COMET • Vol. 3, No. 04 – 30 January 2002


(1)  “Focus on Mathematics:  Entry Level Mathematics (ELM) Examination – 2002 Edition”

Source:  The California State University (CSU) Office of the Chancellor

URL: (also see

The ELM placement examination assesses entry-level mathematics skills that the [23 campuses of the California State University system expect] entering students to have acquired in three years of rigorous college preparatory mathematics coursework. Such courses must include the topics covered in elementary and intermediate algebra and two- and three-dimensional geometry, whether offered in traditional or integrated mathematics courses.

All entering students must take the ELM unless they have demonstrated proficiency in mathematics on the SAT, ACT, or Advanced Placement exams…prior to placement in appropriate university mathematics coursework…

The ELM placement test…was developed over a two-year period by a committee of CSU mathematics professors, mathematics education professors, and chairs of mathematics departments. It differs in several important respects from the ELM placement test that has been in place since January 1999…

In content, the main difference between the current ELM and its predecessor is one of emphasis. There is more emphasis on working with numbers and data, the connections between algebra and geometry, and problem solving. There is less emphasis on working pure algebra problems. The test provides the major geometric formulae for reference because its purpose is to assess understanding of mathematical concepts and problem-solving skills rather than recall of facts and equations. The actual topics covered by the current ELM are not very different from those that have been the basis of the placement test since 1992. A few topics have been deleted, but no topics have been added. The placement test is still predicated on the idea that students are responsible for mastering the content of three years of high school mathematics…

In the past, students were given 75 minutes to complete the ELM, which contained 65 multiple-choice questions. Beginning with the March 23, 2002, administration, the ELM will contain 50 multiple-choice questions. Students will be allotted 90 minutes to complete the test. Beginning with the March 23, 2002, administration, calculators will not be allowed for the ELM placement test. The questions on the ELM do not require involved computation. Rather, the placement test includes problems that emphasize quantitative reasoning and problem solving…

It is extremely important to note that a scaled score earned on the ELM placement test before the March 23, 2002, administration cannot be compared to a scaled score earned by taking the ELM placement test on or after March 23… To discourage comparisons, the CSU mathematics and mathematics education professors who modified the ELM revised the ELM scale: the 0-80 scale replaces the 100-700 scale that has been in use since the mid-1980’s…

(2) “Board May Modify SATs to UC’s Taste” by Carrie Sturrock

Source: Contra Costa Times – 30 January 2002


>The College Board has indicated it may retool the venerable SAT to address problems the University of California has with the test, UC officials said Tuesday.

>”The reasons for that are clear–we’re the biggest market in the country,” said Michael Reese, spokesman for UC’s Office of the President.

>A year ago, UC President Richard Atkinson called for eliminating the SAT I as a requirement for admission. He has argued that it does not measure what students learn in high school and exacerbates educational inequalities through racial and socioeconomic disparities in the test scores…

>The SAT I is a rite of passage for high school students nationwide. Retooling the test for California would probably trigger a seismic shift in the admissions process, in what the university expects of students and how they prepare.

>”It would probably be a significant development,” Reese said. “I would say this debate has already affected testing around the country. People are asking questions that a year ago they weren’t asking. The process will clearly continue.”

>The UC faculty Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools plans to meet today with the Academic Council and recommend principles and policies to guide UC admissions testing. It is not yet clear what specific changes the College Board would make to the SAT.

>UC has maintained it will continue to require the lesser known SAT II, designed to measure knowledge in specific subject areas, until the university develops a UC-specific standardized test.


(1) Math and Science Partnership (MSP) Program Requirements

Source: National Science Foundation – 30 January 2002


[Note: The National Science Foundation released the Program Requirements for the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) today. The following synopsis of the MSP is from]

The Math and Science Partnership (MSP) enacts a portion of the President’s vision, enunciated in No Child Left Behind, to strengthen and reform preK-12 education. The MSP builds on the nation’s dedication to educational reform through support of partnerships that unite the efforts of local school districts with science, mathematics, engineering and education faculties of colleges and universities. The involvement of additional stakeholders, especially state, territorial and tribal government entities, is highly encouraged within the MSP. High expectations and achievement for all students, resulting in learning outcomes that can no longer be predicted based on race/ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender or disability, are important components of this new national effort to ensure that no child is left behind.

[A fact sheet on the MSP can be found at the following website:  Exerpts from this fact sheet appear below.]

Goals. MSP seeks to serve all students by supporting partnerships that will:

* Enhance the capacity of schools to provide challenging curricula, and to encourage more students to succeed in advanced mathematics and science;

* Increase the number, quality and diversity of mathematics and science teachers, especially in underserved areas;

* Engage the nation in large-scale reform by establishing a network of researchers and teachers to share, study and evaluate educational reform including the improvement of teacher preparation and professional development; and

* Draw upon lessons from other NSF programs, such as Centers for Learning & Teaching and Science of Learning Centers…

Program Types. The MSP will support two types of partnerships which will vary on the range and scale of activities. Comprehensive awards will be funded for a five-year period and be for up to $7 million annually. Targeted awards will be directed at specific issues in science or mathematics education and will range from $100,000 to $1.5 million for each year of up to five years.

Partnership Characteristics. The partnerships will be results-oriented, accountable collaborations well-grounded in sound educational practices that are expected to achieve the following:

* Students will be taught in mathematics and science classes with high learning expectations aligned to local and state standards;

* Partnerships will address issues of the mathematics and science teacher workforce by recruiting qualified people to become teachers, preparing them for teaching and providing continued professional development;

* Partnerships will further cultural change within institutions to support ongoing commitments among the partners to support its goals; and

* Data will be collected on all aspects of partnership work and shared to promote the development of national capacity to introduce and sustain science and mathematics education reform…

(2) “2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education”

Source:  Iris R. Weiss (919-489-1725) – 13 December 2001 Press Release


A new report released… by Horizon Research, Inc. [Chapel Hill, NC] describes the status of science and mathematics education in kindergarten through the twelfth grade (K-12) in the United States. The 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education included approximately 6,000 teachers in over 1,200 public and private schools. The study was conducted by Horizon Research, Inc with support from the National Science Foundation…

The 2000 National Survey documents that in the elementary grades, much less instructional time is devoted to science instruction than to mathematics. On a typical day, nearly all grade K-4 classes spend time on mathematics instruction, compared to only 7 in 10 for science instruction. Further, while mathematics lessons in the early grades tend to be substantially longer than science lessons, the amount of time devoted to reading/language arts instruction in elementary schools dwarfs that spent on either mathematics or science.

Based on teachers’ descriptions of their most recent lesson, more than 80 percent of the science lessons in grades K-12 include discussion, and a majority of lessons include lecture. Use of hands-on/laboratory activities varies by grade range; approximately 6 in 10 science lessons in grades K-4 involve students doing hands-on/laboratory activities, compared to 5 in 10 in grades 5-8 and 4 in 10 in high school. Group work is included in more than half of all science lessons.

Discussion and lecture are also very prominent in mathematics instruction, as is the use of textbook/worksheet problems. Ninety percent or more of mathematics lessons include discussion; more than 75 percent, textbook/worksheet problems; and 70 percent or more, lecture. The use of hands-on/manipulative activities decreases sharply from 75 percent of mathematics lessons in grades K-4 to only 19 percent in high school.

Computer use in science instruction is quite infrequent across grade ranges, but varies by type of use. In the elementary grades, computers are used mostly for drill and practice, compared to the high school level where teachers use them primarily for laboratory simulations. While computer use in mathematics instruction is also infrequent (ranging from 3 percent of the lessons in high school to 7 percent in the elementary grades), calculator use is fairly common, especially in the high school grades, where 80 percent of lessons involve their use.

Elementary teachers report feeling less well qualified to teach science than the other subjects for which they are responsible. While roughly 75 percent of elementary teachers feel very well qualified to teach reading/language arts, approximately 60 percent feel very well qualified to teach mathematics and only about 25 percent feel very well qualified to teach science. Elementary teachers feel less well qualified than their middle school and high school counterparts to teach both science and mathematics.

The study found that science and mathematics teachers are strikingly similar across subjects and grade ranges in the needs they perceive for their own professional development. Topping the list of reported needs is learning how to use technology for instruction. Among science teachers in grades K-8, deepening their content knowledge ranked a close second. Participation in professional development activities related to science and mathematics teaching is generally low, especially among teachers in grades K-8 where less than 25 percent of the teachers have spent four or more days in professional development related to these subjects over the last three years. By their own accounts, elementary teachers are the group most in need of professional development, especially related to science, and the least likely to participate in it.

There appears to be a mismatch between the needs teachers perceive and the topics emphasized in their professional development; in general, one-third or fewer of the respondents reported a strong emphasis in an area where they indicated a strong need for professional development. Less than a third of the teachers who participated in science and mathematics-related professional development indicated that they changed their teaching practice as a result.

Data from the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education also indicate differences in perceptions of problems in schooling. While the general public expresses concern about maintaining discipline, and policymakers about class size, survey respondents were much more likely to cite lack of funds for equipment and supplies as a serious problem. The typical elementary school spent a total of $2.37 per student on consumable supplies for mathematics and science instruction in the previous year. The typical elementary teacher reported spending more than that out of her own pocket ($70 per class)…

(3) “The Secrets Of Their Hard-Earned Success: A College President Discusses His Findings On What Helps Young African-American Women To Thrive In Math, Science” by Stacy A. Teicher

Source:  Christian Science Monitor – January 2002


…The Meyerhoff Scholars Program [at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County] was launched in 1989 to increase the number of African-American research scientists and engineers. Each year, 40 to 60 students with high SAT scores, good grades, and a commitment to science and community service are selected from across the United States to receive support ranging from scholarships to mentoring.

It has become one of the largest producers of African-American science PhDs and MDs in the US. Originally set up for black males, it expanded to include women, other racial minorities, and white students interested in the issues minority scientists face.

[UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, co-author of “Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women”]…spoke to the Monitor recently about some of what he discovered:

Q: …What characteristics do the families that you interviewed have in common?

A: These parents…tend to be old-fashioned. In many cases, the young women have grown up in religious families…. These women will talk about the power of prayer…and how having a…conservative upbringing helped to prepare them for a world filled with temptations. Many have been leaders in churches….

The parents have been very careful in raising these daughters, in thinking about critical issues, whether…dating, or sex, or the self-esteem of the young woman.

[T]he parents have become experts on their children, to know their strengths and weaknesses. In many cases, the daughters did feel the parents were too strict in high school…. What’s interesting is that the young women, currently in college or graduate school, say they understand now why their parents did what [they] did…

There were other things [parents] did, from promoting reading to restricting television to…supporting…extracurricular activities. They understood that just having the girls sitting around home in the afternoon was not a good thing.

Q:  Were there specific ways adults fostered girls’ interest in science?

A:  In some cases, parents were very deliberate in working with math problems and giving the girls science games. In other cases, it happened because of a teacher. But the parents tended to be cheerleaders. In some cases, the parents actually ended up arguing with administrators to make sure the girls were placed in certain courses. Sometimes they needed to seek a tutor. [I]n a number of cases, there were wonderful women role models in math and science in high schools….

What comes through is this whole village notion, that it really does take a number of people working collaboratively with parents to encourage students to succeed.

Q:  Did the women talk about how race or gender affected their experiences?

A:  A number of these women were ostracized, or told they were acting white, or made to feel insecure because they were in the gifted-and-talented class…. [They] talked about sometimes being overlooked by faculty members or teachers. They sometimes had to decide between having a boyfriend or doing well in science. In some cases, they had friends who were not black, because those were the ones in their classes, and they ended up being…caught between two worlds in high school.

How do you give a young woman the confidence that will allow her to be the only woman and only black in a lab? It was very important, even before college, that parents took the time to talk about what it means to be different from other people, and to be proud of one’s differences….

Q:  Was peer pressure a big issue?

A:  I think the “acting white” notion is one we really have to look at. These students,…who are doing well in their classes, who are speaking standard English, who are excited about studying, often found that someone would say they were acting white.

Q:  What advice would you offer schools?

A:  We so often hear American girls saying they don’t like mathematics, and [math] is at the base of much of what we do in science and engineering…. [We should be] using more math examples that have girls as the subject, that are gender-sensitive.

Schools need to find ways to focus on high expectations of all students. If teachers…are not accustomed to seeing African-American girls or young women succeeding in advanced science courses, then, in many cases, they may not expect it can be done. You believe that which you see. So the challenge is to identify those with the potential to have some success, because success breeds success.

The Meyerhoff Program has been significant for a number of reasons. Before we started this program in 1989, we had never seen African-Americans earning A’s in upper-level science courses here…. Once that first African-American woman earned the A in genetics, for example, other young women said, “I can do this.” And since that time we now have large numbers earning A’s in all these science and engineering courses.

Q:  What advice do you offer parents?

A:  [Think] about what it means to love one’s child, that it’s more than about simply saying it, that it does involve self-sacrifice. It involves a major time commitment and an active involvement in all parts of the child’s life, focusing on…challenging them to set high expectations for themselves; involvement with teachers…; attending the child’s performances and sports activities; being willing to be critical when necessary, but also being willing to take advice from teachers…; focusing a great deal of attention on open and honest communication; knowing how to listen and not simply lecture; learning approaches that one can take in talking about the sensitive issues…

When there was an emphasis on hard work and teaching a child to read and think at an early age, and helping that child to believe in herself, those were the most important things that led to success.

For more information, see

(4) “Three Big Flaws in ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ Theory” by Bad Vergano

Source: USA Today – 15 January 2002


An academic urban myth underlies the popular belief that everyone in the world is connected by just “six degrees of separation,” according to a second look into the research behind the idea.

Enshrined in a popular play, movie and a game involving actor Kevin Bacon, the notion that disparate people are connected by a short chain of mutual friends caught on after 1967 research by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram.

In that effort, Milgram had Midwesterners try to send a letter to a stranger using only friends as intermediaries. The friends in turn were allowed to pass the letter to their friends, and so on. On average, it took five friends (six degrees of separation) for the letters to reach their destination. Milgram famously concluded that we live in a “small world.”

Hoping to repeat that original research, psychologist Judith Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks visited Yale’s archives, she recounts in a study in the journal Society. “Milgram was my hero,” she says, but what she found there left her disappointed:

Milgram recruited “particularly sociable” people for his study using newspaper ads, not random people.

Only about 30% of the letters from Milgram’s small-world studies ever arrived, sometimes taking nine steps or more.

An unpublished study in the archive sent to Milgram for review suggested that low-income people’s messages didn’t get through.

Instead of the “small world” Milgram proposed, the research suggests we live in a “lumpy oatmeal” world, says Kleinfeld, populated by a few very well-connected wealthy individuals, with everyone else not so well connected.

“Kleinfeld does everyone a service by showing us the (six degrees of separation) question is still open,” says mathematician Steven Strogatz of Cornell University. A pioneer in the mathematics that connect systems such as computer and biological networks, Strogatz and his colleagues have found numerous “small world” connections in non-human assemblages.

Psychologists need to investigate the “small world” question, picking up where Milgram left off, Kleinfeld says. One original finding that stands up, she says, is that some people can act as well-connected gatekeepers, passing information to the wider world. An article in the next Psychology Today will expand on her findings.


Related articles by Judith Kleinfeld:

Could It Be a Big World After All? The “Six Degrees of Separation” Myth” (

“Six Degrees of Separation: An Urban Myth?” (