COMET • Vol. 3, No. 11 – 18 March 2002


(1) Item Writing Opportunity: California High School Exit Exam

Source:   ETS [Educational Testing Service] K-12 Works, Inc.


The purpose of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) is to ensure that students who graduate from high school can demonstrate grade level competency in the state content standards for reading, writing, and mathematics. Beginning with the 2003-2004 school year, all California public school students completing grade 12 must pass the CAHSEE before receiving their high school diploma. For more information, visit the California Department of Education’s CAHSEE home page at

The CAHSEE is aligned to the English-language arts and mathematics content standards adopted by the State Board of Education. The exam blueprint can be found on the CDE website at the address above. Sample CAHSEE questions can also be found at this site. On the State Board approved exam blueprints, the content standards in English-language arts are from the 9th/10th grade. The content standards in mathematics are from the 6th and 7th grade (i.e., number sense; algebra and functions; measurement and geometry; statistics, data analysis, and probability; and mathematical reasoning), and from Algebra 1.

The California Department of Education has chosen ETS as the contractor to develop, administer, and score the CAHSEE. As a subcontractor to ETS, ETS K-12 Works handles all item development activities for the contract…

ETS K-12 Works…[is] seeking qualified writers to develop original assessment items for the CAHSEE…  Teaching experience at the middle or high school level is preferred. Professionals with a related college degree and special knowledge of mathematics content will also be considered…

If you are interested in joining the ETS K-12 Works team of CAHSEE item writers, please email a letter of interest along with your resume to or fax your letter and resume to:

CAHSEE Coordinator

ETS K-12 Works, Inc.

FAX (210) 841-6235

Item Writer Training will be held in Oakland, CA on April 15-16, 2002 and in Orange County, CA on April 18-19, 2002. If you are selected to write items for the CAHSEE, you must attend one of the sessions.

(2) “Remedial Students Confront Exit Exam” by Sarah Krupp

Source:  Contra Costa Times – 10 March 2002


For most students who have to pass the high school exit exam, it is a mere bump on the road toward graduation. But for many of the approximately 700,000 teens who have already detoured into continuation high schools, it could be the final roadblock to getting a high school diploma.

During three days last week, thousands of ninth- and 10th-graders took an exam made up of 200 multiple-choice questions and two essays, which, under current law, will be the key to determine whether seniors get their diploma beginning in 2004.

While nearly all high schools have begun to change classes and requirements to prepare students for the exam, the state’s more than 500 continuation schools, which act as safety nets for students who may not graduate, face some of the largest challenges…

Although alternative schools must teach the same curriculum as mainstream high schools, students enter continuation schools with skills far below their grade level. That creates an enormous challenge to prepare these students for the exit exam.

In addition, most continuation school students take basic math, not algebra, Edwards said. Algebra makes up about 60 percent of the exit exam’s math portion.

Whether raising the bar will cause these students to reach for it or simply give up has created a debate among educators…

The quality of education at continuation schools will largely determine students’ success on the exam, according to Dennis Fisher, an education consultant with the state Department of Education. “In the good model (continuation) schools, they are going to do as well as any kid in any high school,” he said…

Many continuation schools give little or no homework and have shorter school days, making it difficult to teach the same skills and material as a mainstream high school.

The state pays continuation schools less in average-daily-attendance dollars, basing their funding on three hours of class time per day.

To pass the exit exam, students must correctly answer 60 percent of the English questions and 55 percent of the math questions. Last spring, 64 percent of the 370,000 freshmen who voluntarily took the exam made the cutoff in English-language arts and 44 percent passed the math portion.

To meet the challenge, continuation schools are revamping their curriculum and, like mainstream high schools, offering extra tutoring…Still, many continuation teachers think the exam may discourage students who are just beginning to recognize their own intelligence and skills…

(3) “Learning-Disabled Students Win Ruling” by Tamar Lewin (New York Times)

Source: Houston Chronicle – 18 March 2002


On Feb. 21, two weeks before [California] 10th-graders were to take a statewide language and math test, Judge Charles R. Breyer of U.S. District Court ruled that students with learning disabilities had the right to special treatment, through different assessment methods or accommodations.

It was the first time a state had been ordered to adjust the conditions for graduation exams for students with learning disabilities. The ruling came in response to an Oakland-based advocacy group’s challenge to the exam under federal disability laws.

With more than a dozen states putting graduation exams into effect in the next three years, the ruling has heightened the debate over how to accommodate such students.

Many states, including New York, already allow a broad range of options for disabled students. Instead of taking the regular test, they can give oral presentations or present portfolios of their work.

Some education experts say they worry, however, that as more students seek accommodations, the whole notion of standardized testing may break down. What is a diploma worth, they add, if students who cannot read, write or do arithmetic are allowed to pass tests?

With more than 12 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren identified as disabled–some with physical problems, but most with learning disabilities–concern is growing that some students say they have learning disabilities just to win easier testing conditions.

In recent years, half the states have enacted laws requiring that high school students pass standardized exams to graduate. These exams create a particularly tough hurdle for students with learning disabilities.

When California gave its first exam last year, on a voluntary basis, nine of 10 students with learning disabilities failed.

Advocacy groups for the disabled say that making a learning-disabled student take a standardized test without accommodations is as unfair as requiring a physically disabled child to run a race without a wheelchair.

“Standardized tests test students’ disabilities, not their abilities,” said Sid Wolinsky, a lawyer with Disability Rights Advocates, the Oakland group that challenged the California law. “No matter how well they master the content that’s being tested, they will fail the exam if they have real problems with reading or handwriting.”

While the judge’s order allowed students to use accommodations on the latest exam, it left open the question of whether their scores will be treated the same as those earned under regular conditions.

“The dilemma we find ourselves in is this fairness issue, where to draw the line with students who have some disability that makes it impossible to pass this test,” said Phil Spears, director of the California Department of Education’s Standards and Assessments Division.

“When special ed kids get out of school, they don’t go to special ed town, they go out and compete with all the rest of us.”



(1) “Does Two Plus Two Still Equal Four? What Should Our Children Know About Math?” – Forum sponsored on 4 March 2002 in Washington, D.C. by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for Public Policy Research

Source #1: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)


The title of the forum sets forth the premise held by some of the panelists that systematic mastery of basic skills and traditional methods are the only acceptable means of math instruction. Countering this premise were NCTM President Lee Stiff and Past President Gail Burrill who argued that yesterday’s basics are no longer enough; the basics must be expanded to match the needs of tomorrow.

Stiff and Burrill were joined by panelists David Klein of California State University at Northridge, Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, and Mike McKeown of Brown University and a cofounder of Mathematically Correct. The forum was moderated by Lynne Cheney, a senior fellow at AEI…

During the debate, Stiff and Burrill argued that students who are taught with curricula modeled after Principles and Standards will learn more math, be better problem solvers, and be better equipped for the future. They also cited NCTM’s Principles and Standards as excellent guidelines for teachers who are committed to engaging their students in more-challenging mathematics.

Watch the full debate on C-SPAN2 at (High Speed Internet access desired; RealPlayer is required for viewing).

To purchase a tape of this forum, call CSPAN Archives at 877-662-7726 and ask for a tape of the American Enterprise Institute Forum on Teaching Math held March 4, 2002, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. in Washington, D.C. To order online, [go to]

Source #2:  American Enterprise Institute


Despite efforts to improve mathematics education in the United States, the August 2001 National Assessment of Educational Progress report found that a majority of children are still unable to perform at a basic level in mathematics and that an achievement gap between white and minority students continues to persist in that subject.

In the ongoing debate over mathematics instruction, two divergent views have emerged, one emphasizing the systematic mastery of basic skills and standard methods, the other de-emphasizing the direct teaching of basic skills, encouraging the use of calculators from kindergarten on, and recommending that students discover methods of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division for themselves. This seminar will provide a lively and informative update on the mathematics education debate.

…Speakers’ bios:

…Lee V. Stiff’s 2nd handout:

…Lee V. Stiff’s 3rd handout:



2:45 p.m.–Registration [invitation only]


* Mike McKeown, Brown University []


* Gail Burrill, Michigan State University

* David Klein, California State University at Northridge []

* Tom Loveless, Brookings Institution []

* Lee V. Stiff, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics []

Moderator: Lynne V. Cheney, AEI

5:00–Wine and Cheese Reception

(2) “Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002” – Live Webcast this Wednesday

Source: Committee on Education and the Workforce – 18 March 2002


[Note: A hearing on H.R. 3801 (“Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002”) will be broadcast from the Rayburn House Office Building on 20 March 2003 at 10:30 a.m. ET:]

Bill-Specific URL:

Improving Educational Research

H.R. 3801, Education Sciences Reform Act

Sponsor: Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Michael Castle (R-DE)

Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Michael Castle (R-DE) has led efforts to emphasize scientifically-based education research and reform the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) as part of President Bush’s effort to ensure that federal education programs produce results.  On February 27, Castle introduced the Education Sciences Reform Act, which aims to improve the quality of education research.  The Education Reform Subcommittee approved the measure on March 13, 2002.

Bill Summary:

Press Statements [hot links available at]:

* Subcommittee Approves Bill to Improve Quality of Education Research – March 13, 2002

* Education Leaders Testify on Importance of High Standards and Independence in Education Research – February 28, 2002

* Castle Introduces Legislation to Improve Quality of Education Research – February 27, 2002

* House GOP Education Leaders Praise Creation of National Center for Educational Accountability – November 8, 2001

* Education Research Critical to Improving America’s Schools in the 21st Century – July 17, 2001

(3) “New ECS Report Explores What ESEA Means for States” – Press Release

Source: Education Commission of the States – 21 February 2002 (contact: Kim Sharpe 303-299-3680)


In response to President Bush signing into law the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Education Commission of the States (ECS) has released

a new publication designed to help state leaders understand what the new law will mean for them.

“No State Left Behind–The Challenges and Opportunities of ESEA 2001”:

–    Summarizes the new law

–    Looks at where the states stand in regard to ESEA requirements

–    Provides questions for policymakers to consider when deciding how to respond to ESEA.

“The new ESEA provides both opportunities and challenges,” said Ted Sanders, ECS president. “On the plus side, it provides new resources and tools, including a significant increase in federal education funding. Sections of the act provide for flexibility, reading programs, charter schools and other improvements.

“On the other hand, the bill includes strict deadlines regarding student testing, revamping accountability systems, improving teachers’ skills, and showing annual progress in increasing student achievement and narrowing the test-score gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students.

“I believe ‘No State Left Behind’ will be an invaluable tool as policymakers evaluate their state education systems and decide how to move forward on the bill’s required sections and whether to participate in the voluntary programs.”

“No State Left Behind: The Challenges and Opportunities of ESEA 2001” (#GP-02-01) is available on the Internet at Print copies are available for $12.50 plus postage and handling by calling the ECS Distribution Center at 303.299.3692 or e-mailing Media representatives may call Kim Sharpe at 303.299.3680 for a free copy.

For more information about “No State Left Behind” or ESEA itself, contact Kathy Christie, ECS vice president, Information Management & Clearinghouse, at 303.299.3613 or

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) is a national, nonprofit organization that helps governors, legislators, state education officials and others identify, develop and implement public policies to improve student learning at all levels. A nonpartisan organization, ECS was formed in 1965 and is located in Denver, Colorado.

(4) “Agency Looks for Balance Policing ESEA” by Erik W. Robelen

Source: Education Week – 13 March 2002


…State and district leaders across the country are hoping the federal Education Department won’t be too rigid in interpreting and enforcing the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.

It’s a balance the department will try to strike again and again as it seeks to translate the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into reality: offering states and districts a proper measure of latitude without compromising core elements of the law.

Agency leaders have stressed their desire to work in “partnership” with states and districts. But at times, the federal partner may need to act more like a parent for the law to be fully carried out.

“It’s called tough love,” said Susan B. Neuman, the department’s assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. “We really want to, where we can, be flexible. …However, we are very clear about the importance of accountability for change and school improvement.” She added: “We are here to enforce the law.”

The department will encounter plenty of difficult decisions in coming months, and years, as it works to implement the latest revision of the 37-year- old ESEA, the main federal law on K-12 education.

For starters, the department has begun writing regulations and guidance to help govern compliance and to ensure states and districts are clear about federal expectations. How it interprets and fleshes out the legislative provisions sets the stage for how the law will be carried out.

In addition, the agency will monitor and evaluate state and district efforts to comply with myriad requirements, including complex matters on testing, data collection, and demonstration of student-achievement gains…

The implementation issues are complex, and at times will be politically delicate.

Take testing. The law requires that within four years, all states must test students annually in grades 3-8 in reading and mathematics, and use those tests to help drive accountability systems intended to ensure that all students are proficient within 12 years. It spells out some specifics on what those tests should look like.

But the final legislative language already has spurred endless questions and disagreement over what is required. How the department writes the regulations on standards and testing, and how it judges the acceptability of testing regimes, will have a huge impact on states…

The draft rules are just the opening act. This week, the department is convening a variety of interested parties–state and district leaders, teachers, parents, and others that it selected–to work on the federal proposal. The ESEA requires this “negotiated rulemaking” for testing and standards requirements.

It’s unclear how much influence the negotiators will have. The law states that if the rules the Education Department proposes after completing negotiations diverge from any agreement reached, the secretary of education must simply provide a written explanation.

On those regulations and in other areas, many state and district officials are urging the department to be flexible…

A critical challenge will be handling noncompliance. Critics say the agency has a long history of being a paper tiger. In fact, no state has ever lost federal funds for failing to comply with the ESEA, even though only 17 states have met the standards and assessment requirements from the last version of the law, passed in 1994…

Asked about the prospect of withholding federal money, Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok, who along with Ms. Neuman will oversee the ESEA implementation, replied: “No one wants to have to do it, but I can assure you that should we have to, we are prepared to. That is not meant as a threat. …Our first goal is a full partnership, but our intent is to comply with the law”…

Mr. Hickok said the department means business when it comes to deadlines. “There’s a sense of urgency here,” he said. “We’re not interested in a lot of conversations about delay.” He added, “Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a reasonable standard. … But we all know what the law is. Let’s get the job done”…

In a sign of that mobilization, department officials say they are setting up a “war room.” Mr. Hickok described it as “a nerve center” to provide information on the ESEA’s implementation, such as the compliance status of states. In addition, the war room will be a resource for people outside the department, with a toll-free number–(888) 814-NCLB–for questions…

And speaking at an ESEA symposium last month, Mr. Hickok said the department would cast a wider net to hold an “extended conversation with the American people” about the new law.

“It’s very apparent to me that if we are to succeed not just in implementing the law, but in changing education,” the undersecretary said, “we really do have to remember who the audience is.”


Related article in the same issue of Education Week:  “Fleshing Out the ESEA”:

The Department of Education has begun to craft the rules and guidelines needed for carrying out the general requirements embedded in the new Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As required by the ESEA, a collaborative “negotiated rulemaking” process will help hammer out the rules for standards and testing under Title I. [The article contains]… a timeline for a few of the key actions the department is undertaking. The dates may be subject to change.


Note:  Also see the “Statement of Secretary Rod Paige before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor/HHS/Education Appropriations on the FY 2003 Budget Request” for the Department of Education (14 March 2002):