COMET • Vol. 2, No. 06 – 19 February 2001


(1) “UC Chief Seeks to Drop SAT as a Requirement” by Kenneth R. Weiss

Source: Los Angeles Times – 17 February 2001

UC President Richard C. Atkinson wants to eliminate the SAT as a requirement for admission to all eight of the university’s undergraduate campuses, saying the test is unfair to many students and fails to measure how much they learned in high school.

Calling such a change “long overdue,” Atkinson, in a speech on Sunday, will call on the University of California to discontinue using the SAT within two years. He wants each campus to develop a more “holistic” approach to selecting students, looking at achievements and potential for success that might not show up on standardized tests.

But UC campuses, which turn away many applicants, still need a common measure to compare students from different high schools, given varying levels of grade inflation, he said. So Atkinson is challenging test makers to come up with a new test that would be directly tied to college preparatory courses rather than to what he considers “an ill-defined measure of aptitude or intelligence” like the SAT…

Regent Sherry Lansing, a former schoolteacher who is now chairwoman of Paramount Pictures and a strong force on the Board of Regents, said she was delighted by Atkinson’s move. She said she expects many fellow regents to like the idea as well.

“It’s horrendous to think you can have a student who gets straight A’s and not get into the University of California because of one bad test day,” Lansing said. “I think there has been an overemphasis on standardized tests and an under-emphasis on grades and a student’s motivation.”

Lee C. Bollinger, president of the University of Michigan, called Atkinson’s proposal a “courageous move.” “To have one of the most prominent university systems in the world abandon such a well-worn test says something about the challenges to the validity of the SAT as a predictor of college success, as well as to its fairness,” Bollinger said…

California students make up the largest group of SAT-takers, 156,000 out of the 1.3 million college-bound seniors who took it last year, or 12%. Given that at least half of these students apply to UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine or other popular campuses, making the SAT optional could result in a dramatic drop in the number of test takers. (The test has always been optional for admission to the California State University system.)

Atkinson said he expects to come under “severe attack” for his proposal because “there’s a lot of money at stake here.”

In his speech to his colleagues across the country he puts it this way: “In many ways, we are caught up in the educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race. We know that this overemphasis on test scores hurts all involved, especially students. But we also know that anyone or any institution opting out of the competition does so at considerable risk.”

Atkinson, 71, a cognitive psychologist, did not come to this decision lightly. He has been studying learning and memory throughout his career. His credentials as a testing expert are extensive. He was the founding chairman of the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment and was once a distinguished visiting scholar at the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT for the College Board.

But he said he has always wondered what exactly the SAT was supposed to measure. Since the 1930s, the SAT has been designed to test, not achievement, but basic aptitude for college, akin to a measure of innate intelligence. But its original name, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, was changed in the 1990s to the Scholastic Assessment Test. And now the College Board refers to it simply as the SAT, avoiding discussions of what the test measures.

Such concerns turned more personal when, to his horror, Atkinson witnessed his grandchildren, at the young ages of 10 and 12, enrolled in a private school that began to prepare them for the high-stakes test. They spent “hours each month–directly and indirectly–preparing for the SAT, studying long lists of verbal analogies such as ‘untruthful is to mendaciousness’ as ‘circumspect is to caution.’ ”

It flabbergasted him, he said, to see that the SAT was driving the school’s curriculum, taking valuable class time away from reading, writing and arithmetic.

Atkinson said he sees his plan as a way to develop a new type of college admissions test that encourages students to master the subjects they are supposed to learn in high school, rather than spending time in class–or millions of dollars at test-prep centers–learning how to improve their test-taking skills.

Atkinson’s idea has the support of UCLA education professor Eva L. Baker, a national testing expert. “When kids are getting anxious and preparing for exams, they would be going over the ground they covered in school, not something floating outside,” she said.

Moreover, Baker and Atkinson believe that a curriculum-based test would help educators improve schools, by reinforcing course content and rigorous academic standards in California and perhaps across the country…

While such a new test–or tests–is being developed, Atkinson wants the university to continue to use the required SAT II exams, often called achievement tests, as well as grades, personal essays and other factors in admissions. He said the SAT II exams–on writing, math and a third subject of the student’s choice–are much more closely aligned with subject matter taught in the schools.

He also said the SAT II exams, also owned by the College Board, are better predictors of good grades in college than the SAT and that they do not produce the yawning race or gender gaps that show up in SAT scores.

(2) “School Board OKs New Book Series for Math Programs” by Doug Smith

Source: Los Angeles Times – 14 February 2001

To curtail the number of math programs in Los Angeles schools, the Board of Education on Tuesday selected textbook series by two publishers for elementary schools and three series for middle schools.

Each of the 11 subdistricts within the Los Angeles Unified School District will be required to select only one series for use by all its schools.

Although the district could have chosen from a wider range of programs adopted last month by the state, Supt. Roy Romer said he wanted to limit the options to facilitate teacher training…As the school district prepares to roll out a new math program next year, training the teachers to use the texts will be the district’s greatest challenge, Romer said.

“We’re going to have to assist those teachers in a very strategic way, not only to use textbooks, but to raise total skill in math,” Romer said…

Following the recommendation of a mathematics textbook committee, the board voted to approve series by Harcourt School Publishers and Scott Foresman. The middle school series are by publishers McDougal Littell, Prentice Hall and Harcourt School Publishers.

The board amended Romer’s recommendation, however, by setting up a waiver procedure in which any school can ask to continue using a different series. The local superintendent will decide whether to grant the waiver. Several teachers told board members they have invested funds in a program called Saxon Math and have found it effective in raising students’ test scores.

Romer said he would expect the superintendents to grant waivers sparingly. “I just believe the local superintendents need to have the flexibility to organize their professional development around a series of texts that is uniform,” Romer said.

(3) “Do The Math” by Anne Dudley Ellis

Source: The Fresno Bee – 16 February 2001,1724,239897,00.html

Stumped on your math homework? Pick up the phone and dial Radical Man or Numbers Nan, and they’ll walk you through the problem, whether it’s multiplication tables or calculus.

The Math on Call hot line, a project of the Fresno County Office of Education, was publicized Thursday with a demonstration by tutors Robert Mohler (Radical Man) and Nanette Mattos (Numbers Nan)…

The hot line is open from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with the first hour aired on Channel 14, the AT&T Broadband cable station. Mohler and Mattos answer questions on air while four math teachers take calls off the air.

Math tutors can handle 30 to 50 calls a night, depending on the questions, said Mohler, a math teacher at Central High School. Nearly 400 callers from as far away as Bakersfield have used the hot line since it debuted in December….

Mohler and Mattos handle callers kindly and patiently, encouraging them to work through the problems themselves…Lori Hamada, mathematics coordinator for the Office of Education, said teachers staffing the hot line have to be able to walk students through the process of solving the problem. “It’s really important to us to not just finish their homework for them,” Hamada said…


Time: 4 to 5:30 p.m. (PST), Monday through Thursday

Phone: (559) 497-3776 or toll free (888) 567-MATH (within California)

On television: Cable channel 14 in Fresno

On the Web: Beginning March 1, a simultaneous Web cast will be on the Fresno County Office of Education Web site,

(4) “Measuring Up Under Pressure”

Source: California Educator -February 2001

Last year, 430 “low-performing” schools entered a new state program with a unique mandate: Shape up or ship out. This year, another 430 low-performing schools will receive the same ultimatum.

The “shaping up” refers to test scores. The “shipping out” refers to staff – both administrators and teachers – as a consequence of test scores failing to meet growth targets within a few years.

California’s high-stakes “shape up or ship out” experiment is called the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP). Set up by Senate Bill 1X, the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, the program is intended to hold public schools accountable for the academic progress and achievement of pupils. As far as quick fixes go, this may be the most ambitious one in history.

Gov. Gray Davis requested that schools volunteer for the dubious distinction of being II/USP schools. The state threatened to draft schools if there was a lack of willing participants. Not surprisingly, the prospect of monetary rewards motivated 1,400 administrators to volunteer their school sites for the 430 slots. Schools accepted into the program receive up to $50,000 for the planning process alone.

The good news is that most II/USP schools have boosted test scores without even implementing their plans. Some attribute this to the fact that many schools began improvements before entering the program, or that class size reduction has been in effect for a few years. (Research indicates that test scores can be expected to improve for the next few years as a result of recent reforms. Then, unless significant infrastructure changes are made, they will reach a plateau.) Others attribute this year’s higher scores without implementation of action plans to a phenomenon known as the “Hawthorne Effect”…

Even with improvements in test scores, however, there is still pressure. Schools that have surpassed their “growth targets” dramatically – some by over 100 points – will still have to show another 5 percent growth toward the state-adopted goal of 800 on SAT-9 scores next year to receive reward money. They must also show growth for minority and low socioeconomic subgroups…



(1) “School Testing” – Margaret Warner, Moderator

Source: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer – 15 February 2001
[Transcript] Margaret Warner: To analyze President Bush’s testing proposal, we turn to: Lisa Graham Keegan, the Arizona Superintendent of Education; Bill Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and an education policy adviser to President Bush’s campaign; Alfie Kohn, a former teacher and author of the book, “The Schools Our Children Deserve;” and Monty Neill, director of FairTest, a group advocating testing reform that’s based in Boston. Welcome to you all. Bill Evers, you were an adviser to President Bush on this during the campaign. Flesh out for us what Secretary Paige was saying today. What’s the evidence that standardized testing of the kind that the president’s advocating improve and are the best way to improve student performance?

Bill Evers: Well, the president is asking the states to test every child every year. The states would select these tests. The federal government would help pay for the development of them where that’s needed and the federal government has a national test that tests a sample of students that would have to be extended to sort of serve as a yardstick to see that the state tests were doing a good job. And what we want to do with these tests is know where these children are and if we do it year by year, we can see the progress, we can see the gains, we can see the growth, we can see problems with teachers as well as students. And these tests, if they’re done well, can tell us simple, basic solid information about these children…

Margaret Warner: Well, Alfie Kohn turning to you, does this kind of testing which we have in some states, does it improve student performance over time?

Alfie Kohn: No — just the opposite. In fact, the more teachers are pressured to raise scores on these tests, the more time they lack to help kids become critical, creative, curious thinkers. Let’s begin by understanding that at this point U.S. students are already tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalleled anywhere else in the world…You have teachers — including some of our very best educators — who are leaving the profession because they’re being turned into test prep technicians…And you’ve got whole elements of the curriculum being squeezed out…It lowers standards because some of the richest and most meaningful curriculum units are disappearing from schools over the country…because instead they have to be drilled on the specific, forgettable facts and isolated skills that these tests tend to measure most. So, although it may seem paradoxical, the reality is that as the scores go up it’s often a bad sign by meaningful measures of real learning.

Margaret Warner: Lisa Keegan, I know you’re an advocate of testing. Arizona has tests very similar to what the president is proposing.. Is what Mr. Kohn is pointing out something that has happened there?

Lisa Graham Keegan: Absolutely not…To say that a test is forcing people into very narrow and very silly pursuits is a ridiculous statement. In fact, a test is merely measuring the richness of the curriculum we have out there for all students, not just for some students. And without that measurements every year for every child what we do is we leave groups of children behind as we have done, and we don’t find out about it until the end of the school career and everybody says, gosh how did that happen? We know how to fix this…You simply teach to the standards that are rich, and that are challenging. The tests take care of themselves. They are just a snapshot look every year at how well we’re teaching all children…

Margaret Warner: All right. Monty Neill, where do you come down on this, this issue, this point about what the impact of testing is and would be?

Monty Neill: Ms. Keegan is simply wrong. There is a lot of evidence first that where you have high stakes in important tests in fact, that’s what teachers do. They teach to those tests. And in fact the tests are not very high quality. Even an organization like Achieve, which exists literally to focus on these kinds of state tests has concluded that virtually none of the state tests are good matches for the state standards. Now, the results of teaching to the test are really a disaster. In fact, if you look at the states in this country that have the most testing and the highest stakes attached to those tests, what you find out is that those states have the lowest scores on the national test that Mr. Evers mentioned; they have the least likelihood of improving on that national test; they have the highest dropout rates and they send the fewest students on to college. Texas is an example of that. It’s got one of the highest dropout rates in the country. Houston — where Mr. Paige comes from — has just about the highest dropout rate of any city in the country. So what’s going on with this mad testing mania is we are not educating our children…

Bill Evers: Well, when I look at my own state of California, which has very rich standards — standards that have been rated the highest in the country and even higher in mathematics than Japan — and I see the schools and the teachers around the state gearing up to try to meet these and make our students in California of world-class caliber, and I know, because I myself have participated in developing the test questions in history and in mathematics that are linked to, oriented to these standards, I know that they do in fact, reach these standards, meet these standards –are based on the standards. I think it’s working, and I think this sort of thing, if you have a good test, and a teacher is teaching the content that’s covered in the test, I think that sort of teaching to the test is good…

Alfie Kohn: Annual testing is a problem even if the measures are reasonably good. Because when you have tests every year the expectation then becomes that all kids must develop in lockstep fashion. To say that every kid has to be at the same place at age seven violates every bit of understanding we have of developmental realities. But some tests are worse than others. Even multiple choice questions that are tricky can’t give kids a chance to explain their answers much less generate answers, so they can’t give us a sense of what kids understand. If a test it timed than what it’s really measuring is speed not thoughtfulness. Even some essay questions are really getting kids to drill to do a kind of cookie cuter five-paragraph essay that they think will lead to a high score…

Lisa Graham Keegan: …What I see are great educational leaders using this as a tool and particularly in the inner city making sure they know where all their kids are and moving those kids along…So the only way to be fair about progress is to have that testing done every year and for all kids, particularly in the inner city where we have lost these kids before. There is no alternative to a diagnostic. You never hear people walk in to the doctor and say, don’t bother with the x-ray and the blood test; it takes too much time; just get with my treatment program. We need to know where kids are. This testing is helping us and it is turning educators into real leaders for their kids. It’s having an extremely positive effect in Arizona.

Monty Neill: We continue to believe that these tests undermine and not improve the quality of education. They leave poor children and children of color further behind. Rich schools do not teach to standardized tests. And we would encourage parents and the general public to get more informed on this issue, to let their congressmen know what they think about this issue and to, frankly, don’t participate in these testing programs that hurt their children…

(2) “No to More Standardized Testing” by Alfie Kohn

Source: Boston Globe – 26 January 2001

…Researchers have sometimes found a statistical association between high scores on standardized tests and relatively shallow thinking. One such study, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, classified elementary school students as ”actively” engaged in learning if they went back over things they didn’t understand, asked questions of themselves as they read, and tried to connect what they were doing to what they had already learned. Students were classified as ”superficially” engaged if they just copied down answers, guessed a lot, and skipped the hard parts.

It turned out that the superficial style was positively correlated with high scores on two common standardized tests. Similar findings have emerged from studies of middle school and high school students.

The problem, however, isn’t just that the test results are not terribly meaningful, but that the pressure to raise scores is actually lowering standards. Even where the scores have gone up, the educational cost has been substantial. Schools across the country, including many in Massachusetts, have sacrificed recess for young children and advanced electives for high schoolers. There is far less time for music and for activities that help students build social skills. In Texas, many schools – particularly those serving low-income and minority students – have virtually eliminated science instruction in the quest to raise scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills exam…

Surveys from several states confirm the extent to which teachers are frustrated and fearful over what is happening in real classrooms in the name of slogans such as standards and accountability…

The problem rests partly with the tests themselves and partly with the use of ”high-stakes” systems that punish students and educators alike for low scores – regardless of whether the tests are reasonable. This approach to school reform was neatly captured in a sign spotted on a classroom wall: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Moreover, those who teach in low-income neighborhoods, where scores are often lowest, are the most likely to be branded as failures – and thus the most likely to leave. Its lofty rhetoric notwithstanding, the ”accountability” movement harms poor children most of all.

Not only teachers, but a growing number of parents have developed a dislike/hate relationship with the tests. Most support the idea of holding schools accountable, but oppose the simplistic equation of accountability with high scores. The testing of American children is already excessive; the last thing we need is a proposal for more.

(3) “High-Stakes Testing” – NCTM Position Statement

Source: NCTM News Bulletin – January/February 2001

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics believes that far-reaching and critical educational decisions should be made only on the basis of multiple measures. A well-conceived system of assessment and accountability must consist of a number of assessment components at various levels.


High-stakes tests are tests that are used to make significant educational decisions about children, teachers, schools, or school districts. To use a single objective test in the determination of such things as graduation, course credit, grade placement, promotion to the next grade, or placement in special groups is a serious misuse of such tests. This misuse of tests is unacceptable. The movement toward high-stakes testing marks a major retreat from fairness, accuracy, and educational equity. When test use is inappropriate, especially in making high-stakes decisions about a child’s future, it undermines the quality of education and equality of opportunity.

Just as disturbing as the serious misuse of these tests is the manner in which the content and format of these high-stakes tests tends to narrow the curriculum and limit instructional approaches. Test results may also be invalidated by teaching so narrowly to the objectives of a particular test that scores are raised without actually improving the broader, often more important, set of academic skills that the test is intended to measure.

Assessment should be a means of fostering growth toward high expectations and should support high levels of student learning. When assessments are used in thoughtful and meaningful ways, students’ scores provide important information that, when combined with information from other sources, can lead to decisions that promote student learning and equality of opportunity. The misuse of tests for high-stakes purposes has subverted the benefits these tests can bring if they are used appropriately.


Multiple sources of assessment information should be used when making high-stakes decisions. No single high-stakes test should be used for making decisions about the tracking, promotion, or graduation of individual children.


  • Assessment methods must be appropriate for their purposes.
  • All aspects of mathematical knowledge and its connections should be assessed.
  • Instruction and curriculum should be considered equally in judging the quality of a program.
  • Assessment should advance students’ learning and inform teachers as they make instructional decisions.
  • Assessment should be an open process with everyone knowing what is expected, what will be measured, and what the results imply for what should be done next.
  • If tests are used as one of multiple measures in making high-stakes decisions about students, those tests must be valid and reliable for the purposes for which they are used; they must measure what the student was taught; they must provide students with multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency; and they must provide appropriate accommodations for students with special needs or limited English proficiency.
  • All standardized assessments of mathematical understanding at the national, state, province, district, or classroom level should be aligned with the NCTM Standards.


(4) “AERA Position Statement Concerning High-Stakes Testing in PreK-12 Education”


The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the nation’s largest professional organization devoted to the scientific study of education. The AERA seeks to promote educational policies and practices that credible scientific research has shown to be beneficial, and to discourage those found to have negative effects. From time to time, the AERA issues statements setting forth its research-based position on educational issues of public concern. One such current issue is the increasing use of high-stakes tests as instruments of educational policy.

This position statement on high-stakes testing is based on the 1999 Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. The Standards represent a professional consensus concerning sound and appropriate test use in education and psychology. They are sponsored and endorsed by the AERA together with the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME). This statement is intended as a guide and a caution to policy makers, testing professionals, and test users involved in high-stakes testing programs. However, the Standards remain the most comprehensive and authoritative statement by the AERA concerning appropriate test use and interpretation.

Many states and school districts mandate testing programs to gather data about student achievement over time and to hold schools and students accountable. Certain uses of achievement test results are termed “high stakes” if they carry serious consequences for students or for educators. Schools may be judged according to the school-wide average scores of their students. High school-wide scores may bring public praise or financial rewards; low scores may bring public embarrassment or heavy sanctions. For individual students, high scores may bring a special diploma attesting to exceptional academic accomplishment; low scores may result in students being held back in grade or denied a high school diploma.

These various high-stakes testing applications are enacted by policy makers with the intention of improving education. For example, it is hoped that setting high standards of achievement will inspire greater effort on the part of students, teachers, and educational administrators. Reporting of test results may also be beneficial in directing public attention to gross achievement disparities among schools or among student groups. However, if high-stakes testing programs are implemented in circumstances where educational resources are inadequate or where tests lack sufficient reliability and validity for their intended purposes, there is potential for serious harm. Policy makers and the public may be misled by spurious test score increases unrelated to any fundamental educational improvement; students may be placed at increased risk of educational failure and dropping out; teachers may be blamed or punished for inequitable resources over which they have no control; and curriculum and instruction may be severely distorted if high test scores per se, rather than learning, become the overriding goal of classroom instruction.

This statement sets forth a set of conditions essential to sound implementation of high-stakes educational testing programs. It is the position of the AERA that every high-stakes achievement testing program in education should meet all of the following conditions:

  • Protection Against High-Stakes Decisions Based on a Single Test…
  • Adequate Resources and Opportunity to Learn…
  • Validation for Each Separate Intended Use…
  • Full Disclosure of Likely Negative Consequences of High-Stakes Testing Programs…
  • Alignment Between the Test and the Curriculum…
  • Validity of Passing Scores and Achievement Levels…
  • Opportunities for Meaningful Remediation for Examinees Who Fail High-Stakes Tests…
  • Appropriate Attention to Language Differences Among Examinees…
  • Appropriate Attention to Students with Disabilities…
  • Careful Adherence to Explicit Rules for Determining Which Students are to be Tested…
  • Sufficient Reliability for Each Intended Use…
  • Ongoing Evaluation of Intended and Unintended Effects of High-Stakes Testing…
  • (Adopted July 2000)