COMET • Vol. 4, No. 15 – 4 May 2003


(1) “State Education Official Seeks to Delay Exit Exam” by Duke Helfand

Source: Los Angeles Times – 2 May 2003


The president of the [California] State Board of Education, reacting to a new report that highlights the high failure rate on California’s high school exit exam, said Thursday that the test should be postponed as a graduation requirement for up to three years.

Students in the class of 2004 must pass the math and English-language arts portions of the exam to earn a diploma, according to current rules that have provoked protests from many worried parents and teens.

Only about 60% of the students in the class of 2004 have passed the math portion of the test so far, according to the state-mandated report released Thursday. Even after additional attempts over the next year, about 20% of that class still might be denied diplomas, the study estimated.

Reed Hastings, president of the state board, said he now favors a delay of the requirement until the class of 2005, or perhaps two more after that, so students can be better prepared for an exam with such high stakes.

“It becomes a question of, not whether to delay it, but for how long to delay it,” he said.

The board is expected to decide on a possible delay by July. Votes of six out of the 10 members are required to change the policy.

Two board members, Nancy Ichinaga and Suzanne Tacheny, said Thursday that they also support a delay, but did not offer a time frame.

A newly appointed member, Luis Rodriguez, said he had not seen the report and had not made up his mind about a postponement. Other members could not be reached or did not return calls.

Ichinaga said she is opposed to using a single test to determine whether students graduate high school. But given that the state Legislature mandated such a test, Ichinaga, a former elementary school principal in Inglewood, said she wants to give students every opportunity to pass.

“There will always be kids who have a hard time. We have to figure out how to accommodate them. And we haven’t done that,” she said. “It’s just easier to say, ‘Here are the requirements and if you don’t make it, tough luck.’ ”

The high school exit exam–which covers language arts material through 10th grade and math through basic algebra–has stirred opposition among parents of students who have failed it multiple times.

Anti-test activists have organized demonstrations around California to pressure state officials to drop or delay the graduation requirement.

The new evaluation of the test, produced for the state by the Human Resources Research Organization in Virginia, found that California middle schools and high schools are paying much closer attention to the state’s academic standards in math and English, upon which the exit exam is based.

Schools also are offering more remedial and supplemental classes for students who do not pass the exams.

“Having the exit exam in place has improved curriculum and instruction, and it has focused resources so that more students are getting the help they need to master tough standards,” said Kerry Mazzoni, the state’s secretary of education.

But the report also found that a “lack of prerequisite skills,” along with inadequate motivation and parental support, may be contributing to the failures.

The class of 2004 is at a particular disadvantage in math because many were not taught algebra in middle school and missed the opportunity for a grounding in skills required to pass the test, the study found. That has changed for subsequent classes.

The report offers a menu of alternatives for dealing with these problems: California could lower the passing standard in math. Students have to answer 55% of the questions correctly to pass. Lowering that figure could mean a loss of credibility for the exam, the report warns. And the state could delay enforcement of the exam, but that could undermine momentum schools have gained around the standards instruction.

Tacheny of the state board said the goal of the test should not get lost in the debate over its enforcement.

“The most important message we need for schools to hear is that kids need these skills on the test to be prepared for college and today’s economy,” she said.

Related reports:

“California Report Tallies Cost of ‘Exit Exam'” by Greg Winter
  The New York Times – 2 May 2003

“Many California Seniors Will Fail Exit Exam”
Source: – 2 May 2003

“Exit Exam Study: Many Will Flunk” by Erika Chavez
 Sacramento Bee – 2 May 2003

(2) Schools Chief Announces Education Technology Funding Opportunity for Grades Four Through Eight

Source:  California Department of Education – 15 April 2003 (News Release)


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today announced that the California Department of Education (CDE) has made available $41 million in federal funding through the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) Competitive Grant Program…

Eligibility criteria include targeting school districts with a high percentage or number of students living in poverty according to federal census data. Districts also must have either one or more schools identified for improvement or corrective action under Section 1116 of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 or have a substantial need in acquiring and using technology. A list of eligible districts can be found on the EETT Web page at

…The purpose of this grant is to provide funding for grades four through eight to assist eligible districts to use technology to enhance teaching and to promote learning. In addition to the focus on academic achievement, SB 192 (O’Connell), emphasizes that the funding should be used to prepare elementary and middle school students to enter high school with the academic and technology literacy skills to support success in high school. It also should be used to assist in the acquisition, development, and maintenance of an effective educational technology infrastructure that expands access to technology, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, and their teachers…

The Request for Applications (RFA) for the EETT Competitive Grant is posted online at the EETT Web page   …The grant applications are due to CDE on May 14, 2003. CDE expects to make the first implementation grant awards in June of 2003.

(3) California Day of the Teacher

Source: California Department of Education – 15 April 2003 (News Release)


In recognition of teachers and their significant contribution to children, families, and communities, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell encourages all Californians to formally honor our educators on May 14–California Day of the Teacher.

“Teachers are the heart and soul of our education system,” O’Connell said. “And, in light of this year’s state budget crisis, it is especially important to remember and appreciate these remarkable professionals whose unselfish dedication positively influences so many young lives.”

This year’s Day of the Teacher theme is, “Imagine, Inspire, Involve.”

“These are worthy objectives that all good teachers inherently incorporate into their daily lesson plans. To imagine the possibilities, to inspire students to succeed, and to involve every single child is what education is all about,” O’Connell said.

The Association of Mexican-American Educators, Inc. (AMAE) is the sponsor of Day of the Teacher. During the early 1970s, the AMAE adopted the Mexican tradition of annually recognizing teachers and began organizing related events throughout California.

At AMAE’s request, the day was entered into state legislation in 1982, and in 1985 the California Legislature set aside the second Wednesday in May as the Day of the Teacher. For more information, please go to <>.

On a related note:

    • [

    • ] Tuesday, May 6, 2003, is

National Teacher Day

    , a time for honoring teachers and recognizing the lasting contributions they make to our lives. National Teacher Day is always the Tuesday of the first full week of May, so the actual date varies from year to year. That whole week–this year May 4-10–is designated Teacher Appreciation Week by the National PTA. It’s a time to strengthen support and respect for teachers and the teaching profession. The history of Teacher Day goes back to 1944…


(1) RAND Report Identifies Ways to Improve Student Math Performance

Source: 21 April 2003 (News Release)


A new RAND study says mathematics proficiency of elementary and secondary students could increase if a coordinated program of research and development is conducted examining how to improve the way mathematics is taught in American schools.

The study, released today, recommends three areas that should be emphasized in efforts to improve mathematics education:

* Development of the mathematical knowledge that teachers need to effectively teach students from diverse backgrounds.

* Teaching and learning required for mathematical thinking and problem solving, because educators can develop more effective mathematics instruction by gaining a better understanding of the practices of successful learners and users of mathematics.

* Teaching and learning algebra from kindergarten through 12th grade, because algebra is central to proficiency in mathematics.

The report argues that current efforts to improve mathematics proficiency of students “have not been adequately informed by the work of the research community. Because of this, …debates (about mathematics education) have often been undisciplined and contentious.”

The study outlines a sustained and cumulative program of research and development intended to provide answers to questions about what works and what does not work in developing mathematical proficiency. It says that “a coordinated, cumulative, and problem-centered program of research and development in mathematics would require skilled management and direction.”

The report proposes a strategy that government funders might use to foster changes. The strategy includes creating a standing committee of researchers and leaders in education, business, and the nonprofit sector to assess what has been learned through research and evaluation and propose future directions for mathematics education research and development.

“Government funders, as well as performers in the field, (must) approach and manage their work differently than they have in the past,” the study says.

Despite prolonged efforts to improve students’ mathematical performance, mathematical competency in U.S. schools remains alarmingly low. In addition, wide achievement gaps continue among different socioeconomic, racial and ethnic groups.

The study was prepared by a panel of researchers, mathematicians, and educators chaired by Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a professor at the University of Michigan.

The report is titled “Mathematical Proficiency for All Students: Toward a Strategic Research and Development Program in Mathematics Education.” It is one of two reports to the U.S. Department of Education prepared jointly by RAND Education and RAND’s Science and Technology Policy Institute as part of a larger effort to recommend ways that research and development can be used most effectively to improve the quality of education. The other report, “Reading for Understanding: Toward an R&D program in Reading Comprehension,” was released last year.


Note: This report can be downloaded from the following Web site:

(2) “Math Education Panel Issues Long-Range Plan for Action” by David J. Hoff

Source:  Education Week – 30 April 2003


A blue-ribbon panel of mathematics education researchers released a long-range plan last week that it says will answer the thorny questions of how best to teach math.

To begin with, the report says, researchers need to find ways to integrate algebraic concepts throughout the K-12 curriculum, and they must figure out the best ways to teach the discipline to current and future teachers so they can apply what they learn in their classrooms.

The RAND Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank, issued the federally financed report containing the recommendations of 18 mathematicians and math educators.

Discussion drafts were circulated more than a year ago. The panel’s work played a role in shaping the $120 million math education research agenda that the Bush administration recently launched as part of a five-year effort to raise math and science achievement, according to the top research official at the U.S. Department of Education.

For example, the department is now accepting applications for projects that identify effective ways to prepare math teachers for middle schools, said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the department’s new Institute of Education Sciences. The department is calling for other proposals on how to teach portions of algebra in all math courses more effectively, he added. The winners of the grant competition should be named by this summer.

“There’s a lot of overlap” between the RAND recommendations and the department’s agenda, Mr. Whitehurst said in an interview.

“Their thinking and recommendations are things that I benefited from early on,” he said.

The RAND math report is a companion to a separate project by the think tank that addresses the teaching of reading comprehension.

Promoting Algebra

Researchers should unlock the keys to teaching algebra, the new report says, because the subject “is foundational in all areas of mathematics.” It includes the tools for solving problems, making generalizations and proving them, and crafting formulas that describe mathematical problems.

Most research on algebra has focused on high school classrooms because that’s where the topic is most often taught, the report says.

Because some research suggests that young students can learn elementary concepts of algebra as part of arithmetic and other classes, the report adds, researchers need to investigate “what happens when it is integrated with other subjects.”

On teacher development, the report suggests that teachers need a distinctive set of math skills and knowledge that teacher-preparation programs should give them. Teachers, for example, should be able to identify not only whether a student gets the right answer, but also whether the procedures used to arrive at the answer were correct.

The report also calls for researchers to investigate the best ways for teachers to teach problem-solving skills in all math subjects so children can take those skills and apply them in a variety of mathematical situations.

Mr. Whitehurst said that the RAND report laid out research areas that the Education Department is pursuing, but he added that the department might pursue some other areas, too.

For instance, he said, the department might seek research on how to design a better curriculum so that teachers without solid mathematics backgrounds can teach the subject effectively. The research is needed, he said, because so few teachers-particularly those working in poor communities-have the mathematical knowledge that education policymakers would like them to have.

(3)  “Ed. Dept. Floats Plan for Overhaul of ERIC Clearinghouses” by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Source:  Education Week – 30 April 2003


The Educational Resources Information Center, or ERIC, the world’s largest and most widely used educational database system, would be overhauled under a proposal released by the Department of Education this month.

Under the plan, a single contractor would administer the 37-year-old system–a strategy that could spell the end of the 16 clearinghouses devoted to specific subject areas, and lead to drastic changes in the services now available.

The draft “statement of work,” posted on the department Web site April 10, includes a detailed description of the functions of the new centralized system, which would replace the clearinghouses housed primarily at universities around the country when those contracts expire Dec. 31. [See]

According to the proposal, the changes are intended to make the system more efficient and cost-effective–as required under the 2002 law creating the agency’s Institute of Education Sciences–and to speed the time it takes to archive the thousands of education studies, papers, and scholarly articles that are collected by the clearinghouses each year.

“The clearinghouse structure was established in the mid-1960s, when journal articles and other information materials were only available in paper form and when microfiche was a relatively new technology,” the proposal states. Despite technological advances that make such materials more readily available, the plan maintains, “the time required to enter a document in the database has not changed significantly.”

Supporters of the existing structure acknowledge the need for improvement and say they have been working to smooth the system. But the department’s plan, they say, does not recognize the contributions of the clearinghouses in expanding customer services and bringing subject-area expertise to those collections.

“We don’t want exactly what we have now … but we’re not sure starting from scratch is the easiest way or the best way to go about this,” said R. David Lankes, the director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information and Technology, based at Syracuse University.

Mr. Lankes and other advocates for ERIC say that the draft plan could allow many popular user services to be discontinued. The guidelines do not require the contractor, for example, to preserve AskERIC, which provides research services to individuals, or the ERIC Digests, the system’s popular papers on specific education topics. The online listservs developed and maintained by the clearinghouses might also be abandoned.

While the draft requires the contractor to seek advice from experts in subjects currently covered–such as social studies, assessment, or reading instruction–their participation would be limited.

“The clearinghouses have a whole host of activities not funded by the government,” said Lawrence Rudner, the director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation, located at the University of Maryland College Park. “There’s a whole lot of infrastructure that should not be ignored.”

But the guidelines do not necessarily prevent the main contractor from incorporating existing services, or some clearing houses, into the new structure, said Jeff C. Halsted, a contract specialist with the Education Department.

Public comments on the proposal will be accepted through May 9 via e-mail at The department has already received hundreds of responses, Mr. Halsted said, many expressing support for improving the current infrastructure.

After reviewing the comments, department officials will issue more definitive guidelines over the summer and sponsor a public meeting to discuss the proposal, according to Mr. Halsted.


Related item: Several organizations have voiced opposition to this plan. The following opinion from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) is representative:

(4)  “US ED Proposes Eliminating ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education and Other Valuable ERIC Resources and Services”

Source:  AACTE – 25 April 2003


The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) currently includes a network of 16 Clearinghouses, one of which is the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education.  The U.S. Department of Education has released for public comment a draft statement of work (SOW) for a “New ERIC” system:    Unless this plan is modified, all 16 Clearinghouses and their services will be eliminated and there will be a dramatic change in the content of the ERIC database…

The plan for the “New ERIC” makes the following changes:

* Closes all 16 ERIC Clearinghouses

* Eliminates personalized reference and referral services

* Shuts down Clearinghouse web sites-such as the ERIC Clearinghouse on

Teaching and Teacher Education’s site at

* Reduces coverage of the journal literature from 1100 journals to an estimated 400

* Terminates AskERIC and clearinghouse question-answering services

* Eliminates ERIC Digests, books, and other synthesis publications

* Ends all networking and outreach activities

* Restricts consumer access to information, limiting ERIC database coverage to “approved lists” of journals and document contributors

What You Can Do:

* Read the U.S. Department of Education’s draft Statement of Work for ERIC.

* Contact your Congressional representatives–contact information can be found at Project Vote Smart (

* Contact Secretary of Education Rod Paige via fax at 202-401-0596 (on letterhead, please) or email at

* Submit your comments on the draft Statement of Work to Jeff Halstead, U.S. Department of Education Contract Specialist, via fax at 202-708-9817 (on letterhead, please) or email at

* Keep on top of this issue at the following websites at ERIC

Reauthorization News ( or ( )

The Good News

It’s not all bad news. A number of improvements have been incorporated into the draft ERIC Statement of Work. These include:

1. More rigorous selection criteria for materials added to the ERIC database.

2. Greater speed in building the database.

3. Centralized processing of materials for the database.

4. Better coding of content for better searching of the database and web site.

5. Free full-text copies of many materials.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, many of the proposed changes eliminate or diminish services essential to educators and the general public. The draft SOW:

1. Eliminates all 16 ERIC Clearinghouses including the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education. This Clearinghouse provides information on teaching practice, teacher education, professional development, resources on how to pursue a teacher career, and also includes resources in the topic area of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (HPERD). There is no indication in the draft statement of work that the scope area of HPERD will be retained in the new ERIC system. The closing of all 16 Clearinghouses will eliminate the long-lasting partnerships that ERIC has developed with rich discourse communities of teacher educators, researchers, practitioners, and parents. Under the proposed new Statement of Work, ERIC becomes an impersonal, automated database. The system of distributed content knowledge experts currently embodied in the 16 different subject-specific Clearinghouses will be lost.

2. Reduces coverage of journal literature. The interdisciplinary nature of the ERIC database would suffer because the number of journals likely to be covered would be reduced from approximately 1,100 journals to fewer than 400. Under this new system, it is likely that certain key journals in the fields of teaching, teacher education and health, physical education, recreation and dance will no longer be reviewed for inclusion in the database.

3. Eliminates personalized user services. The ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education has staff dedicated to providing users with personalized technical assistance and reference and referral services. Many ERIC customers need direct contact with subject-area specialists who can help them find resources and obtain information or clarification before searching the database. Some users lack ready access to a computer or the skills required to navigate the database and require personal technical assistance. But the draft SOW eliminates these personalized services:

* Clearinghouse information services, including AskERIC-these services respond to nearly 100,000 questions each year.

* Networking and outreach activities, including workshops and exhibits.

* Reference and referral services.

4. Limits customer access to web-based services and information. The new ERIC system would eliminate the web site of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teaching and Teacher Education (, including its resources for teachers, information on teacher education, links to state licensure and certification requirements, full-text publications, and resources for Health Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. ERIC Clearinghouse-sponsored web sites are heavily used. Collectively, these web sites received 688 million web accesses and more than 22.5 million unique visitors in 2002. Clearinghouse web statistics suggest that ERIC users come to the Clearinghouse web sites for many purposes other than searching the ERIC database. For example, in 2002, ERIC Digests were accessed more than 3.6 million times on Clearinghouse web sites. Customers also use other full-text materials on these web sites-FAQs, conference calendars, links, financial and scholarship information, and directories.

5. Restricts consumer access to information. ERIC was originally established as a repository for “fugitive education literature” such as conference papers, speeches, policy statements, etc. There is no place for this function in the proposed system. The draft SOW specifies the development of “approved lists” of journals and document contributors. This strategy increases the possibility that bias can be introduced into database selection procedures. The draft SOW also calls for limiting database inclusion to only those items “directly related” to education. Education priorities change. If ERIC focuses its collection effort narrowly, or only on certain priorities, it may miss documents and journal articles that provide a balanced view of current issues or a longitudinal view of education trends. Research on information dissemination supports the current practice of reflecting a broad range of practices and views in the database. The ERIC database is essentially an archive or library that serves best by including contributions on a wide variety of topics and points of view.

6. Eliminates the ERIC synthesis function. ERIC Digests and major publications provide information in a format and language that makes this information more accessible to parents and teachers, for whom highly technical or scholarly writing is not always appropriate.  Under the new ERIC system, publication including digests, monographs, books, information cards and bookmarks would no longer be produced.