COMET • Vol. 5, No. 10 – 1 April 2004


(1) “Middle Grades: The Challenge of Meeting High Expectations–Focus on Math Standards” and “Student Participation in Algebra”

Source: EdSource – March 2004


California’s mathematics standards are causing more [students] to take Algebra I in middle school. This two-page publication examines the importance of algebra instruction and the state’s progress toward helping all students master the topic. This report is available as a free download:

Read the full report, California’s Middle Grade Students, to learn more about this topic, as well as student performance against state standards, strategies for engaging adolescents in academics, handling transitions into and out of middle school, and the qualifications of the teachers of these grades. [A summary of this report is available at, and a bibliography of resources used in writing the report is available at]

Also see “Student Participation in Algebra I,” [which includes] two charts depicting participation rates for 8th and 9th graders in Algebra I (

Tracking the number of students taking the Algebra CST [California Standards Test] is currently the best method for approximating the number of students taking an algebra course. It appears that more students are taking algebra in the 8th and 9th grades. In 1999, the first year California administered course specific math tests to 8th graders, just 16% of them took the test for Algebra 1. In 4 years, the percentage grew to 32%. The 9th grade participation rate also increased, from 21% in 1999 to 37% in 2003. These statistics mask the differences in participation rates based on ethnicity and language. The 2003 Algebra CST data indicate that African Americans, Hispanics, and English Learners are less likely to complete Algebra 1 in the 8th grade [than Asian or non-Hispanic white students]. However, 9th grade rates for the three groups are higher and nearly comparable with other groups. [See the charts on the Web site given in the preceding paragraph.]

(2) Instructional Materials and Grade 5 Science Standards

Source: Art Sussman (

“California Building a Presence for Science” (CABAP) has posted a new web resource that correlates instructional materials with the California Grade 5 Science Standards. This online resource helps you:

* Find where your instructional materials cover each of the 5th grade science standards;

* Access teacher-oriented science content and links to other resources; and

* Understand the intent of specific standards as described in the California Science Framework.

Correlations for 4th Grade science standards will be posted by April 10.

This new resource is available at:

Most of the pages within this web resource have a link for providing comments back to CABAP. Please check out this resource, tell others about it, and give us feedback so we can continue to improve it.

(3) “More Than A Dozen Schools Chiefs Join CA Superintendent O’Connell to Fight for Changes to No Child Left Behind Act”

Source: California Department of Education – 24 March 2004


On March 24, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell was joined by a bi-partisan group of his counterparts from 13 states to urge U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige to allow states with strong accountability systems greater flexibility under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In a letter to Secretary Paige, more than a dozen state schools chiefs endorsed the primary mission of NCLB–to raise standards and expectations for all students, and hold schools accountable for results–but asked for flexibility in the implementation of the law. The letter was signed by state schools chiefs from Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington.

“While flexibility is the watchword of NCLB,” O’Connell said, “those of us who must implement this important law have found that a lack of flexibility is causing us difficulty in ensuring we meet its promise.”

Specifically, O’Connell and his counterparts urged that states be allowed flexibility to measure annual school progress using a model based on year-to-year academic achievement growth. Currently, NCLB requires states to measure adequate progress using a “status bar” model, which measures adequate yearly progress based on whether a school has “jumped over” a single achievement bar.

“The status bar model effectively penalizes established state accountability systems that are based on high standards,” O’Connell said. “In California, for example, 403 schools have more than doubled their growth targets for two consecutive years on a state system based on rigorous academic standards, yet have failed to make adequate progress under NCLB.

“Allowing states flexibility to use a growth model such as California’s, where schools and student subgroups are expected to show steady annual progress toward proficiency on rigorous academic standards, will enable states to more effectively target limited resources to schools needing the most improvement — without watering down our standards,” O’Connell said.

“Requiring schools that are on the right track toward proficiency to divert precious resources to transportation or other purposes now required under NCLB just doesn’t make sense at a time when states must do more with limited education dollars,” O’Connell said.

For more information, including a copy of the letter to Secretary Paige and a white paper on this issue, please visit


(1) “14 States Ask U.S. to Revise Some Education Law Rules” by Diana Jean Schemo

Source: New York Times – 25 March 2004


Fourteen states asked the Bush administration on Wednesday for permission to use alternative methods for showing academic gains under the No Child Left Behind law.

The 14 states, most of which had their own systems for raising academic performance in place before the federal No Child Left Behind law took effect two years ago, charged that as currently written, the law would brand too many schools “in need of improvement,” and thus squander limited resources…

The appeal comes as more and more states have passed resolutions criticizing No Child Left Behind, and the federal Education Department has moved to give states greater flexibility in carrying out the law. In recent months, Dr. Paige has relaxed some of the law’s more stringent requirements on the testing of children who are learning English and disabled children, as well as provisions demanding that schools hire only teachers who are qualified for the subjects they are teaching.

The state education chiefs acknowledged that the changes they were requesting could not be accommodated within the current law, and asked for Congress to revise the law–something that Congress appears unlikely to consider this year…

Eugene Hickok, acting deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education, said the kind of changes California and the other states are seeking could be granted only if the law were revised. He also said estimates that the vast majority of schools would be deemed sub par were probably overstated.

While acknowledging “some merit” to Wednesday’s suggestion, Mr. Hickok said that he did not support revising the education law. Doing so would “open up opportunities for all kinds of problems. There are lots of people who would like to revisit the statute to gut it.”

The schools chiefs also came under immediate fire from the Congressional architects of the law, including Representative George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Under the growth model that California was proposing, Mr. Miller said: “They are sort of always arriving, but they never get there. We want all of our fourth-grade children to be proficient in reading and math and other subjects. Growth alone can’t be good enough”…

(2) “Feds to Loosen Testing Rules” by Erin Walsh

Source:  North County Times – 1 April 2004


The federal government will ease up a bit next year on strict participation rules for standardized testing, but state school officials said new guidelines won’t help keep most schools in California from falling short on the tests.

To comply with a federal law called the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools must test at least 95 percent of their students and 95 percent of each smaller group of students–ethnic groups, non-native English speakers, low-income students and special education students–to keep the schools from landing on a federal watch list.

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who runs the federal Department of Education, announced this week that schools will meet the federal requirements this year if they post an average participation rate of 95 percent during a three-year period.

Schools with participation averages at or above 95 percent will not be put on the watch list or be punished by No Child Left Behind, which sanctions schools that score too low or test too few students.

The new rules could make it easier for a few schools to meet the federal guidelines and thus avoid sanctions. Schools that test too few students are subject to punishments and may be forced to allow parents to pull their children out of those campuses.

“Every student should count, but if they don’t take the tests, they can’t be counted,” Paige said in a written statement. “The 95 percent participation rate was included in the law to ensure that all children are assessed. However, we recognized that there were circumstances whereby a few absent students prevented an otherwise successful school from meeting the 95 percent participation rate requirement.”

Paige also announced that students who miss tests because of medical emergencies will be exempted from the participation rules so they don’t cause schools to fall short of participation goals.

State officials, who want even more flexibility with the federal participation rules, said the new rules are a good start but won’t fix one of California’s biggest participation problems: Parents who choose not to allow their students to be tested.

California law allows parents to opt their students out of testing if they do not wish for their children to take state tests. Some schools, including one in Encinitas, missed the federal standards last year because too many students’ parents pulled their children out of testing.

The state has asked the U.S. Department of Education to change its participation rules so that schools where too many parents opt their kids out of testing are not penalized. Paige and his department have not responded to that request.

“Parental opt-outs are still a huge issue that has not been addressed by the federal department,” said Bill Padia, head of the policy and evaluation division of the California Department of Education. “But we’re optimistic that could change”…


Related Story:

“Chiefs Sense a New Attitude in Meeting With Bush” by David Hoff

Source: Education Week – 31 March 2004


The chief school officers of 35 states are predicting their relationship with President Bush”s administration will improve after a two-hour White House meeting with the president and his top domestic-policy aides last week…

(3) Links to Recent Articles of Potential Interest to COMET Readers:

(a) “Special Kids, Standardized Tests–Parents, educators question use of same yardstick for every student” by George Merritt

Source: Denver Post  – 17 March 2004


(b) “Special Ed Testing a Trial for Teachers–Showing progress a time-consuming, subjective ordeal” by Lori Olszewski

SourceChicago Tribune – 1 April 2004


(c) “Call for ‘Scientifically Based’ Programs Debated” by Debra Viadero

Source: Education Week  – 24 March 2004


The question, posed at a recent conference here, was this: Is the federal government’s call for “scientifically based research” in education a mandate or just strong advice?…

(4) “April Fools’ Special: History’s Hoaxes [Alabama Changes Value of Pi]” by John Roach

Source:  National Geographic News – 31 March 2004


At first glance, the headlines sound plausible enough to snooker unwary readers: Colorless, odorless, tasteless chemical kills thousands of people each year. Mild winter brings Switzerland a bumper spaghetti crop. Taco Bell Corporation purchases Liberty Bell from U.S. Government. Alabama legislature votes to change the value of the mathematical constant pi.

But they are all lies.

Happy April Fools’ Day. To mark the occasion, National Geographic News has compiled a list of some of the more memorable hoaxes in recent history. They are the lies, darned lies, and whoppers that have been perpetrated on the gullible and unsuspecting to fulfill that age-old desire held by some to put the joke on others…

 Alabama Changes Value of Pi

The April 1998 newsletter put out by New Mexicans for Science and Reason contains an article titled “Alabama Legislature Lays Siege to Pi.” It was penned by April Holiday of the Associmated (sic) Press and told the story of how the Alabama state legislature voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the round number of 3.

The ersatz news story was written by Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist Mark Boslough to parody legislative and school board attacks on the teaching of evolution in New Mexico.

At Boslough’s suggestion, Dave Thomas, the president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, posted the article in its entirety to the Internet newsgroup on April 1. (The newsgroup hosts a lively debate on creation vs. evolution.) Later that evening Thomas posted a full confession to the hoax. He thought he had put all rumors to bed.

But to Thomas’s surprise, however, several newsgroup readers forwarded the article to friends and posted it on other newsgroups.

When Thomas checked in on the story a few weeks later, he was surprised to learn that it had spread like wildfire. The telltale signs of the article’s satirical intent, such as the April 1 date and misspelled “Associmated Press” dateline, had been replaced or deleted.

Alabama legislators were bombarded with calls protesting the law. The legislators explained that the news was a hoax. There was not and never had been such a law…