COMET • Vol. 3, No. 28 – 4 October 2002


(1) California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) Internet Reports

Source:  CAHSEE Office, California Department of Education (Phone: 916- 445-9449) – 30 September 2002


Links to school, district, county, and state CAHSEE reports are now available at the above Web site.

(2) “State Ponders Delaying Exit Exams Due to Failures” By Duke Helfand

Source: Los Angeles Times – 1 October 2002


State officials are discussing whether to postpone enforcement of California’s new high school graduation exam because so many students are failing the test.

Less than half of the state’s current 11th-graders have passed both the English and math portions of the exam, according to results released Monday. Members of the Class of 2004 are supposed to be the first in California to prove their competence in the two subjects before they can be awarded a high school diploma.

They have two more years to pass the exam, but the results have educators worried even at this early stage. Next year, the California Board of Education is expected to review whether it is fair to stick to the schedule or delay the requirement for a future class.

“We don’t want to eliminate this important tool, but we have to be reasonable,” said Marion Joseph, a member of the state Board of Education. “[It’s not] going to be acceptable if half the kids don’t pass.”

Rae Belisle, chief counsel to the state education board, agreed. “I think it’s pretty clear that if we don’t get better performance, there’s a serious question about continuing the consequence for 2004,” she said. “No one is going to sit there with half the kids graduating from high school in 2004.”

Reed Hastings, the state board president, said that a low passage rate could leave the exam open to legal challenges about its fairness. A legally defensible goal would be a pass rate above 90% by the end of a graduating class’ senior year, he said.

But he said it is too soon to predict whether the board will push back on the timetable. “The data is worrisome for us getting above a 90% cumulative pass rate, but it’s not definitive,” he said Monday.

Most current 11th-graders first took the test voluntarily two years ago. Those who passed both parts satisfied the graduation requirement; those who failed either part–or both–had to retake the test in 10th grade last spring.

Over those two years, 48% of the Class of 2004 has passed both the English and math sections of the test–which are geared between the sixth- and 10th-grade levels in the material and knowledge. For example, the math test includes algebra but not calculus.

The results also show a wide achievement gap between affluent and poor students, and between youngsters of different races. Nearly two-thirds of whites, and almost three-quarters of Asians, have passed both tests over the two years, but less than one-third of African Americans and Latinos have equaled that mark…

L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer said…that he would order principals to set up after-school, weekend and intersession programs for students who are having trouble with the exit exam.

He also offered students an extra year at adult school, “a 13th year” to work on English and math skills needed to pass the exam. “We have a system in which the culture has been to give [students] a D and let them pass,” he said. “We’re going to change that, but it’s not going to change overnight.”

The high school exit exam is a key piece of Gov. Gray Davis’ testing and school accountability program. Starting next year, the results will be factored into the state’s annual school rankings.

Educators say the tests have had a significant impact in schools, forcing teachers to pay closer attention to California’s new academic standards while prompting students to get more serious about their studies…

(3) Excerpts from the Draft Minutes of the 11 September 2002 Meeting of the California State Board of Education


* Superintendent Eastin stated that the [California Department of Education] does not have the resources to staff the [instructional materials] follow-up adoptions and that the funding for this work had been cut from the budget. She reported that the Department has requested that the $350,000 for this work be restored. Superintendent Eastin indicated that she had directed CDE staff not to proceed with the follow-up adoptions for history-social science, science, and visual and performing arts (which had been scheduled for 2003) unless specific funding for those follow-up adoptions is restored. She noted that staff is continuing to work on the primary adoptions.

* Superintendent Eastin reported that the STAR test results show that academic achievement in elementary schools is improving. There is a lot of good news in the elementary school test results, although high school test results continue to cause concern. Superintendent Eastin announced the publication Kids Cook Farm Fresh Food, a cookbook that is standards-aligned material. The cookbook was made possible with the help of many donors. She reported that there are currently gardens in over 3,000 schools. She noted that a publication on teaching the standards through gardening will be available before the end of her term.

* Paul Warren, Deputy Superintendent, referred to the charts on the California Standards Test (CST) and Stanford 9 results. He noted that the 2001 to 2002 comparisons show improvement in English-language arts. The 2002 results for mathematics and history-social science are the first year of data for those subjects and will serve as the base for tracking growth. The Stanford 9 results for 1998 through 2002 provide data to track cohorts through the years.

(4) “Brainiacs Heat Up Screen at CineMath” by Tim Gnatek

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle – 2 October 2002


From blockbuster Hollywood films such as “A Beautiful Mind” and “Good Will Hunting” to critically acclaimed independent movies like “Pi” and prize-winning plays like “Proof” and “Arcadia,” mathematicians have become the latest craze on stage and screen.

Adding to all the hype comes a film festival celebrating math in the movies.

The festival, dubbed CineMath, runs at the UC Berkeley Pacific Film Archive Theater Sundays and Tuesdays throughout October. The attention signals that American audiences are shedding anti-intellectual attitudes that trace back at least as far as Adlai Stevenson’s failed presidential runs of 1952 and 1956, when he was slighted by Eisenhower supporters as being too “eggheaded” for the position.

Noted mathematician and CineMath co-curator Bob Osserman offers an explanation of why math keeps popping up in today’s pop culture, whether in plays or movies — and why mathematicians’ roles are deepening from science-fiction eccentrics to complex characters addressing universal themes.

“Moviemakers are discovering how creative mathematics is,” he says. “They see it in one sense as a kind of far-out thing, and another hybrid quality somewhere between science and poetry, or art. It’s this pure creation of the human mind. On the other hand, it’s not an arbitrary thing, it’s not like making a painting a la Jackson Pollock.”

A math evangelist, Osserman is special projects director at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. He’s made it his task to bring mathematics to the public — something especially timely as the institute celebrates its 20th anniversary studying and promoting the field.

While it may seem that mathematicians are finally getting some long-overdue popular respect after a history of quiet anonymity, Osserman points out that at one time mathematicians filled important roles in world religion and governments.

Their work formed the basis for engineering the great pyramids and calculating advanced calendar systems. Leonardo da Vinci counseled French King Francis I. Napoleon traveled with a consort of mathematicians — even taking them on his voyage to Egypt.

“The idea of them being out of sync with society wasn’t there at all,” he says.

The majority of the 20th century, however, has cast mathematicians as Poindexters better suited to the world of formulas and ideas than the subjects of films that deal with people and emotions. Osserman believes perceptions began to shift after mathematicians were recognized for decoding secret World War II transmissions, later popularized by the story of code-cracker Alan Turing (and inspiring the recent play “Breaking the Code” and the movie “Enigma”).

Einstein’s discoveries popularized math and the sciences during the Cold War. Later, the technology revolution boosted mathematicians, whose advances in the abstract science of mathematical logic helped design early computer systems. The hot new trend has actually been years in the making.

Today, Osserman says, “there is a sizable number of people involved creating a new mathematics,” and he reasons that “a number of modern writers and playwrights are intrigued by that fact.”

In 1999, Osserman appeared in Berkeley with playwright Tom Stoppard to talk about the latter’s play “Arcadia.”

“You get a brilliant guy like Stoppard coming along and using math so successfully, it was really unique in really wrestling with the scientific and mathematical issues.”

The period piece set in 19th century England received wide praise for using mathematics to introduce audiences to entropy and chaos theories and traced the shift in ideology from the order of the neoclassical period to the back-to- nature take of the Romantics with the playwright’s trademark wit and wordplay.

Perhaps one of the biggest advances to thrust mathematicians into the limelight was the solution to Fermat’s “last theorem” — a deceptively simple problem first posed by a French mathematician more than 300 years ago. The solution eluded generations of amateur theorists until 1993, when British mathematician Andrew John Wiles made the breakthrough.

“This was the big unsolved problem,” Osserman says, “and it had this huge prize and a romantic history.”

The prize money came from the will of stumped German mathematician Paul Wolfskehl, who in 1905 bequeathed a reward of 100,000 marks to whoever could find the proof. Wiles’ solution also helped convince the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute to begin hosting events like CineMath. “We got into this public events business when the solution was made,” Osserman says. In October 1993, he staged “Fermat Fest,” a co-production of the institute and the San Francisco Exploratorium, to explain the proof’s mathematical ideas in a non- technical way. Presenting with him were Karl Rubin of Stanford and Ken Ribet of UC Berkeley, whose work aided Wiles in establishing a proof.

“They (the Exploratorium staff) were dubious about holding this thing. They said there would be a sea of empty seats, that the public wouldn’t be interested. But we sold out everything. There even were people scalping tickets outside.”

Osserman hopes for another surprise turnout at the CineMath films. Meanwhile, audiences may be surprised themselves by the portrayal of math geeks. Far from bloodless and bookish, the movies are peppered with sex, conspiracy, heroism and metaphysics. In “Pi,” a mathematician’s number obsession brings him in contact with shadowy figures and secret societies and gives him a glimpse of supreme truth. The film “Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician” chronicles the life of math professor Renato Caccioppoli, whose vocal stand against Italian fascism in the 1930s lead to persecution, an insane asylum and eventual suicide.

The program takes a more avant-garde approach on Tuesday nights, presenting short-subject films that use math principles within their filming techniques: calculated camera angles, balanced musical scores, even the mathematics of topography. Before each screening, noted scientists will speak briefly on the films and help explain the many mathematical nuances. “We wanted to explore how the field of mathematics informs cinema,” says Pacific Film Archive curator Edith Kramer, who assisted in selecting the films.

“The series looks at all the ways mathematics might lend itself to film.”

Mathematicians have become so hip these days, they’ve begun to edge their way directly into movies, as well as being subjects of films. Barnard College professor Dave Bayer, for instance, who will introduce “Drowning by Numbers” at the festival, was Russell Crowe’s hand double in “A Beautiful Mind”…


CINEMATH: ….Advance Tickets can be purchased evenings and during weekday business hours at the PFA box office, or by phoning (510) 642-5249.


(1) Math and Science Partnership Awards Announced [press release]

Source: National Science Foundation – 30 September 2002


The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced 24 awards under the new Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program–an anticipated investment of $240 million over five years in projects to improve the achievement of K-12 students in science and mathematics. The Department of Education (ED) is an NSF partner in this effort, co-funding two projects involving state education agencies.

A key facet of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education plan and the first investment in his five-year $1 billion math and science partnership initiative, these new partnership activities are designed to enhance the performance of U.S. students in mathematics and science. Partnership projects address key contributing factors such as: too many teachers who are not fully trained to teach math and science subjects; too few students who take advanced coursework; and too few schools that offer challenging curricula and textbooks.

The new partnership program will unite teachers and administrators in K-12 schools, mathematics, science and engineering faculty in colleges and universities, and other stakeholders in K-12 education to improve student outcomes. The new projects will seek to enhance the quantity, quality and diversity of the math and science teacher workforce at a time when many teachers are retiring or otherwise leaving the profession. Designed to raise mathematics and science achievement of all students, MSP projects are also expected to reduce the well-documented achievement gaps among segments of student populations.

“These partnerships will become part of a broad national network of interconnected sites that will share successful instructional strategies, entice and train competent science and math teachers and improve learning for millions of students,” said NSF Director Rita Colwell.

“One of the key outcomes of these grants will be the improved content knowledge of teachers of mathematics and science in districts across America,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige. “This will undoubtedly lead to improved student achievement.”

The seven comprehensive awards announced today total about $147 million over five years and will affect about 1.8 million students in 11 states. Comprehensive MSP projects are designed to continuously improve student achievement in math and science from the earliest grades through grade 12.

Seventeen targeted partnership grants are designed to improve achievement in specific disciplines or grade ranges. They total about $90 million over five years and will affect about 200 school districts and some 600,000 pre-K through grade 12 students in 11 states.

Also, 12 smaller awards for capacity building projects will focus on research, evaluation and technical assistance for the MSP Learning Network. Through this vehicle, researchers and practitioners in MSP and other related projects will unite in a national effort to further develop understanding of how students best learn mathematics and science. It will also promote broad dissemination and emulation of successful strategies in educational practice.

“These partnerships will increase our nation’s ability to serve all of our students well and will support the quality of our science and engineering enterprise,” said Judith Ramaley, NSF’s Assistant Director for Education and Human Resources.

Related Links:

* Fact Sheet: Math and Science Partnership Program:

Math and Science Partnership Comprehensive Proposal Summary

Math and Science Partnership Targeted Proposal Summary

* Math and Science Partnership Research, Evaluation, and Technical Assistance Proposal Summary

* Math and Science Partnership Program Solicitation

(2) “UW Gets Big Grant to Improve U.S. Teaching” by Marilynn Marchione

Source:  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – 3 October 2002


Overhauling the way science and math are taught in the nation’s schools and making American students competitive with those from other countries are the goals of a $35 million initiative that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is to lead.

The National Science Foundation made the grant, one of the largest the university has ever received and one of the largest the foundation has ever awarded for this purpose.

More than 80 faculty and staff members from all areas of the university will be involved in the project, UW said Wednesday. The project is to include elementary, middle and high schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District and schools in Los Angeles, Denver and Providence, R.I.

The University of Pittsburgh is to work with UW on the five-year project.

“Children in the U.S. today are not receiving the rigorous science and math education they need to become scientifically and mathematically literate adults,” said Terrence Millar, a UW math professor and associate Graduate School dean who is to lead the effort…

“We’re going to bring top-notch mathematicians and scientists to the table with school leaders and education researchers and create a whole new curriculum that will make us competitive”…

The new project is called SCALE – System-wide Change for All Learners and Educators – and is part of President Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind – Math and Science Partnership Program” at the foundation. The grant to UW is the largest of seven grants chosen from more than 200 proposals.

“It’s no accident that Washington consistently turns to Wisconsin for leadership in this very important effort to ensure that our children are literate in math and science,” UW Chancellor John Wiley said in a statement. “We have a track record that’s second to none. This award gives us an opportunity to make a difference.”

Ideas are to be tested in the four school districts and ultimately nationwide, it’s hoped.

Project steps include:

* Implementing the best current math and science programs throughout the educational system.

* Creating proven science and math immersion projects.

* Improving teacher education.

* Creating mentoring and guidance counseling experiences for middle and high school students, especially girls, women and minorities.

(3) “UK Gets $22m Grant for Math, Science” by Steve Bailey

Source: The Cincinnati Enquirer – 3 October 2002


A $22 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help the University of Kentucky enhance math and science programs across the state’s classrooms and in Appalachia.

The five-year grant, part of the NSF’s Math and Science Partnership Program, was announced by president Lee Todd during an afternoon news conference Wednesday…

The grant is thought to be the largest single grant in school history, university spokeswoman Mary Margaret Colliver said.

The university will be the lead partner in the ambitious project and work with the Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative at the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.

“Math and science education in rural schools has been neglected,” said Wimberly Royster, former UK vice president of research and graduate studies. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in those areas, and this project will allow us to make much needed real progress.”

Eight other institutions also will participate, including Eastern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Pikeville College, Union College, the University of Virginia at Wise, the University of Tennessee and Somerset Community College.

The program will seek to demonstrate improved student achievement in mathematics and science through partnerships that combine the efforts of teachers, administrators and guidance counselors in local schools with administrators and faculty at the state’s colleges and universities, said Paul Eakin, professor of mathematics at UK’s College of Arts and Sciences.

The project also will attempt to strengthen the quality, quantity and diversity of the math and science teacher workforce at a time when many teachers are leaving the profession.

“These partnerships will become part of a broad national network of interconnected sites that will share successful instructional strategies, entice and train competent science and math teachers and improve learning for millions of students,” National Science Foundation director Rita Colwell said.

The Appalachian Mathematics and Science Partnership will be made up of 52 school districts and nine colleges and universities. It plans to target four areas to address the needs of the region:

* Preservice teacher and administrator education.

* Professional development of personnel in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 classrooms.

* Student learning opportunities.

* Research to advance the understanding of rural education reform.

(4) “Evidence-Based Education Policies: Transforming Educational Practice and Research” by Robert E. Slavin

Source: Educational Researcher – October 2002


[Abstract] At the dawn of the 21st century, educational research is finally entering the 20th century. The use of randomized experiments that transformed medicine, agriculture, and technology in the 20th century is now beginning to affect educational policy. This article discusses the promise and pitfalls of randomized and rigorously matched experiments as a basis for policy and practice in education. It concludes that a focus on rigorous experiments evaluating replicable programs and practices is essential to build confidence in educational research among policymakers and educators. However, new funding is needed for such experiments and there is still a need for correlational, descriptive, and other disciplined inquiry in education. Our children deserve the best educational programs, based on the most rigorous evidence we can provide.