COMET • Vol. 4, No. 08 – 8 March 2003


(1) California Science Framework (2003) Available

Source: Art Sussman ( – 5 March 2003

The 2003 Science Framework for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, is now available. The Framework is based on the current California Science Standards that were adopted in 1998.  Copies may be obtained from CDE Press at 1-800-995-4099 or at   Copies cost $17.50 plus tax and shipping.


Note: Excerpts from the Science Framework can be found at

(2) “Executive Summary: California’s Lowest Performing Schools”

Source:  EdSource Online – February 2003


Now that California’s ranking system for public schools–using the Academic Performance Index, or API–has been in place for three years, the state has data to track the progress of most schools.

This EdFact summarizes the EdSource report, California’s Lowest Performing Schools: Who They Are, The Challenges They Face, and How They’re Improving(, which takes a close look at the first cohort of California’s bottom ranking schools and their progress. It also explores some factors that may be contributing to these schools’ improvement.

(3) “Educators Want Graduation Exam Deadline Delayed” by Anne Dudley Ellis

Source:  The Fresno Bee – 2 March 2003


…The [California High School Exit Exam} poses a problem for state education officials in Sacramento…

With only a year left to pass the test, concerns are mounting because 52% of the students in the class of 2004–the first group of students required to pass–have failed. Students still have several chances to take the exam, but many educators want the deadline pushed back.

The high school exit exam, a linchpin in Gov. Davis’ education reform efforts, requires seniors to pass a test in English language arts and math before getting a diploma.

The decision to delay is up to the state Board of Education, which will probably vote on that issue at its June meeting.

“I’m torn,” said Reed Hastings, president of the state Board of Education. “Part of me says, ‘We’re supposed to do it in 2004 and if we delay now, aren’t we setting up a cascade of delays?’ But part of me says, ‘We put this in place quickly. Maybe it would be better to delay.’  The tide seems to be running 2-to-1 to postpone. I would have thought it would be 5-to-1.”

Members of the board have “expressed the sentiment that no one is interested in seeing a test where half or three-quarters of the kids are not passing,” said Phil Garcia, spokesman for the state Board of Education…

The algebra problems, particularly, are difficult for students, said Mike Young, chief academic officer for the Madera Unified School District. “I think there’s a high probability that it will be delayed until 2005,” Young said.

Educators are already wondering what would happen to the seniors who don’t pass by graduation of 2004. Some say perhaps high school “certificates” will be awarded those who don’t earn diplomas…

Assembly Member Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno, said the test was implemented too quickly and needs more review. She also said that the exit exam, and other state-required tests, could be suspended because of the state’s financial problems. The exit exam is expected to cost the state $64.4 million in 2003-04.

The test has already faced legal challenges from groups representing minorities and special-education students, but the most significant lawsuits aren’t expected until after students are barred from graduating because they failed the test, Board of Education president Hastings said.

The exit exam, California’s first, was approved by the state Legislature in 1999 to improve student achievement and help ensure that students who graduate are competent in reading, writing and math. The exam tests on academic content that students are supposed to have learned through the 10th grade. Students must pass 55% of the math questions and 60% of the language arts portion…

(4) “State Exit Exam Gets Poor Grades” by Jenifer Ragland and Erika Hayasaki

Source: Los Angeles Times – 4 March 2003


…Students, many from schools in poor neighborhoods, say they haven’t been taught the material [on the California High School Exit Exam] in their classes. They say they’re bad test-takers, no matter how hard they try. They say the weight of the exam is affecting their performances…

“When students have met every other requirement of graduation, to deny diplomas based on one test is unfair and unsound,” said Abdi Soltani, executive director of Californians for Justice, a group that works to improve education in poor and minority communities and is leading a fight against the tests.

California education officials say they haven’t made up their minds about whether to leave the Class of 2004 on the hook. A statewide study, due out in May [by Resources Research Organization], is looking at whether students have had adequate opportunity to learn the math and language arts concepts they need to pass the exam. Officials also want to see scores from this spring’s round of testing.

Eighteen other states require similar exams, and recent national studies show that such diploma-linked testing has caused a spike in high school dropouts and a dip in graduation rates. Activists fear similar repercussions in California.

A State Board of Education member, Suzanne Tacheny, said a decision about whether to postpone enforcement of the exam will require “Solomon-like wisdom.”

“Which trade-off is more important? If you delay the test until every kid passes, it’s meaningless,” she said. “What’s the point at which you say it’s been fair?”

Reed Hastings, president of the state school board, also warned that dropping the test wouldn’t really help struggling students in the long run. The exam’s contents, he and others say, are not unreasonably difficult; they cover language arts concepts through the 10th grade and math through basic algebra, often a ninth-grade class.

“The key is: Do the students have the skills they need in the economy of the future?” Hastings said. “A student who can’t pass the exit exam is definitely at risk for not having those skills. The problem is not the exit exam. The problem is getting attention focused on those students and, in some cases, getting those students motivated to do the learning that’s necessary.”

The exit exam, a chief component of Gov. Gray Davis’ school reforms, includes two sections, each with 80 multiple-choice questions, plus two essays spread over three days. Questions cover English standards, such as reading comprehension, word analysis, writing structure and grammar. In math, concepts include fractions, probability, linear equations and basic geometry.

The test is offered as many as three times a year and students retake only the portion they have failed.

Of the estimated 459,588 students enrolled in the Class of 2004, about 48% have passed both sections of the exam, according to the most recent figures available…

Critics of the test say its fairness is a key question. They note that pass rates among white and Asian youngsters on the 2002 test were nearly double those of Latinos and African Americans. Among students from low-income homes, only 22% passed the exam’s math section last spring, while about 40% of students considered not economically disadvantaged passed…

Hastings, the California school board president, said that some states have been successful with graduation exams, and are showing a steady increase in pass rates and in the amount of learning as a result. He said he thinks that California wrote a fair test and that the exam is needed to make a high school diploma worth more.

California Teachers Assn. President Wayne Johnson disagrees. Completing four years of classes for a high school diploma means a lot these days because standards for course work have been raised. “This very rigid test,” the union leader said, has “excluded some kids from getting a high school diploma who I think deserve it.”

With support from the teachers association, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) introduced a bill last month that would remove the graduation requirement. High-stakes exit exams may have been reasonable when the state was increasing funding for schools, but not during a period of budget cuts, Hancock said.


Test examples

The following are questions taken from the California High School Exit Exam, which high school students will have to pass to graduate, beginning in 2004.

(1) Stephanie is reading a 456-page book. During the past seven days she has read 168 pages. If she continues reading at the same rate, how many more days will it take her to complete the book?    A. 12; B. 14; C. 19; D. 24

(2) A bag contained four green balls, three red balls, and two purple balls. Jason removed one purple ball from the bag and did not put the ball back in the bag. He then randomly removed another ball from the bag. What is the probability that the second ball Jason removed was purple?         A. 1/36; B. 1/9; C. 1/8; D. 2/9

(3) The musician played Wendy’s favorite waltz for her husband and ____.   A. I; B. he; C. she; D. her

(4) Read this sentence from the first article: “A supplement is like nutritional insurance.”

What does the author mean by comparing the use of supplements to insurance?

A. Like nutritional supplements, insurance is necessary in order to maintain good health.

B. Having insurance and using supplements will keep bad health away.

C. Both insurance and vitamins are important in curing health problems.

D. Like insurance, the nutritional value of supplements will be available when you need it.    Answers: 1) A; 2) C; 3) D; 4) D

Source: California Department of Education, Office of Standards and Assessment

(5) “Students Criticize Exit Exam” by Suzanne Pardington

Source: Contra Costa Times – 6 March 2003


…If students have not received adequate instruction and resources, including qualified teachers and updated textbooks, it is unfair to hold them responsible for knowing the material [on the California High School Exit Exam], critics say.

“It’s fundamentally unfair for the state to deny students a diploma when they have not given students what they need to learn,” said Katayoon Majd, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Majd urged the State Board of Education to “do the right thing” and delay full implementation of the exam until students are given the tools they need to pass.

However, supporters say postponing the exam counters the goal of the policy: to ensure every California graduate has mastered a minimum level of academic skills. The test is at a 10th grade level.

“People need to ask themselves the question: Is it fair to a student to graduate them when they haven’t even achieved a 10th grade level?” said Kerry Mazzoni, the governor’s top education aide. “For too long we allowed that to happen. I think that’s unconscionable. It’s robbing these children of their future.”

Many state education leaders and legislators favor postponing the consequences of the exam for a year or two. But Gov. Gray Davis, who appoints the state school board members, supports sticking to the original deadline, said spokeswoman Hilary McLean.

“If (the governor) insists on this, it will be very hard to overcome his resistance,” said Michael Kirst, an education professor at Stanford University. Kirst also is co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a joint Stanford-UC Berkeley research venture.

“It would take an open revolt of his own appointed state board members,” he said.

The state board must decide by Aug. 1 whether to excuse the class of 2004 from passing the exam… Fear of a costly lawsuit will likely play a large role in the board’s decision. The state already is fighting two lawsuits filed in state and federal court in 2001 claiming disabled students should not have to pass the test to earn a diploma.

“The exit exam lacks validity,” said Sid Wolinsky, director of litigation for Oakland’s Disability Rights Advocates, which filed the suits on behalf of disabled students. “Children are being tested on material they’ve never had an opportunity to learn.”

The test was rushed into effect before schools and teachers were ready for it, because doing so was politically expedient, Wolinsky added.

Only 13 percent of special education students have passed the test so far.

Board president Reed Hastings said he is torn between the two sides of the issue. The higher the number of students who pass the exam this spring, the more likely he is to vote to withhold diplomas next year, he said. About two-thirds of the district superintendents he has spoken with support delaying the consequences of the exam, he said.

“The point of the high school exit exam is to change the institutional practices so all students get an adequate education,” he said…


Related article:

“Disabled Students Call Test Unfair” by Nanette Asimov

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle – 3 March 2003



(1) Talking It Through: A Cross-National Conversation about Secondary Mathematics Curricula

Source:  Board on International Comparative Studies in Education – Jane Phillips (202-334-3010 or


The Board on International Comparative Studies in Education (BICSE) and the Mathematical Sciences Education Board (MSEB) will host a public workshop on March 31-April 1, 2003 at the National Academies’ building at 500 5th St., NW to discuss issues regarding Secondary Mathematics Curricula.

Overview:   How do several industrialized countries use mathematics curricula both to prepare all secondary students to be mathematically proficient citizens and to prepare some students for mathematically intensive college programs and career fields? This two-day workshop will bring together mathematicians, mathematics educators, and representatives from high-tech industries from several industrialized countries where secondary mathematics curriculum has been recently revisited in light of a rapidly changing, high technology-oriented labor market and increasing enrollments in higher education. We expect this cross-national conversation to make a valuable contribution to research and policy for enhancing development of more effective mathematics curricula, teaching, learning, and application.

Each speaker will discuss historical and contemporary experiences in his/her country as well as evidence for the effectiveness of various approaches to date. Some of the speakers on the agenda are:

Mogens Niss, Roskilde University, Denmark

John Dossey, Illinois State University, U.S.A.

Abraham Arcavi, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

Christine Keitel-Kreidt, Free University of Berlin, Germany

Graham Ruddock, National Foundation for Educational Research, United Kingdom

Peng Yee Lee, National Institute of Education, Singapore

Bernard White, Exxon Mobil Corporation, U.S.A.

Adam Gamoran, University of Wisconsin at Madison, U.S.A.

Gelsa Knijnik, Universidade do Vale do rio dos Sinos, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Uri Treisman, University of Texas at Austin, U.S.A.

Berinderjeet Kauer, National Institute of Education, Singapore

Arthur Jaffe, Harvard University, U.S.A.

The agenda and some background papers will be posted on two web sites by mid-March: and

(2) Math Tools: Building a Community

Source: Math Forum Internet News – 10 March 2003


With so much math software already available, how do you find just the right tool? How do you figure out which technology really benefits your students?

The Math Forum invites you to explore these questions with Math Tools, our new library for mathematics software.

We imagine a community library of software for computers, calculators, PDAs, and other handheld devices. With the library’s organization, you’ll be able to review, discuss, and share classroom activities; examine research; and encourage new software for a number of platforms.

See our Preview site to check out the evolving vision:

We have extended the collection of applets already in the Forum’s Library by collaborating with the Shodor Education Foundation, which has contributed applets from Project Interactivate, and Utah State University, which has contributed applets from the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. For this preview of the site, we invite you to get a sense of Math Tools by browsing the first area that  we’ve developed, which are tools intended for seventh grade-level math:

Our next foci will be precalculus, elementary level mathematics, and graphing calculator applications.

To build a more connected community of mathematics teachers, researchers, and curriculum and software developers, we invite you to visit the Math Tools Research Area. Each month, moderator George Reese will post a brief summary of a publication in educational research and pose a few questions for discussion:

The Math Forum is all about members helping members. Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, Math Tools offers you the opportunity to be part of a new and exciting project. Please spread the word. Let’s work together to realize the potential of the Internet to help us, whether we are students, teachers, software developers, researchers, parents or administrators.

Contact us now to get in on the ground floor and give us guidance, be a community leader, join in the discussion on educational research or develop resources and programs that meet your needs.