COMET • Vol. 3, No. 16 – 26 April 2002


(1) “State Adopts New School Tests” by Elizabeth Bell

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle – 25 April 2002


After forging a school accountability program based on the Stanford 9 achievement test, the California state Board of Education opted yesterday to switch tests despite fears that doing so will disrupt tracking of year-to-year student progress.

Since Gov. Gray Davis made the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program the centerpiece of his educational reforms five years ago, the state has used Harcourt Educational Measurement’s Stanford 9 test.

The state’s contract with Harcourt is up this summer, and the board considered new testing proposals from four companies, including Harcourt. It chose to offer a three-year contract to the Educational Testing Service, which will administer the California Achievement Test.

All the testing companies in contention had pledged that scores from any new test could be equated to those on the Stanford 9 so that educators can continue tracking student progress based on the existing five years of testing data. To do so, some students next year will be given all or parts of both the California Achievement Test and the Stanford 9 test so California can determine how the two compare.

School officials, however, are skeptical that the state will make a smooth transition between tests — a big worry because the stakes for schools are so high.

Teachers and schools that improve their test scores stand to gain thousands of dollars in state financing. Schools that consistently don’t improve face sanctions.

Although many teachers have been critical of the Stanford 9 test, some would rather stay with what they know than change to a test they doubt is any better.

“We need the stability of the same test to see if our efforts are truly making a difference,” said Betty White, director of curriculum for the Calaveras County Unified School District. “Our teachers have worked real hard and they need to see that evidence.”

Department of Education officials note that even if the state had stayed with Harcourt, students would have taken a different test next year. Harcourt substantially revised its Stanford 9 test into a new test, the Stanford 10.

Ultimately, the board opted to go with Educational Testing Service because it felt the nonprofit company would be best at helping the state develop another arm of its accountability program — tests based on California’s academic standards.

Norm-referenced tests such as the Stanford 9 and the California Achievement Test are not based on California’s academic standards but are used to compare California with students nationally.

The state already gives some standards-based tests in math, reading and writing to second- through 11th-graders, and for high schoolers, history, science and math. It wants to develop science and social studies tests for lower grades as well…

(2) CAHSEE Item Review Committee Opportunities – Deadline May 17th

Source: Deb Brown (512-796-5567) – 22 April 2002

ETS K-12 Works is a subcontractor to ETS for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).  The California Department of Education (CDE) 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.  We are currently recruiting people to serve on the CAHSEE Item Review Committee to review items for the CAHSEE for content, clarity, and standards.  This is a terrific opportunity for current or retired teachers with high school teaching experience…

For details regarding the CAHSEE Item Review Committee and for application information, please visit the ETS CAHSEE website at  Click on the “Document Library” link on the left-hand side of the page and then scroll down to the “Item Review Committee Application” section.

We are holding three Content Review Sessions for Math and English language arts in August and three Community Review Sessions in September…The deadline for application submission is May 17th and we are filling our positions on a first-come, first-served basis, for qualified applicants…

(3) “Teachers Try to Upend School Reforms” by Jim Sanders

Source: The Sacramento Bee – 19 April 2002


[Editor’s Note: AB 2347 passed the California Assembly Education Committee by a vote of 8-6 on April 24. For more information on Assembly bills, go to]

California’s largest teachers union is pushing to dismantle the state’s system for testing students, ranking schools and enforcing accountability — linchpins in the multibillion-dollar academic reforms of recent years.

Legislation sponsored by the California Teachers Association would create a new state testing program, controlled by teachers, and would kill plans to require high school students to pass an exit examination before receiving a diploma.

AB 2347 marks a frontal assault on the policies of Gov. Gray Davis, who recently announced his opposition to the CTA’s attempt to expand collective bargaining to include academic issues, such as textbook selection.

Davis has not announced a position on AB 2347, but his secretary of education, Kerry Mazzoni, adamantly opposes it.

“I’m very, very concerned about that bill,” Mazzoni said. “I feel we have a testing program in place that’s working, and we need to stay the course.”

The measure by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, essentially would gut the state’s existing carrot and stick approach to accountability because it would mandate that “high-stakes decisions” not be based on test scores alone.

AB 2347 specifically eliminates monetary awards granted to teachers, staff or to campuses for significantly improving student scores.

Stiff sanctions for consistent school failure — such as campus closure or a state takeover — could not be imposed under AB 2347 unless the state significantly altered its accountability program to consider more than just test scores.

Wayne Johnson, president of the 330,000-member union, said teachers simply feel the state’s current testing system is “terribly flawed,” producing too many tests that eat into valuable classroom time and don’t adequately measure student knowledge…

AB 2347 is part of a larger, long-term strategy by Goldberg to give teachers more influence over school policies and to quit demoralizing educators by threatening them over poor student performance due largely to poverty. Hold teachers accountable, but not for socioeconomic factors they can’t control — and not by test scores alone, Goldberg said.

“Things are not going to get better by browbeating the principal or telling the teachers they’re slugs or worms,” she said.

AB 2347, set to be heard Wednesday by the Assembly Education Committee, calls for:

* The state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR) to be replaced by a new achievement test that would be aligned to state standards and minimize classroom disruptions.

* Creation of a new state board to administer the tests, thus removing responsibility from the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education. Five members would be appointed by the governor and one apiece by the Assembly speaker and Senate Rules Committee. The bill requires that a majority of board members be teachers.

* Students to be tested only in third through 11th grades, thus eliminating testing of second-graders that some educators say is critical for early intervention into reading problems and for assessing whether the state’s class-size reduction program is raising performance. Critics contend that lengthy, high-stakes testing is stressful and unwarranted at such a young age.

* Students not to be tested if they aren’t proficient in English. Currently, scores of immigrant students are counted if they’ve been enrolled in the district for a year. Supporters say such testing is necessary, despite the language problem, because year-to-year improvement can be tracked.

* Elimination of performance-based rewards to teachers or schools, and elimination of the soon-to-be-imposed requirement that students pass a high school exit examination to receive a diploma.

Many segments of the education community wholeheartedly support the thrust of AB 2347: de-emphasizing “nationally normed” tests that provide comparisons with other states but are not aligned with California’s course standards.

In years past, California has tested students and ranked schools solely on a national test — the SAT 9 — that did not always reflect what students were learning in class.

Elementary and middle school students consistently have improved their SAT 9 scores the past three years, while high school scores have been stagnant.

California is changing its testing system and by next year the emphasis will be on a separate test that better measures state curriculum, state officials said. The SAT 9 will not be eliminated, but a shorter version is planned.

Gordon said the state is making progress in switching to standards-based testing, and that it makes no sense to create a new system that leaves management of students’ testing in the hands of their instructors.

“That’s a little like the fox guarding the henhouse,” Gordon said. “All the issues (AB 2347) raises are fine to debate, but to try to eliminate everything in one fell swoop would take us backward.”

Goldberg is not satisfied with the pace of change, however, and wants a comprehensive overhaul — not fine-tuning by the existing bureaucracy.

“I spent a lot of time watching kids get beat down by a system not designed to meet their needs,” said Goldberg, a former high school teacher. “I’m not going to sit around and say I don’t know what I know.”

Under AB 2347, the new board would have discretion, if it desires, to retain portions of the existing testing program.

The California School Boards Association, the California Association of School Business Officials and the state Department of Education have taken no formal position on AB 2347.

“We’re working with the author to find areas where we can collaborate on the bill,” said Holly Jacobson, assistant executive director of the school boards association. “There are some pieces we’re obviously sympathetic to, like moving to a standards-based testing system.”

A key member of the Senate Education Committee, Democrat Deirdre Alpert of Coronado, said she strongly supports standards-based testing and favors eliminating financial rewards that can “pit one person against another.” But Alpert said she can’t support killing the existing testing program. “I’d like to see us look at ways to improve the current system,” she said.

(4) “Teacher Textbook Measure Wins OK” by Jim Sanders

Source: The Sacramento Bee – 25 April 2002


Fierce debate over legislation to expand teachers’ collective bargaining rights into textbook and other academic areas ended late Wednesday with the Assembly Education Committee narrowly approving the measure.

After two hours of debate on AB 2160, the panel’s vote hung in limbo for nearly four hours because the initial roll call finished 6-4, two votes shy of passage. A second vote shortly before midnight ended the impasse, 8-4.

The legislation is sponsored by the California Teachers Association and opposed by school administrators, school boards and school business officials.

The author of the bill, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, claims it would replace dictatorial, top-down decision-making with a collaborative process that would recognize teachers’ expertise and help stimulate school improvement.

“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten,” Goldberg said. “And what we’ve got isn’t good enough.”

AB 2160’s supporters say teachers know what works best in school districts because they work directly with students. But opponents claim AB 2160 would allow educational issues to be held hostage to teachers’ demands for higher pay.

“Collective bargaining is a drawn-out expensive process,” said Alfonso Anaya of the Alisal Union School District in Salinas. “Educational reform measures do not belong in the collective bargaining arena.”

Attempting to eliminate criticism that AB 2160 would give teachers leverage in contract talks, Goldberg and the CTA unveiled amendments to limit any collective bargaining the bill spawned to specific academic issues – not pay or fringe benefits.

The proposed compromise failed to satisfy opponents, who opposed expanding collective bargaining in any way and who were wary that teachers’ unions would find a way to sidestep the restrictions on using AB 2160 as a bargaining chip.

Angry fighting over the measure has split the education community for months. Gov. Gray Davis said this month that he favors giving teachers a stronger role in decision-making but does not support an expansion of collective bargaining.

Voting in favor of AB 2160 were Democrats Goldberg, Virginia Strom-Martin of Duncan Mills, Tom Calderon of Montebello, Juan Vargas of San Diego, Simon Salinas of Salinas, Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills, Lou Correa of Anaheim and Sarah Reyes of Fresno.

Several Democrats said they want to see additional amendments before the bill reaches the Assembly floor.

Voting against AB 2160 were Republicans Mark Wyland of Escondido, Lynne Leach of Walnut Creek, Robert Pacheco of Walnut and Bill Campbell of Villa Park.

Currently, teachers unions can negotiate salaries, benefits and working conditions. They also have the right to consult on educational matters – for example, teachers typically sit on textbook review committees, but their clout varies from district to district.

Under AB 2160, teachers could bargain over the processes for choosing textbooks, instructional materials, parent programs, teacher training, local academic programs, local educational standards and intervention teams for poor-performing schools.

Negotiations would not center on specific textbook titles or details of new classroom proposals. Instead, agreement would be required on such things as size of a selection committee and how many seats the union would control.

Supporters of AB 2160 say the public would retain ultimate control because any decisions made by district committees would be sent to school boards for approval.

But critics argue the composition of review committees largely determines the outcome of their recommendations, so AB 2160 would give teachers leverage to control key decisions or withhold approval on local academic reforms unless contract demands were met.

The bill would not apply to educational reforms imposed statewide.

The Association of California School Administrators said the bill would increase administrative costs, reduce parental input and undermine school accountability.

Hoping to end the fighting over AB 2160, Davis suggested recently that school boards create and empower local selection committees, with equal numbers of teachers and administrators, to handle textbook and other such classroom issues.

In amendments offered Wednesday, Goldberg and the CTA proposed that school districts be given two options for sharing decision-making authority.

Under the first option, decisions would be made by an “Academic Partnership” – a committee consisting of equal numbers of teachers and district officials, with both sides appointing one or more parent members.

If the committee could not reach consensus within three months, however, teachers or district officials would have the right to take all disputed issues to collective bargaining.

Under the second option, the district could forgo the committee process and simply accept collective bargaining of the academic issues cited in AB 2160. Talks must be open to the public.

“The proposed amendments do nothing to address our primary concerns regarding the legislation and do nothing to remove our opposition,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association.

In a separate matter, the committee approved AB 2347, which would eliminate student assessment tests that are not tied to state standards and would eliminate monetary rewards for boosting student performance.

The author, Goldberg, abandoned several of the bill’s most controversial provisions, including killing plans to require high school students to pass an exit exam to receive a diploma and replacing the state’s current testing program with one controlled by teachers.


Related Article:  “Davis Shuns Bill, Angers Teachers” by Emily Bazar (AP) – The Sacramento Bee – 11 April 2002 –



(1) Education Department, Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy to Collaborate on New Initiative (Press Release – 24 April 2002)

Contact: David Thomas (209-401-1579) or Valerie Reyna (202-219-1385)


The U.S. Department of Education today announced that it will work with the Council for Excellence in Government’s Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy on a new initiative to explore how the department can most effectively advance evidence-based approaches to federal education policy.

This initiative is designed to help the department achieve the goal of transforming education into an evidence-based field as outlined in the department’s recently released strategic plan. The initiative will also help advance the key principle in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: that federal funds should support programs and strategies that are based on scientifically based research.

“The success of federal education programs depends ultimately on the ability to evaluate which programs are working as intended and which are not. With rigorous evidence on effectiveness we can begin to focus our resources on programs that work,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement. “The coalition has brought together representatives from various disciplines and areas of policy to provide an independent analysis of how the department can use its authority strategically and effectively to embed the collection and use of evidence in all of its programs. This is a very important initiative, and I look forward to working with the coalition.”

The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is sponsored by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government. Its mission is to promote government policymaking based on rigorous evidence of program effectiveness. This coalition initiative will specifically address how the department can most effectively use its statutory and policy authority to (1) promote rigorous evaluation of education programs and strategies, and (2) ensure that program funds support research-proven educational activities. The initiative will draw on successful precedents for evidence-based approaches from medicine and welfare policy, where rigorous evaluation has played a prominent role in policy and funding decisions.

More information on the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy and its activities can be found at

(2) Hickok, Neuman Appear Before Congress to Testify on Implementation of No Child Left Behind Act(Press Release – 23 April 2002)

Contact: Office of Public Affairs – 202-401-1576


Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok, joined by Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Susan B. Neuman, today appeared before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to testify on implementation of the historic No Child Left Behind Act.

Following is Hickok’s prepared statement to the committee.

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon to discuss the Department’s implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, the recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. The enactment of No Child Left Behind was a watershed event in the history of Federal support for K-12 education. It gives me great pleasure to discuss its significance and the Department’s efforts to ensure its successful implementation across this country… [See website for the full statement.]

(3) NCTM Annual Meeting (April 21-24, 2002) – Las Vegas, NV

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics


The NCTM website site above provides links to a variety of conference pages such as meeting webcasts (video highlights), the conference program booklet, online session materials, and information about the new NCTM logo.