COMET • Vol. 3, No. 05 – 5 February 2002


University of California Panel Suggests Abandoning SAT” by Barbara Whitaker

Source: The New York Times – 31 January 2002


A University of California advisory panel recommended today that the university scrap the SAT in favor of new admissions tests with more emphasis on academic achievement.

The panel, the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, questioned the value of the SAT I, which was designed to measure aptitude rather than achievement.

The group concluded, “The advantage that the SAT I is often assumed to possess–that it is effective at identifying students with strong potential who have not yet been able to demonstrate that potential–is largely a phantom, at least at the University of California.”

The panel suggested several principles and practices to guide admissions testing, including a commitment to make the tests fair and equitable across demographic groups.

“What we’re trying to do is establish a testing array that is not only curriculum-related but helps students to assess their strengths and weaknesses,” said Dorothy Perry, the chairwoman of the panel, who is a professor at the School of Dentistry at the University of California at San Francisco.

Nearly a year ago, the university’s president, Richard C. Atkinson, proposed that the system stop requiring the SAT I, the main SAT exam. Dr. Atkinson asserted that it distracted students from their primary studies. He suggested that the test also made it harder for African-American and Hispanic students trying to get into top colleges.

Dr. Atkinson proposed that the system rely temporarily on the SAT II, which is used to gauge achievement in specific subjects. Students applying to the system currently may choose to take either the SAT I or the ACT, which is similar to the SAT II, in conjunction with three SAT II tests in specific subjects.

In issuing its recommendations, the panel said the new testing array should be weighted heavily in academics. The committee suggested one three-hour test that would test applicants’ skills in language arts (reading and writing, including a writing sample) and mathematics. In addition, the group proposed two one-hour examinations in specific areas.

Professor Perry said the board had discussed its desires with the two major college testing groups–the College Board/Education Testing Service and ACT Inc.–and both were interested in trying to develop such an option.

The proposal must still go through several steps, and many details remain to be discussed, including how such a test could be made so it would be acceptable to other colleges and universities. In addition, little information is available on whether out-of-state students would be expected to take such a test…



(1) Achievement for All – RAND’s Mathematics Education Study Panel

Source:  Tom Glennan (PI, Program-Centered Research Planning in Education)


Late in 1999, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement asked RAND to undertake an effort to build a planning base for new programs of research and development in reading and mathematics education. This Web site is a part of the effort we have begun to meet that request.

There is today a new enthusiasm for basing educational practice and policy on sound research… RAND proposed developing a model of what programmatic, problem-solving research might look like in two of the most important problem areas facing American education. Specifically, we organized two study groups in the areas that are of paramount importance to ensuring the educational success of all students — literacy, or reading comprehension, and fundamental competence in mathematics. We have begun to explore what will be involved in developing a strategic plan for research, and the organization of research support, which would over ten to fifteen years produce the knowledge necessary to support teachers and schools in succeeding in bringing most of their students to reasonable levels of competence in these two fundamental areas.

The study groups are now in place and we have been able to attract some very good people to join in producing a first approximation of what such a plan might look like. As you also will see on this site, the study groups have agreed that a crucial element in ensuring the success of such a plan is finding a way to engage and develop a community of scholars and practitioners committed to the goal of developing a cumulative attack on these fundamental problems of knowledge and practice. That, among other things, is where this website comes in, and that is why I hope you will engage with us in making this process work, by giving us constructive feedback and by proposing to join in doing the work.

[] The Mathematics Education Study Panel is charged with defining a core problem of mathematics teaching and learning and mapping out a comprehensive, long range program of research and development that will assist the nation in dealing with that problem. The Panel has identified the need for all students to become proficient in mathematics. This need is urgent since adults now need significantly more mathematical proficiency in order to participate fully in the 21st Century economy and society. While the emphasis is on the problem of proficiency, the panel recognizes the need for those who will be engaged in scientific and technological fields to acquire even higher levels of mathematical skills than ever before.

In framing a program of [research and development], the Study Panel is considering what is known from past research, and is identifying future R&D that needs to be initiated in order to lead to more effective mathematics teaching and learning in our schools. The panel is also considering the research methods and infrastructure required to enable this comprehensive program of work to be successful.

The Mathematics Education Study Panel is composed of eighteen prominent mathematics education researchers, mathematicians, mathematics teachers, and policy makers []. It has held two face to face and numerous e-mail meetings to discuss and document these issues, and is preparing a draft report on its findings. This draft report will be completed soon and will be available on this website for public comment in June.

(2) “Law Mandates Scientific Base for Research” by Lynn Olson and Debra Viadero

Source:  Education Week – 30 January 2002


The phrase pops up over and over, mantra-like, in the new federal education law: “scientifically based research”…

Reflected in that repetition is a desire by Congress and the Bush administration to base school improvement efforts less on intuition and experience and more on research-based evidence. That desire also mirrors other attempts in the field to set standards of quality for education research and to synthesize what is known, or identify successful programs and practices, based on those standards.

“There are a number of groups and individuals who have, for years, been interested in grounding education in a culture of evidence,” said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement in the U.S. Department of Education. “That’s always been their message. But there’s an opening here.”

At the same time, the revised ESEA, also known as the “No Child Left Behind” Act, inspires such questions as: Who decides what counts as “scientifically based research”? Does enough good research exist for schools to use, and in a form that’s usable? Can Uncle Sam enforce a requirement that schools use only research-based programs and practices?

Some scholars also worry that the language is, in part, ideological and aims to promote a particular view of education.

“The reason, I think, for the cry for more research and better research is to delay implementing the research that we have,” said David C. Berliner, a professor of education at Arizona State University in Tempe. He said, for instance, that policymakers have largely ignored well-established research on such topics as the beneficial effects of high-quality preschools and the harmful effects of holding students back a grade…

“I believe strongly that in education research, while there are many well-informed and well-intended people, the end product has never been of much excellence,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., who chairs the House subcommittee responsible for reauthorizing the OERI…

The goal is to follow the lead of the medical profession, in relying more on well-crafted research to guide practice, said Joseph C. Conaty, the acting deputy assistant secretary for the Education Department’s office of elementary and secondary education. “This is the first, early steps of education moving in this direction,” he said at a meeting this month at the National Research Council.

One of the biggest concerns is who decides what counts as “scientifically based” research, or as research worth paying attention to.

The new ESEA, signed by President Bush this month, includes a definition of “scientifically based research” that some scholars fear tilts too heavily toward experimental designs and away from other scholarship, such as case studies and other qualitative research or basic research that leads to the development of specific programs.

“Why the emphasis on experimental and quasi-experimental research, when there’s so much other good stuff out there, I don’t know,” said Nel Noddings, the president of the National Academy of Education and a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University. “I think that’s a far too narrow focus.”

A report released by the National Research Council last fall, “Scientific Inquiry in Education,” concluded that at its core, such inquiry is the same in all fields, from education to physics. It argued that the best way to advance scientific knowledge is through the “self-regulating norms” of the scientific community, rather than through “mechanistic application” of a particular set of research methods.

“One cannot just demand controlled experiments,” said Robert F. Boruch, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who served on the panel that produced the report. “That’s akin to asking people to levitate”…

Mr. Conaty of the Education Department said that, while it’s clear experimental designs are preferred in the new law, it doesn’t discount other forms of scholarship. It does mean, however, that paying close attention to research-design features in evaluating programs and practices is important.

“I think, in fairness, the definition of ‘scientifically based research’ is a definition that focuses on evaluation research,” said Mr. Whitehurst, the assistant secretary for research, and the former chairman of the psychology department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, “and the definition is good at that level.”

For his part, Rep. Castle acknowledged that scholars and policymakers would eventually have to agree on what counts as education research, because it’s “an esoteric enough subject that it’s hard to do as a controversial piece of legislation/”

Others say they’re concerned that, while the goals for research in the ESEA are admirable, there is not enough rigorous research to be found, in a form that educators and policymakers can use.

“Evidence-based, research-based, is the catchword of the day,” said Arthur W. Gosling, the director of the National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, based at George Washington University in Washington. But he noted that models for comprehensive improvement of schools “have a hard time really coming up with research that would meet the test of the pure academician, in terms of what constitutes good research”…

Ms. Lagemann of the Spencer Foundation suggested that to solve some of the most pressing problems in education will require interdisciplinary teams that go at a problem until they crack it.

“I don’t think it’s academic research in the traditional sense,” she said. “It’s got to be a combination of applied and basic research that’s aimed at solving the problem, not at generating more research.”

Equally important, she said, research findings have to be in a usable form for educators. “We have tended to think that if you do research and get results, that will be useful to practitioners,” Ms. Lagemann said. “There’s an intermediary step. You have to take the results of research and build it into toys, tools, tests, and texts. You have to build it into things that practitioners can use. They can’t use the conclusions of a study.”

To get the kind of research the new education act demands might mean changing the way the United States now practices and pays for education research. According to the National Research Council report released last month, only about 15 percent of the OERI’ s budget last year went for actual research. The lion’s share of the research agency’s money went to “service oriented” programs, such as technical assistance to states, districts, and schools to implement “research-based” changes…

Some predict the pressure on the Education Department to spend the available federal money will, of necessity, require slippage in whether grant recipients have to use scientifically based practices to receive federal aid.

“They have to get money out the door,” Kenji Hakuta, a professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley, said of the federal department.

Ted Sanders, the president of the ECS, said few state departments of education have the expertise to draw up or enforce standards for what constitutes good research evidence. And they are often under intense political pressure to recognize certain programs or products as meeting standards of evidence, whether they do or not.

In addition, while the legislation may increase a demand for research-based evidence from some superintendents, principals, and teachers, many educators at the district level may be too immersed in their day-to-day challenges to, in effect, research the research.

“There aren’t a lot of school people and principals out tapping into a research database,” said Mr. Gosling of the National Clearinghouse on Comprehensive School Reform. “That’s not part of their world.”

But he added: “I think this legislation at least makes it possible for a consumer, a school principal, teachers, or superintendents to say to a model developer, ‘Prove to me that what you’ve got is workable, beyond just the rhetoric that we have wonderful stuff here.'”

“It at least provides a kind of demand that those questions be asked,” Mr. Gosling said, “and that isn’t all bad.”

(3) “Education Department Announces New Grants for Research in Student Learning”

Source:  U.S. Department of Education – 16 January 2002 (Contact: David Thomas – (202) 401-1576)


As part of the Bush administration’s goal to ensure that teaching methods used in America’s classrooms have a solid scientific base, the U.S. Department of Education is requesting applications to conduct research on basic and higher order thinking skills and their linksto improved student learning and higher academic achievement.

“One of our goals is to focus on what works to improve education,” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said. “This program is another example of our efforts to produce quality research on teaching and learning and share it with educators and the public.”

“We’re looking for projects that will connect basic cognitive and brain sciences to schools and school settings,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, U.S. assistant secretary for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. “There is a rich and vast base of knowledge and expertise in these sciences that we need to bring to bear on education. This new program will further that goal.”

The notice for applications for the 2002 Cognition and Student Learning Research Grant Program was published in the December 21, 2001 Federal Register.

Eligible applicants include public and private organizations, institutions of higher education, state and local educational agencies, and regional educational laboratories.

The department expects to make approximately 10 awards, ranging from $75,000 to $500,000 per year for each project. Projects will be funded for up to three years and up to $3 million is available for the first year of the program. Deadline for applications is April 15, 2002.

For further information on the request for applications for the 2002 Cognition and Student Learning Research Grant Program, visit the Department of Education’s Web site at

(4)  “National Board Is Pressed to Prove Certified Teachers Make Difference” by Jeff Archer

Source:  Education Week – 30 January 2002


It’s no small change. Since 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has reaped more than $109 million in federal money to design the assessments it uses to identify highly skilled teachers. Meanwhile, 33 states and some 280 school districts have invested in financial incentives to encourage teachers to seek the group’s seal of approval.

Now, the question is being asked: What difference does the board make?

“We see value in the rigor [of national certification],” said Richard Laine, the director of education policy and initiatives for the Illinois Business Roundtable. “But my members keep coming back saying, ‘Show me that direct line back to student achievement.’ ”

Indeed, a growing consensus among researchers and policymakers alike is that the time has come for the national board to prove its worth. A time of tightened budgets and heightened accountability is bringing new pressure to bear on education initiatives to show that they can produce results. And for the first time, a handful of states now boast enough board-certified teachers to allow for large-scale studies of their impact.

Recognizing that, the NBPTS itself is calling on scholars to put its process under the microscope. At a conference here this month, the private, nonprofit organization brought more than 200 experts together to brainstorm on what investigations are needed, and what it would take to carry them out. National board officials say they’re working with independent donors who together are pledging “multiple millions of dollars” to underwrite new studies.

“We’re not just looking for feel-good research,” said Ann E. Harman, the organization’s director of research and information. “We’re ready for whatever the results are. If they’re critical of the work of the national board, if they’re positive of the national board, it all helps us to know what we’re doing and what we can be doing better.”

Supporters of the Arlington, Va.-based NBPTS often point out that research has guided the group’s efforts ever since it first set out to establish a voluntary process of advanced certification for teachers, much as medicine has for doctors. The group based its standards on studies of teaching practice, and has put its assessments through validity tests meant to determine whether they actually measure the skills they claim to.

Candidates for certification complete portfolios of their work over the course of a school year, submit videotapes of their instruction, and take a one-day exam covering subject-matter knowledge and teaching methods. What isn’t well-known, though, is whether teachers who go through that process are any better than other teachers at raising student achievement–a weak link that’s often noted by the board’s critics…

The NBPTS commissioned William L. Sanders, a researcher with the Cary, N.C.-based SAS Institute, to study the value of board certification. Mr. Sanders gained national attention through his work in Tennessee, where he devised a way of gauging the effect that individual teachers have on their students’ achievement…

Other questions will remain. For instance, Mr. Sanders’ current analysis might show that national certification can identify more effective teachers, but it would take another research project to show whether the certification process itself actually makes teachers more effective than they otherwise would have been.

For their part, board officials say they can handle the truth. The organization has been broadcasting a message throughout the education research community that it wants to see multiple lines of inquiry examined in the coming months and years.

Based on this month’s conference here in Chicago, some of the most likely topics include: whether board-certified teachers can turn around low-performing schools; who tends to seek board certification, and whether they stay in the same jobs if they achieve it; and how the certification process measures up against other kinds of professional development, such as earning a master’s degree…

Many scholars say the research on board certification promises to shed light not just on the NBPTS, but also on many larger issues about teacher quality. After eight years of evaluating teachers’ performance, the organization has amassed some 40,000 boxes of written portfolios, videotapes, and test answers–a stockpile it pledges to open up to researchers.

“There are people who believe that people who know content deeply can teach–that you don’t need the pedagogy,” said Barbara Lieb, a researcher with the office of educational research and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. “That’s becoming a stronger view for many people and more publicized. And I think we have an opportunity with the national board process to delve into that”…

(5) The Learning Matrix: A National Digital Library for Undergraduate Science, Mathematics, and Technology Teacher Education and Professional Development

Source:  Kimberly S. Roempler, Project Director –


The Learning Matrix, a collection in the NSF-funded National Digital Library Initiative, provides easy access to peer-reviewed digital resources that promote inquiry and problem based learning in college mathematics, science, and technology classes.  Faculty can search and access resources ranging from simulations and tutorials to research articles and video footage illustrating excellent teaching techniques…

This project, supported by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, is now enlisting partners in 2-year and 4-year colleges and universities around the country to submit resources of their own or to serve as peer reviewers. By participating in the project you can share your resources with other educators and have a voice in what is considered “best practice” in inquiry and problem-based learning and teaching.

(6)  National Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education Digital Library (NSDL)

Source: Dr. Lee L. Zia ( or ) – 703.292.8671


Building on work supported under the multi-agency Digital Libraries Initiative, this program aims to establish a national digital library that will constitute an online network of learning environments and resources for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels. In FY2002, the program will accept proposals in three tracks: (1) Collections projects are expected to aggregate and manage a subset of the library’s content within a coherent theme or specialty. (2) Services projects are expected to develop services which support users, collection providers, and the Core Integration effort and which enhance the impact, efficiency, and value of the library. (3) Targeted Research projects are expected to explore specific topics that have immediate applicability to collections, services, and other aspects of the development of the digital library. [The deadline for submission of formal proposals is 17 April 2002.]