COMET • Vol. 4, No. 12 – 5 April 2003

The next issue of COMET will be produced during the week of April 14, as the Editor will be in San Antonio for the NCSM and NCTM annual meetings and Research Presession during the week of April 7. For information on these events, go to the following Web sites:


* Research Presession:



(1) Resources for Grades 4 and 5 Science

Source: Art Sussman – 3 April 2003

The statewide standards-based test covering grades 4 and 5 science standards is being piloted this spring and will be fully implemented next school year. The full test will be administered in the spring of 2004.

Various districts, county offices, professional development providers, and informal science centers have been preparing resources and professional development to assist teachers and schools with grades 4 and 5 science. The leadership of California Building a Presence for Science (CABAP) is initiating a project to collect information about what everybody is doing, and to help share the best information and resources statewide. The current plan is to have a user-friendly web resource that is organized by each standard including explanations/illustrations of the science content; correlations with adopted and supplementary curriculum materials; targeted lesson plans; and links to targeted web resources for that standard.

If you are already engaged in this kind of effort locally and/or have appropriate resources to share please contact:

Art Sussman – WestEd – 730 Harrison St. – San Francisco, CA 94107  – (415) 615-3206

We will provide regular updates as this project moves forward. We anticipate having the first iteration of the website available this summer.

(2) California State Board of Education (SBE): March 2003 Meeting Highlights


SBE Approves Intervention Teams for 24 Schools

The State Board of Education approved intervention teams for 24 schools in the state’s school accountability program because the schools failed to show growth on the Academic Performance Index (API) for two consecutive years.

The 24 schools are among the 430 that first volunteered to participate in the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP) after it was established in 1999, with participants receiving extra funding in exchange for improved student performance. Schools that failed to show significant growth for two consecutive years on the API were subject to state monitoring and potential sanctions…

The law allows the Superintendent, with the approval of the State Board, to assign schools an intervention team, which is composed of six to 10 educators with experience in curriculum and instruction aligned to state standards, school leadership, academic assessment, fiscal allocation, and research-based reform strategies…

Integrated Science: Test standards adopted

The State Board has adopted performance standards for the four grade 9-11 integrated science tests that are now part of the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program.

The California Integrated 1, 2, 3, and 4 Science Standards Tests will be administered this spring, and students will be scored at one of five performance levels: far below basic; below basic; basic; proficient; and advanced. As with all California Standards Tests, the state’s goal is for students to score at the “proficient” level or above…

NCLB: State plan on track for May 1st submission

A major milestone in the effort to implement the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is fast approaching as CDE officials presented a draft document to complete the next stage of California’s NCLB Consolidated State Application, which must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education by May 1, 2003.

There are eight elements that must be included in California’s May 1st submission. (In regard to some of the elements, such as the NCLB requirement that states adopt academic content standards, the State’s application will merely reference what state policymakers have already put into place).

But another key requirement of NCLB–that each state come up with a definition of “highly qualified” teacher–is not due until September 1, 2003, based on the latest information from federal officials.

“We were originally on a track thinking that this (highly qualified provisions) had to be part of the May 1st submission,” State Board Chief Counsel Karen Steentofte told Board members. But recent discussions with federal officials made clear that the highly qualified provision of NCLB isn’t due until September 1, 2003.

“So while we technically don’t have to get this job done until September, we need to move expeditiously in order to make sure that our schools have the best information and the most lead time possible to comply,” said Steentofte, adding that it was her hope that the State Board would be able to act on the issue at its meeting in May.

Camille Maben, CDE NCLB coordinator, and Dr. Bill Padia, Director of the CDE’s Policy Evaluation Division, detailed the eight items to be included in the state’s final NCLB plan, which will be presented to the State Board for approval at its April meeting. The elements are as follows:

* State targets for achieving proficiency in reading and math (the State Board adopted proficiency targets in January);

* Baseline data for schools to make Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP in the percent of students achieving proficiency in reading and math (the State Board adopted baseline data in January);

* Evidence of adopting academic content standards/grade-level expectations in math and reading (the State Board adopted content standards in math and reading in 1997);

* Detailed timeline for adopting academic content standards/grade level expectations in science (the State Board adopted content standards in science in 1998);

* Detailed timeline for developing and implementing required assessments;

* Detailed timeline for setting academic achievement standards;

*  Evidence of a single accountability system;

* Submission of annual goals or “measurable achievement objectives” for English Learners expected to attain proficiency in English.

In January, the State Board and the CDE completed and submitted an accountability proposal to implement the requirement in NCLB that schools demonstrate adequate yearly progress in getting all students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

Under the State Board-approved plan, California would maintain its Academic Performance Index (API) while adding the AYP requirements as another element of each school’s accountability report. As a result, the API and its widely known statewide ranking of schools would be maintained with relatively little change. Under the new accountability system, English Learners and students with disabilities will each be added to the list of significant “subgroups” in the API in order to comply with NCLB.

Maben, of the CDE, reported to the State Board that California’s AYP plan recently underwent a “peer” review by a team from the USDE and that the feedback was positive. “They were impressed with how we included English Learners and students with disabilities, and that we had (standards-based tests) up and running,” Maben said. There were some concerns about the state proposal for determining what constitutes a significant student subgroup; parental discretion to pull their children from state testing; and the state’s proposal to retain English Learners who have been reclassified as fluent in English in the category of English Learners for purposes of reporting their progress over time…

Katzman Appointed to State Board: Governor Gray Davis has appointed Carol S. Katzman as a member of the State Board of Education. Ms. Katzman, of Los Angeles, has been involved in education at the local and state level in California for more than 30 years. From 1992 to 1998, she was the Special Assistant to the Superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District. Ms. Katzman served as Assistant Superintendent from 1990 to 1992. She has also served as a visiting educator with the California Department of Education. Ms. Katzman was an elementary school teacher from 1961 to 1977. She is a former member and Chair of the California Curriculum Commission, Standards for Effective Schools, the Elementary Grades Task Force, and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. She earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master of arts degree from California State University, Northridge…


(1) Mathematics and Science Initiative: Mathematics Summit Follow-up Meeting

Source: U.S. Department of Education


On March 13, 2003, the Department hosted a follow-up meeting to the Secretary’s Mathematics Summit. At the Mathematics Summit, held on February 6, 2003, in Washington, D.C., the Department launched its Mathematics and Science Initiative. Its aim is to achieve three interdependent goals:

*  Engage the public in recognizing the need for better mathematics and science education for every child in our nation’s schools.

*  Initiate a campaign to recruit, prepare, train, and retain teachers with strong backgrounds in mathematics and science.

*  Develop an academic research base to improve our knowledge of what boosts student learning in mathematics and science.

URL for the 6 February 2003 Mathematics Summit:

URL for the 13 March 2003 Mathematics Summit Follow-up:

Partial Itinerary (Work Session on the Mathematics and Science Initiative):

* 9:00-9:30 – Welcome and Charge for the Day – Susan Sclafani

* 9:30-12:00 and 1:30-2:45 – Small Working Groups: Public Engagement, Building a Research Base, Improving Teacher Knowledge

* 3:00-4:00 – Wrap-Up and Next Steps

URL to download draft Math and Science Initiative Concept Paper:

(A revised paper will be posted prior to the May 6 follow-up meeting.)

(2) What Organizations are Doing to Improve Mathematics and Science Education

Source: U.S. Department of Education


On March 13, as a follow-up to the Secretary’s Summit on Mathematics, participants from business, K-12 and higher education, foundations, and professional organizations [convened] to consider both what is going on currently to improve the quality of mathematics and science education in the U.S. and the nature of the problems confronting those who would do more.

…One-page descriptions of participating organizations’ efforts to improve mathematics and science education [are included on this Web site]. These descriptions, written by participants, are offered to help organizations see what other organizations are doing and perhaps identify opportunities to work together.

Descriptions are listed alphabetically by home organization. Where an organization submitted more than one, they are listed separately under the home organization’s name.

(3) Selected Existing Federal Resources to Support Goals of the Mathematics Summit

Source: U.S. Department of Education


Participating federal agencies have developed an annotated list of selected existing resources that support the goals of the mathematics summit to strengthen U.S. mathematics performance. Each federal resource is categorized by agency and program name, funding level, a brief description, and “How it can work” to improve mathematics. The relevant summit objective is identified and a URL shown for further information. Participating Agencies are:

* National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

* National Science Foundation:

* U.S. Department of Education:

(4) Department Announces First Topics for What Works Clearinghouse Evidence Reports

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 2 April 2003 (press release)


The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences today announced seven initial Evidence Report topics for the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). The topics were chosen to meet the needs of educators and education decision makers to identify and implement effective and replicable approaches to improve important student outcomes.

“The current nationwide emphasis on ensuring that all students and schools achieve at high levels has increased the demand for sound evidence regarding ‘what works’ in education,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences. “The high-quality scientific reviews from the What Works Clearinghouse will support informed local decision making and the effective implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.”

The seven topics chosen for systematic review in the first year of the WWC’s operation reflect a wide range of our nation’s most pressing education issues:

*  Interventions for Beginning Reading — Reading interventions for students in grades K-3 that are intended to increase phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, or reading comprehension, or any combination of these reading skills. There will be two Evidence Reports in this topic area, addressing curriculum-based and other types of beginning reading interventions. The first report will focus on interventions for students who are having difficulties developing beginning reading skills, while the second will review interventions designed for general beginning reading students.

*  Curriculum-based Interventions for Increasing K-12 Math Achievement — Interventions based on a curriculum, which contain learning goals that spell out the mathematics that students should know and be able to do, instructional programs and materials that organize the mathematical content, and assessments. There will be three Evidence Reports in this topic area. The first will focus on middle school mathematics programs, the second will focus on elementary school, and the third on high school.

*  Preventing High School Dropout — Interventions in middle school, junior high school, or high school designed to increase high school completion including such techniques as the use of incentives, counseling, or monitoring as the prevention/intervention of choice.

Programs for Increasing Adult Literacy — Programs that focus on literacy and language skills needed to function effectively in everyday life which serve adult non-native speakers of English and adults who are proficient in spoken English but who lack basic literacy skills.

*  Peer-Assisted Learning in Elementary Schools: Reading, Mathematics, and Science Gains — Interventions designed to improve an elementary school academic outcome such as reading, math, or science, that routinely use students to teach one another in pairs or in small groups.

Interventions to Reduce Delinquent, Disorderly, and Violent Behavior in and out of School — Programs for preventing or reducing disruptive, illegal, or violent behavior among middle and high school students. Programs may be administered in a mainstream setting, such as schools, or in an alternative setting, and may provide individual or group-based treatment.

Interventions for Elementary English Language Learners: Increasing English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement — Interventions designed to improve the English language literacy and/or academic achievement of elementary school students who are English language learners.

Each WWC Evidence Report will examine the effects of replicable programs, practices, products, and policies that are designed to improve student outcomes within a topic area. For example, an Evidence Report on interventions for beginning reading would be expected to describe the evidence of effects of various beginning reading curricula and instructional practices.

The review process for WWC Evidence Reports will be thorough, scientific, and objective. The studies reviewed for each topic will be determined by an exhaustive search of published and unpublished research literature, including submissions from program and product developers. A work plan will be developed and a trained Evidence Report team will conduct the systematic reviews, using the WWC standards of evidence protocol tailored to the specific review topic. The resulting Evidence Reports will be reviewed by a Technical Advisory Group and peer reviewers, and the final reports will be posted online. The first WWC Evidence Reports are expected to be released in Fall 2003. [The schedule is included on this Web page.]

The WWC is currently accepting nominations of specific programs, practices, products, policies and studies to be reviewed within each of the seven topic areas identified for the first year, and is continuously seeking nominations for future topic areas. Please send suggestions to or see the topic section of the WWC website:

The WWC was established in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Education’s IES to provide educators, policymakers and the public with a central, independent and trusted source of scientific evidence of what works in education.


Initial Topics and Production Schedule for What Works Clearinghouse Evidence Reports

…Topic 2: Curriculum-Based Interventions For Increasing K-12 Math Proficiency:

* Evidence Report I–Middle School (start: April 2003; finish: Fall 2003)

* Evidence Report II–Elementary School (start: August 2003; finish: Winter 2004)

* Evidence Report III–High School (start: November 2003; finish: Spring 2004)

…Topic 5: Peer Assisted Learning in Elementary Schools: Reading, Mathematics, and Science Gains (start: June 2003; finish: Spring 2004)….


Note:  Related Topic–New Book:

Standards-based School Mathematics Curricula: What are They? What Do Students Learn? (Edited by S. Senk and D. Thompson)


(5) Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST)

URL (information):

URL (Application):

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) Program was established in 1983 by The White House and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program identifies outstanding mathematics and science teachers, kindergarten through 12th grade, in each state and the four U.S. jurisdictions. These teachers will serve as models for their colleagues and will be leaders in the improvement of science and mathematics education. Beginning in 2003, the competition will alternate each year between teachers of grades 7-12 and teachers of grades K-6. In 2003, teachers of grades 7-12 mathematics and science in each state and the four U.S. jurisdictions will be eligible to apply. Teachers of grades K-6 will be eligible for the Presidential Awards in 2004…

The 2002 PAEMST Awardees [were announced last month: see for a list of 2002 awardees by state]. Each Presidential Awardee [received] a $7,500 award from the National Science Foundation [and was] invited to attend, along with a guest, recognition events in Washington, D.C….

Teachers applying for the 2003 PAEMST must be nominated. Anyone (e.g., principals, teachers, students, and other members of the general public) may nominate a teacher. Self-nominations will not be accepted. The application form and nomination form for 2003 can be downloaded… [The application deadline is 1 May 2003.]

If there are any questions, please contact your State Coordinator or the National Science Foundation at (703) 292-5131. A list of State Coordinators can be found by using the search form [on this Web page].

(6) “Prime Number Breakthrough” by David Whitehouse

Source: BBC News – 4 April 2003


A pair of mathematicians has made a breakthrough in understanding so-called prime numbers, numbers that can only be divided by themselves and one.

Other mathematicians have described the advance as the most important in the field in decades.

It was made by Dan Goldston, of San Jose State University, and Cem Yildirim, of Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey. It has just been announced at a conference in Germany on Algorithmic Number Theory.

The advance is related to an idea called the twin prime conjecture. This idea, still unproved, is that there are an infinite number of pairs of prime numbers that differ only by two.

“Neither of us ever expected to get particularly good results by this method. It’s actually completely amazing to me,” says Goldston.

Commenting on the breakthrough, Hugh Montgomery, a mathematician at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, US, says that Goldston has really broken a barrier.

Primes have always fascinated mankind. The third century BC Greek mathematician Eratosthenes developed a way to find the prime numbers.  Over the years, mathematicians such as Pierre de Fermat in the 17th Century, Georg Riemann in the 19th Century and Godfrey Hardy in the 20th have advanced our understanding of these strange numbers.

One of the important things about primes is that they are the building blocks of the integers – whole numbers. Primes can be multiplied to obtain all of the other integers.

A curious observation is that primes occur in twins with a surprising regularity. For example: 11 and 13; 17 and 19; 29 and 31; 41 and 43; 59 and 61.

Just as with single primes, the frequency of twin primes decreases as one gets to larger numbers. But do they completely fizzle out beyond some very large number? That is the big question. Around a trillion, for instance, only about one in every 28 numbers is a prime.

To tackle this problem, Goldston did what clever mathematicians do when they want to solve a difficult problem – they avoid it. Or rather, he approached the dilemma by first tackling a more manageable piece of the problem.

He asked if it was possible to find prime numbers that might not be twins, but that were much closer together than average? After many years of study, he was able to show it was.

According to Brian Conrey, of the American Institute of Mathematics, the way Goldston went about solving the problem was just as important as the result.

“It’s a brand new technique that opens the door,” Conrey says. “A lot of the excitement is we don’t know how far this thing is going to go. There are going to be a lot of applications, I think. It’s an incredible breakthrough.”

His paper is called Small Gaps Between Primes, and co-authored with Cem Yildirim. It places mathematicians closer to the tantalizing goal of identifying the frequency and location of twin primes.

“This result blows out of the water a whole line of previous records, as if someone were to run a three-minute mile,” says Carl Pomerance, of Bell Laboratories, US.

The distribution of primes is closely related to one of the most renowned unsolved questions in mathematics, the Riemann hypothesis, which concerns an infinite sum of numbers called the zeta function.

In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute, US, offered $1m to anyone who could settle the Riemann hypothesis. Goldston is optimistic that the new result will say something about the zeta function.

(7) TIMSS Assessment Frameworks and Specifications 2003, 2nd Edition


The second edition of the TIMSS Frameworks is now available. To provide more information about the mathematics and science questions included in the TIMSS 2003 assessment, the second edition of the TIMSS Frameworks includes a range of examples of assessment items (selected from extra field-test items), along with sample student responses. The second edition also includes a revised assessment design chapter to reflect modifications to the test design adopted after the first edition was published in September 2001. The full report is available as a pdf file: