COMET • Vol. 3, No. 12 – 27 March 2002


(1) Highlights from the [California] State Board of Education’s March 6, 2002 Meeting

Source:  State Board of Education (916-657-5478)


Mockler to Retire as SBE Executive Director:  SBE Executive Director John Mockler will retire from his post effective April 3, concluding a more than two-year tenure during which the Board successfully completed landmark action, it was announced at the Board’s March meeting. Under Mockler’s tenure as executive director, the Board adopted and maintained policies that maintained a clear commitment to the state’s academic content standards. Among the highlights were the following: the historic adoption last January of Reading-Language Arts/English Language Development instructional materials that include specially designed instructional strategies to ensure English learners have equal access to the state’s rigorous academic content standards; the launching of key initiatives and programs to boost professional development for teachers and principals on these standards and materials; the reauthorization of the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program; and continued school achievement as measured by the Academic Performance Index, the annual statewide ranking of schools.

The Board authorized Board President Reed Hastings to negotiate conditions of employment and to employ Rick Brandsma to be the new executive director of the Board. Brandsma currently is the chief operating officer of State Net, a leading provider of online information on legislative and regulatory activities of the 50 states and Congress. Before entering the private sector, Brandsma held a number of key positions with the Legislature. For eight years he served as the head program analyst for K-12 education in the office of Legislative Analyst A. Alan Post. In that capacity, he and his staff conducted an annual review of the CDE budget and presented recommendations for improved effectiveness and efficiencies to the Legislature’s fiscal committees. In addition, Brandsma also served as the director of the Assembly Office of Research for three years, and also served as the Assembly’s chief administrative officer.

[Related story:]

API:  The State Board approved the integration of the California Standards Tests in Mathematics into the 2002 Base API in accordance with the recommendations of CDE staff, except to the extent that the recommendations involve performance standards (levels) for the California General Mathematics Standards Test and Integrated Mathematics Standards Tests, which have yet to be adopted. However, should the State Board adopt performance standards (levels) for the California General Mathematics Standards Test and Integrated Mathematics Standards Tests in time to effectuate the recommendations for the 2002 Base API, then the recommendations shall be implemented in full.

(2) “State Schools Official Has Lobbyist Ties” by Aurelio Rojas

Source:  Sacramento Bee – 24 March 2002


The executive director of the California Board of Education has received thousands of dollars from two lobbyists who represent the textbook industry and other clients before the board, records show.

John Mockler said he was owed the money for the sale of his lobbying firm, which Dale Shimasaki and Bill Chavez said they purchased 10 months before Mockler was asked by Gov. Gray Davis to take the job in November 1999.

Being owed money by lobbyists who do business with the board “seems tacky,” Mockler acknowledged in an interview. But he said the state Fair Political Practices Commission assured him it was not illegal…

Mockler, who announced recently he will step down April 3, will be a consultant to the board while it decides who gets a $130 million contract for the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program.

Textbook publishing and standardized testing are dominated by the same handful of large companies. Lobbying is fierce for California’s lucrative market, which often influences how education materials fare in other states.

Like other interest groups, publishers work quietly behind the scenes and depend on lobbyists–and access to policy-makers–to press their cases…

Few people in the Capitol know as much about education funding as Mockler, a former legislative aide and lobbyist who is credited with drafting Proposition 98, the landmark 1988 ballot measure that set minimum state funding guarantees for schools…

After 15 years of operating several lobbying firms specializing in education policy, Mockler said the governor talked him into coming to work for him.

Textbook adoption is the only duty of the board spelled out in the California Constitution. Since Mockler went to work on the board–a stint that was interrupted for six months while he served as Davis’ education secretary–the board has adopted textbooks in four core areas.

During this period, Shimasaki and Chavez have paid Mockler thousands of dollars in loan payments while representing clients ranging from the publishers association to local school districts.

Mockler said that because the association represents all its members–and not individual publishers–his long relationship with the trade group has not influenced which publishers receive state contracts.

However, the politically charged textbook adoption process that was completed in January pitted traditionalists against proponents of new teaching methods. The latter group said their cause was hindered by what they believe was the close relationship between Mockler and the publishing community…

(3) Mathematics Proposed Performance Standards (Levels): General Mathematics Standards Test and Integrated Mathematics Standards Tests

Source:  California State Board of Education – 22 March 2002


Notice of public meetings: April 8, 2002; April 15, 2002; April 24, 2002

…In 2001, California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program reports, for the first time, included student performance results in English-language arts. Performance standards (levels) relate exclusively to students’ scores on the California Standards Tests, which are fully aligned to California’s rigorous academic content standards. The designations for these performance standards (levels) are Advanced, Proficient, Basic, Below Basic, and Far Below Basic.

For 2002 and thereafter, reporting of student achievement based on these performance standards (levels) has been expanded to include the California Standards Tests in history-social science and, in part, in mathematics and science. In addition, the performance standards (levels) in English-language arts have been modified at grades four and seven to incorporate students’ scores on the direct writing assessment now conducted at those grades.

The State Board of Education is now proposing to adopt performance standards (levels) for the new General Mathematics Standards Test, which will be administered to students in grades eight and nine who are not taking a higher-order mathematics course (e.g., Algebra I or Geometry). In addition, the State Board is proposing to adopt performance standards (levels) for the three Integrated Mathematics Standards Tests (Integrated 1, Integrated 2, and Integrated 3)…

The regional public hearings are for the purpose of gathering comments from a cross-section of interested parties, including teachers, administrators, school board members and other local elected officials, business leaders, parents, guardians, and students.

Comments and suggestions are sought on the following matters:

* The appropriateness of the five proposed performance standard (level) designations for reporting the results of the General Mathematics Standards Tests and the Integrated Mathematics Standards Tests.

* The proposed “cut scores” (minimum number and percentage of correct responses) on the respective tests that determine students’ performance standards (levels)…

Individuals need not come to one of the regional public hearings to present their comments. The State Board would be delighted to receive comments by mail, e-mail, or fax. To allow time for copying, written submissions to be distributed to the State Board members need to be received at the State Board Office no later than Friday, April 12, 2002: California State Board of Education; 721 Capitol Mall, Room 558; Sacramento, CA 95814 (e-mail:; fax: (916) 653-7016



(1) “Misunderstood Minds” (PBS Special)

Source: PBS (Airs tonight–check for area times and for a link to a 4 p.m. ET live chat with Richard D. Lavoie, an “authority on learning differences)


Millions of American children struggle in school daily because of serious learning problems. The causes are often unknown, specific problems can be difficult to pinpoint, and the long-term effects hard to predict.

Research in the field of learning problems took off in the 1960s, when the first federal funds were earmarked to support children with specific learning disabilities. Experts know more now than ever before, but the evolution of that knowledge also parallels the rise of standardized tests and the current era of high-stakes testing. The tension between the demand for academic success and the stubborn reality of a problem makes learning difficulties one of the most contentious topics in an increasingly competitive and educated society.

It comes as no surprise that when a child can’t read or write or pay attention–and when the problem doesn’t go away–parents, educators, experts, and policymakers often collide in an earnest struggle to find answers.

The landscape of learning problems encompasses a range of expert opinions. Different approaches to terminology and treatment reflect that range. Some learning specialists use the phrase “learning differences” to describe cognitive strengths and weaknesses without labels that they believe may erode children’s self-esteem and motivation to succeed. Neurologists and other learning specialists prefer the phrase “learning disabilities” to describe specific neurocognitive breakdowns in otherwise bright children and to underscore the existence of disabling conditions.

In the middle of this landscape there is common ground. Everyone agrees that “disability” is a term with legal ramifications; virtually all of the funding to support children with specific problems is tied to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And while learning differences and disabilities don’t go away, the research and work of learning experts in the last 40 years translates into effective strategies that help children succeed.

This site is a companion to the PBS special “Misunderstood Minds,” and profiles a variety of learning problems and expert opinions. It is designed to give parents and teachers a better understanding of learning processes, insights into difficulties, and strategies for responding.


Related links:

Basics of Mathematics

Mathematics is often thought of as a subject that a student either understands or doesn’t, with little in between. In reality, mathematics encompasses a wide variety of skills and concepts. Although these skills and concepts are related and often build on one another, it is possible to master some and still struggle with others. For instance, a child who has difficulty with basic multiplication facts may be successful in another area, such as geometry. An individual student may have some areas of relative strength and others of real vulnerability.

In recent years, researchers have examined aspects of the brain that are involved when children think with numbers. Most researchers agree that memory, language, attention, temporal-sequential ordering, higher-order cognition, and spatial ordering are among the neurodevelopmental functions that play a role when children think with numbers. These components become part of an ongoing process in which children constantly integrate new concepts and procedural skills as they solve more advanced math problems.

For children to succeed in mathematics, a number of brain functions need to work together. Children must be able to use memory to recall rules and formulas and recognize patterns; use language to understand vocabulary, instructions, and explain their thinking; and use sequential ordering to solve multi-step problems and use procedures. In addition, children must use spatial ordering to recognize symbols and deal with geometric forms. Higher-order cognition helps children to review alternative strategies while solving problems, to monitor their thinking, to assess the reasonableness of their answers, and to transfer and apply learned skills to new problems. Often, several of these brain functions need to operate simultaneously…

Difficulties with Mathematics: What Can Stand in the Way of a Math Student’s Development?

Math disabilities can arise at nearly any stage of a child’s scholastic development. While very little is known about the neurobiological or environmental cause of these problems, many experts attribute them to deficits in one or more of five different skill types. These deficits can exist independently of one another or can occur in combination. All can impact a child’s ability to progress in their mathematical development…

(2) “College Board to Revise SAT” by Tamar Lewin

Source: The New York Times – 23 March 2002


The College Board is planning to revamp the main SAT test taken by generations of college-bound students, acknowledging that it is doing so partly in response to criticism from the University of California and others that the test does not reflect enough of what is actually learned in the classroom.

The exact nature of the changes, which would take effect with the high school class graduating in 2006, will not be determined until the College Board trustees next meet in June. But the College Board trustees took the first step on Thursday by asking the staff for recommendations on revising the three-hour verbal and math test…

Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, said the revised test would likely require students to provide a handwritten short essay and multiple-choice writing questions, along with more advanced math problems based less on aptitude and reasoning, and more on problem-solving learned in second year algebra or perhaps trigonometry. Currently, the exam’s math problems cover only arithmetic, first-year algebra and geometry.

“Obviously the writing is a whole new thing, but it’s something that was recommended to be added as far back as 1993,” Mr. Caperton said. “You can only change so much if you want to have longitudinal data, comparing results over the years, which is very important. We’re not creating a whole new test, we’re making some improvements. I would be very surprised if more than half the test changed. Most of it will be similar to what’s been on there in the past.”

Mr. Caperton said that while it is too early to outline how each section of the so-called SAT I might change, it is likely that the analogy section of the verbal test would either be eliminated or cut back.

“Analogies have analytical thinking that is very important, but some people feel that reading comprehension can measure the same kind of intellectual skill, and maybe in a fairer way,” he said. “Reading is more consistent with what people are learning in school, and more connected to the curriculum.”

While Mr. Caperton played down the extent of the likely changes, his description of the goals of the process reflect a profound change, turning what was once deemed an aptitude, or intelligence, test–until 1990, the S.A.T. stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test–into an achievement test designed to measure what is actually learned in the classroom.

“What you’re learning in the classroom should be critically important to how you do on this test, ” Mr. Caperton said. “That should help focus people on improving the classroom, making it more and more clear that the issue is not the test, it’s an unequal educational system.”

Nicholas Lemann, whose 1999 book, “The Big Test,” traced the rise of the SAT, said he was heartened by the proposed shift, not because it would do much to change the system of admissions to the nation’s most selective colleges, but because it might help improve education for millions of high school students…

The College Board has been re-thinking the SAT I for some years, as more colleges, including Bates, Bowdoin and Mount Holyoke, have dropped it from their requirements.

But the board was galvanized last year when Dr. Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California, proposed replacing the SAT I with a new test that would more closely reflect the state’s high school curriculum. That university, and other critics, have expressed concern that the SAT I favors students from middle- and upper-income families–and that both grade-point average and SAT II subject test scores are better predictors of which students are likely to succeed in college.

“When Dr. Atkinson said he didn’t want the University of California to use the SAT, it really speeded us up, and heightened what we’re doing,” said Mr. Caperton, a former governor of West Virginia.

The nine-campus, 178,000-student University of California is the biggest user of the SAT I. Earlier this month, a U.C. faculty committee recommended that the school replace the test, beginning in 2006, with a new core test, supplemented by subject-matter tests, along the lines of the SAT II’s, concrete knowledge tests offered in 22 subjects from world history and physics to Japanese.

Both the College Board and ACT–the rival exam, which is more popular in the central United States, and more achievement-based–have been working with the university to create a test that would meet the university’s wish for a core test linked closely to California’s curriculum. Mr. Caperton expressed hope that the new SAT I might eliminate the need for a new California test.

“Transportability is really important, so that you can measure in-state students and out-of-state students by the same yardstick,” Mr. Caperton said. “If we come up with a new test, I’m sure they’ll give it very strong consideration.”


Related article: “College Board Mulls Changes in SAT Exam”

(3) “Texas Educators to Play Big Role in SAT Decision” by Ron Nissimov

Source:  Houston Chronicle – 27 March 2002


Joe Estrada, who oversees the admissions office at Texas A&M University, will have much more on his mind in the coming months than who gets to be an Aggie. Estrada is one of 14 members of the Princeton, N.J.-based College Board asked to explore potentially profound changes to the SAT 1 college entrance exam.

Although talk of such changes was spurred by threats from the University of California system to ditch the test, Texas educators will play a significant role in deciding whether to reform the 75-year-old exam. The College Board is a nonprofit group of 4,200 educational institutions that administers the SAT 1, SAT 2 and Advanced Placement tests.

In addition to Estrada’s role on a subcommittee investigating which changes to recommend, seven Texas higher education officials serve on the College Board’s 30-member board of trustees, which would vote on any proposals. Texas has the highest number of trustees, and Massachusetts is second with six.

Although Estrada is not a College Board trustee, he and a trustee from Texas said they support the likely changes, which would not be implemented until 2006…

The proposed changes would have a large impact in Texas, which ranks behind only California in the number of SAT 1 tests administered. Out of the 2.5 million tests given nationwide last year, 297,000 were in California and 208,000 were in Texas.

“As we look at it from the admissions point of view, the graduating rank of the student has a higher predictive value of student achievement than the SAT examination,” said Estrada, A&M’s vice provost for enrollment.

“If you can raise the predictive value of the assessment examination, it benefits all students taking the examination and it certainly benefits those of us in admissions making the decision,” he said. “Certainly the intent of the discussions is to raise the predictive value, and I’m very optimistic that’s exactly what will occur”…

Bruce Walker, the admissions director at the University of Texas at Austin and a College Board trustee, said it is too soon to tell if the changes would be good. He said he is concerned about practical issues, such as whether the millions of essays could be graded in time for admissions decisions.

Walker agreed with Wright and Estrada that the test would not be “dumbed down” as a result of the discussed changes.

Changes are scheduled to be recommended to trustees on June 26. Wright said she expects trustees to vote that day or soon after.

College Board officials have vigorously defended the test from criticism in recent years that it is out of date and unfair to minorities. For decades, white and Asian students have scored significantly higher than black and Hispanic students.

College Board officials cite their own studies showing the test is an accurate predictor of college performance. Nevertheless, the board announced last week that it is considering sweeping reforms similar to those demanded by Richard Atkinson, the president of the University of California system…

Although Atkinson has tried to find ways to admit more blacks and Hispanics to California’s most competitive public institutions, UC-Berkeley and UCLA, he has denied that his calls for reforms were motivated by a desire to help minority applicants.

Brian O’Reilly, executive director of the SAT program, said it is a “bogus argument” that the reforms would help minorities.

He said the scoring gap found among ethnic groups taking the SAT 1 also is found in more achievement-based tests, such as the SAT 2 and the ACT, the main competitor to the SAT 1.

O’Reilly said Atkinson’s threats served as a catalyst for exploring changes to the SAT 1, but said the College Board has been considering similar changes for years. Reforms in 1993 and 1994 eliminated an antonym vocabulary section, increased emphasis on reading comprehension questions and math problem solving, and allowed the use of calculators for the first time…

(4) “Early Scores on SAT Test Posted Online for a Price” by Tamar Lewin

Source: The New York Times – 10 March 2002


As if waiting for the results of the SAT test did not provoke enough anxiety among high school students, those who register online to take the test now face a new source of tension.

Thirteen days after taking the test, they receive an e-mail message from the College Board telling them that their scores are available online. But to see them right away, the students must pay an extra $13. If they can wait another eight days, the message says, the scores will be available free, online and by mail…

“This is a totally optional service that we started with the October tests,” said Brian O’Reilly, executive director of the SAT program…

“I must admit that some students have said, `If I can see them free in a few days, why are you charging me now?”‘ Mr. O’Reilly said. “The answer is that designing a Web site costs money, and while we try to keep the service fees low for things that are required to participate, we peg fees at a slightly higher rate for optional services, to help subsidize the other fees.”

Out of about three million test- takers, about 450,000 have been willing to pay extra for early scores.

(5) “College Board to Drop Policy Letting Students Select Best Test Scores” by Darcia Harris Bowman

Source:  Education Week – 6 March 2002


High school students who take the SAT II subject tests required for admission to many colleges soon will no longer be able to choose which scores the colleges see.

Officials of the College Board said the organization’s guidance and admissions committee recommended dropping the score-choice option that thousands of college-bound students use each year, because it wastes the time of high school counselors and college-admissions officers and gives affluent students an unfair advantage.

Under the 9-year-old policy, the officials say, students who can afford the cost and have received better academic guidance–whether at home or in school–are able to take the SAT II multiple times in an effort to get better scores. Students who are less well-off don’t enjoy that advantage…

The new policy will likely take effect next school year. Students taking SAT II subject exams this year will still have the option of withholding scores…

The College Board, whose membership includes more than 4,200 educational institutions and organizations, introduced the SAT II tests in 1993 to supplement its Scholastic Achievement Test of reasoning, now called the SAT I, according to a spokeswoman for the board. Of last year’s college- bound high school seniors, 252,504 took SAT II subject tests sometime during their high school careers, while 1.3 million took the SAT I.

Only 59 colleges require SAT II exams for admissions, while 69 recommend them. Those schools typically want students to take at least three different subject tests. The SAT II has been the only exam offered by the College Board that allows students the option of holding back scores…


Editor’s Note: Gerald Bracey’s analysis of the percentage of students scoring 650 or higher on each section of the SAT I can be found at“The SAT Elite”).



(1) National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Source: Laurie Boswell (

The 2003 Annual Meeting of the NCTM will be held in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday April 9 through Sunday April 12.  The major venue will be the newly expanded San Antonio Convention Center…

Please consider submitting a proposal for the conference.  Information about the types of sessions, criteria for selection, answers to other frequently asked questions, and the proposal form are available online at or through NCTM’s Fax on Demand service: 800-220-8483.

Proposals must be submitted by May 1, 2002 to be considered.

(2) School Science and Mathematics Association

Source: Linda Gojak (

The 2002 Annual Meeting of the School Science and Mathematics Association will take place on October 3-5, 2002 in Rochester, New York.

A call for speakers is out and the speaker proposal form is available on the SSMA website at

The proposal submission deadline is April 30, 2002.