s new High School Exit Exam last spring, according to test results posted Wednesday…

“It’s economics, and where they live — that’s what it is,” said San Jose High Academy Principal Laurence Holguin, where 35 percent of students made the grade in math and 60 percent in English. “Our kids come with really low skills. It’s not because the elementary schools didn’t try; it’s because the students don’t have the parent support at home. They don’t have the tutors or vacations that other students have”…

Bruce Fuller, co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, said that three decades of research has shown that the biggest predictor of high school achievement long has been how much money one’s parents make. “This confirms this hugely powerful effect that family background and wealth have in how kids do in school,” Fuller said…

The exit exam, unlike the standardized test at the center of California’s accountability program, was tailored to match rigorous academic standards the state board adopted in 1997. To pass, students had to answer 60 percent of questions correctly in English-language arts and 55 percent in mathematics. Last year, some 370,000 freshmen voluntarily took the test, which covers everything from 10th-grade vocabulary and essay-writing to probability and algebra…

State education officials say the low scores statewide in math are due to the fact that many students had yet to take algebra I by their freshman year and lacked the new, standards-based algebra textbooks. Current sophomores — the first graduating class that must pass the test to graduate — will be given seven more opportunities to pass the exit exam before the end of their senior year. If they still fail, they can enroll in community college courses or adult education until they pass…

Eastin said she hopes scores also will be bolstered by the $200 million Gov. Gray Davis approved in this year’s budget to help low-performing schools. But she said more funds will be needed to improve teacher training and provide districts money to help them purchase standards-based textbooks in all subjects for all students.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said, “to get all these kids ready.”

(5) “Teachers Savor Cash Reward for Job Well Done With Test” by Kate Folmar, Jessica Portner, and Sara Neufeld

Source: San Jose Mercury News – 9 October 2001

For the first time, California is handing out big bucks to teachers as part of Gov. Gray Davis’ carrot-and-stick accountability program. Across the state, about 1,000 educators are receiving $25,000 taxable bonuses, 3,750 will receive $10,000 and 7,500 will get $5,000.

The teachers and principals earned a portion of $100 million in bonuses by working at low-performing schools that far exceeded the goals set for them on the Academic Performance Index, a state ranking of campuses derived from their scores on California’s annual standardized test.

“I feel like one of these people that’s just won on one of these TV shows,” said Martha Giardina, a second-grade teacher at Pescadero Elementary School, where scores went up by nearly 24 percent. When her superintendent told Giardina about a pending $25,000 bonus, the teacher started to think about buying a house — a dream she had all but given up on.

“I wasn’t really expecting such a large sum,” she said. “When I heard some months back that it would be possible, I thought, ‘Oh, it would be wonderful. I could get out of debt'”

The educators expressed mixed feelings about the money.

Some said the state’s rewards program is based on a flawed test. Others think that all teachers deserve more money, not just a select few.

But they also said they had worked hard for the bonuses–attending training sessions, helping students before and after school and adhering strictly to the state’s standards of what students should learn and when.

So far none is talking about turning the cash down in protest–as urged by some local teachers union officials in the spring, when smaller rewards were doled out to more schools

Dorothy Grace Boyajian, a fourth-grade teacher at Sunnybrae Elementary who is starting her 51st year teaching at the San Mateo-Foster City School District, will receive $5,000.

“I think I’ll be spending some money on educational things for the classroom, maybe get some thesauruses, maybe a telescope and a few other things,” she said. Then if there’s any left over, she might buy herself a piece of jewelry.

But with more than a half-century of teaching experience, Boyajian, 71, says she knows that money is not the greatest reward. “The reward is in the eyes of the children when they understand,” she said.


“For Japanese Students, Less May Be More” by Kathryn Tolbert

Source: Washington Post – 2 October 2001

To improve education by teaching less is a difficult idea for any parent to accept. But Japan is in the midst of just such an about-face.

While Japanese students are still near the top of international math and science rankings, surveys also show that they dislike those subjects more intensely with every grade, they have little joy of learning and they lack the ability to do research and express an opinion.

Educators have concluded that part of the remedy is to reduce the amount students are taught. In a policy that has confounded and worried many parents, primary and junior high school curricula are being cut by 30 percent starting next spring, Saturday classes will end and a vaguely defined “general studies” class is being added to encourage creativity and independent thinking.

Parents’ fears have been fed by rumors that the value of pi would now be taught as “around 3” instead of 3.14. A weekly magazine ran the headline, “In 10 Years the Japanese Will All Be Idiots!” The catchphrase for the new policy is “Education with Leeway,” which goes firmly against the grain here.

Education Ministry officials are going around the country trying to explain the new curriculum to parent-teacher organizations, while many teachers are taking extra training to come up with ideas for general studies and schools are running test classes under the new directives. The new curriculum will be adopted in high schools in 2003.

“To target the curriculum to lowest-level students is rare in world history,” said one critic, Masayuki Yamauchi, a professor at the University of Tokyo.

But educators and officials say the counterintuitive cutting of hours devoted to Japanese, math, science and social studies is necessary to change Japan’s basic approach to education.

“Japanese education has meant sitting in a classroom, facing the blackboard and learning from a textbook,” said Satoshi Ashidate, director of the office of curriculum planning in the Education Ministry. “In a sense it is very passive — sitting and waiting to be taught. This was effective in bringing up scores for tests and to achieve a high international ranking. But we have to change that.”

The education system has been widely admired for giving a uniform, high-quality education to all Japanese. Everyone was taught the same material at the same pace, which was good for the broad middle range of students but left some bored and others lost. The truancy rate has been rising rapidly, with the number of junior high students missing more than 30 days of school in 1999 more than 12 times that of 1970.

Under the new policy, schools are to acknowledge that students have different levels of ability and should be taught accordingly. Science high schools will be introduced next year; other schools will start to divide classes according to ability.

“In Japan we worry so much about equality, regardless of what the person wants,” said Toshiso Miyatani of Mihara, Hiroshima prefecture, who flew to Akita in northern Japan for a national PTA symposium on the new curriculum.

“Until now we’ve been cutting off those who excel and those who lag behind,” said Ashidate. “We’re trying to pay attention to both groups and deal with stress from this system. This is a big change.”

Jin Akiyama, a professor of mathematics at Tokai University in Tokyo, held the attention of the 1,200 parents at the symposium as he ran through the high scores Japanese students have achieved internationally in math and science.

“Is this not good enough?” he said. “You can say no, we’ve got to be at the very top, or you can say we’re doing pretty well. But I think there is something else we need to worry about, something that is related to the issue of academic skills. And that is whether the children like…the particular subject or whether what they’ve been taught will be useful in the future. In this case, there is a lot to worry about.”

But while parents applaud the idea of making students eager to learn and teaching them to think, cutting content to foster creativity is more difficult to accept.

“The school sent a paper home saying first-graders will no longer be taught to tell time,” said Yumi Yomura, whose daughter’s primary school in Tokyo is incorporating the new curriculum. She was surprised and dismayed, but said that as long as she knows what’s being cut, she can fill in the gaps at home.

Other parents, she said, don’t mind the reduced curriculum because it gives their children more time to do their “cram-school” homework. Entrance exams for universities, as well as for private junior and senior high schools, will not limit their questions to the reduced curriculum. So when Saturday classes end, many students will simply go to cram school that day.

For every grade and subject, the ministry has listed topics to be cut, condensed or moved to later grades. For example, second-graders will not be taught greater than and less than signs in math; fourth-graders will not be taught the relationship between weather and time and the activities of animals; fifth-graders will not learn how to calculate the areas of some geometric shapes or study the surface of the moon; sixth-graders will not get an explanation of the metric system; and in junior high English classes, only 900 words will be taught instead of 1,000.

The value of pi, according to the ministry guideline, remains at 3.14, although fifth-graders may, to gain time to think, use 3 in calculations…

Everyone agrees that the changes will be difficult to implement, and that the burden falls on the teachers. “We are expected to look at students more individually,” said Hiroshi Endo, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Tokyo who recently attended a training seminar. “And that’s a lot more time-consuming.”

Endo said he is trying to adjust his teaching style, to lecture less and have the students speak up more and do more research. The student reaction, he said, was fifty-fifty. “Those who didn’t find anything interesting are now more enthusiastic. But those who were doing slightly better are worried about whether they’re acquiring knowledge.”

The reduced requirements are aimed at giving slower learners a sense of accomplishment and are intended to be a minimum standard; teachers are to encourage advanced students to exceed them. The time shaved off the four basic courses will make room for the centerpiece of the policy–general studies, which has no textbook and no instructions.

Akiyama told the assembled parents in Akita that the new course aimed to teach children how to study, how to do research and convey the results, and to let them experience the fun of learning…

“How to deal with students not in a supervisory way but in a way to support the children is a difficult skill to acquire,” said Riko Ota, a junior high social studies teacher in Tokyo. “We need to stand at the same eye level as students, and teachers have a sense that they are not so good at that.”

Ashidate of the Education Ministry summed up the challenge: “For schools to decide or ask what is needed on the basis of children had not been done before in Japan.”




(1) “At Last! A Dictionary that’s for Web-sters” by Bob Dart

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 7 October 2001

…The…volume [is] aimed at a generation of students who increasingly rely on software to correct their spelling when composing at computers. The dictionary, which reached bookstores just in time for back-to-school shoppers, specifically addresses the shortcomings of computer spell-checks. It contains warnings on hundreds of homonyms, such as “discreet” and “discrete,” for which spelling checkers will not catch misuses…

“Our inclusion of hundreds of lined-through misspellings followed by the correct spellings,” [Editor] Soukhanov said, “will help people who are looking up words they can’t spell in the first place.”

For example, folks who don’t know to put a “c” in “acquaint” and “acquit” will find “aquaint” and “aquit” with faint lines drawn through them, followed by references to the correct words and spellings…

College English professors were consulted to find the 700 words most often misspelled by college students and to determine the most common “usage blunders.” The oft-mangled applications include confusions of “their,” “there” and “they’re”; using “affect” when “effect” is needed and vice versa; combining “a lot” into “alot”; and not knowing the difference between “fewer” and “less”…

“We need in the 21st century, more than ever before, a dictionary that addresses today’s students’ problems with English grammar and syntax, spelling and an ever-increased technological and scientific vocabulary,” Soukhanov said.

The book “reflects the language as it is really used in terms of, say, new words and slang, but also giving strong guidelines on how to use the language with grace, precision and accuracy, and what not to say,” she said.

The Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary is published by St. Martin’s Press…

From the Web site:

This all-new dictionary was compiled with the aid of professors from 29 leading universities to provide students with an up-to-date and practical college reference. General Editor Anne Soukhanov, who is also the “Word Watch” columnist for The Atlantic Monthly, includes prescriptive usage tips for today’s confused student. Geared to the needs of the Information Age, this dictionary contains 5,000 new words and terms, such as “reality TV” and “rolling blackout”…

The first entirely new college dictionary to be published in three decades, the Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary is compiled from a revolutionary computer database of English as it is spoken around the world…The Dictionary addresses the specific issues they raise with a range of innovative features including:

* Quick Encyclopedic Facts: short digests of key concepts in the arts and sciences
* Literary Links: notes on major works of literature
* Internet Guide: how to use the Web effectively as a tool for research
* Spellchecks: warnings about spelling mistakes ignored by spellcheckers * Usage Notes covering the most common student problems with spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style
* Commonly misspelled words – clearly flagged as errors – entered at the place where they will be looked up by the user
* Comprehensive coverage of high-technology, scientific, and business terms
* Over 700 tables, illustrations, maps, and photos
* Clear, accessible definition style and a unique Quick Definition system, with brief definitions in bold, enables the reader to quickly pick out the appropriate meaning.

(2) Synchronized Pledge of Allegiance

Source: Kirk Winters (, U.S. Department of Education – 9 October 2001

Today, Secretary of Education Rod Paige sent a letter to school principals inviting students, teachers, parents, & other Americans to join in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a single time in classrooms across the country on Friday, 12 October 2001. Below is the letter.


October 9, 2001

Dear Principal:

As a Nation, we have responded to the terrorist attacks of September 11 by offering our support to the victims and their families, to the rescue workers, and to the men and women of the United States military. We have also displayed remarkable patriotism that reflects our appreciation for and dedication to the principles that make America strong — freedom, liberty, and independence.

Teachers in every community in America have been working with students to help them understand what happened on September 11 and to overcome their fears and concerns. They have also worked to teach them more about our proud and rich national history and the foundations of our free society.

I write today to ask you to join me and students, teachers, parents, and other proud Americans across the country in showing our patriotism by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a single time and with a unified voice in your classrooms on Friday, October 12, 2001.

Pledge Across America is being organized by Celebration USA, a nonprofit organization created to strengthen instruction on the basic principles of American democracy in America’s classrooms. They have offered us an opportunity to join in a synchronized Pledge of Allegiance at 2:00 p.m. EDT, 1:00 p.m. CDT, Noon MDT, 11:00 a.m. PDT, 10:00 a.m. in Alaska, and 8:00 a.m. in Hawaii.

I hope you will join me in making this a national celebration on Friday at the times listed above. Together, we can send a loud and powerful message that will be heard around the world: America is “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”


Rod Paige