COMET • Vol. 5, No. 19 – 3 September 2004


(1)  O’Connell Releases Data Showing Most California Schools Improve API Scores; Meet Federal AYP Criteria

Source: California Department of Education


More than 60 percent of California schools improved their 2003-04 Academic Performance Index (API) scores, leading to an overall 10-point growth in statewide API scores this year, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced on Tuesday. More than 60 percent of schools also successfully met their 2004 federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks.

“I am encouraged that student achievement in more than half our schools continues to be on the rise,” O’Connell said. “However, the percentage of schools reporting API growth (64%) was a decline from the record high of 90 percent posted last year, and that is in keeping with the mixed statewide test results reported earlier this month.”

“Over the past six years, growth in student achievement has reflected a focus on high standards that has helped thousands of students reach higher levels. This year’s relatively flat test results and corresponding slowing of schools’ growth on the API indicates that we need to rededicate ourselves and refocus our efforts on those reforms that have been so successful at so many of our schools.”

One of the factors that contributed to the growth of API scores statewide was a reduction in the percentage of students scoring far below basic on statewide assessments, especially in mathematics. The far below basic performance category represents the lowest level of performance on the rigorous California Standards Tests.

This year, 64 percent of California schools met the federal AYP criteria compared to 54 percent last year. A major factor leading to the improved results appears to be a dramatic increase in the number of students participating in the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). In 2003, 35 percent of all large high schools failed to make AYP based solely on participant rate. In 2004, only 14 percent fell short simply because of participation.

Unlike the API, which reflects growth in student achievement from one year to the next, the AYP measurement reflects simply whether a school and all of its significant subgroups of students met a single benchmark for achievement in a single year. A school not meeting AYP may have fallen far short in every category, or miss the mark narrowly by failing one of many criteria measured. In both cases, however, the designation of “not meeting AYP” is the same.

“The fact that 317 of our schools grew 30 points or more, yet failed to make the federal benchmark, illustrates why I believe a growth model of accountability such as we have here in California more accurately reflects actually student learning,” O’Connell said.

This is the first year that the California Department of Education is releasing 2003-04 API growth results (for school and local education agency levels only) in conjunction with the 2004 AYP results. The federal No Child Left Behind regulations mandate that schools be notified of their AYP standing prior to the start of the traditional school year so that those in Program Improvement (PI) may begin implementing as early as possible those required services, such as allowing children in underachieving schools to relocate. API growth is one of the elements that determines whether a school makes it over the AYP status bar.

The 2004 Accountability Progress Report can be found at The complete 2003-04 API growth results, including subgroups (which are not a part of this report), and targets will be released on October 21, and Program Improvement (PI) status will be released on October 13.

Related information:

(1) Glossary of Terms for the 2004 Accountability Progress Report (APR).

Source: California Department of Education


(2) California Assessment News

Source: EdSource Online


(2) Governor Schwarzenegger Establishes California Service Corps


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Executive Order S-14-04 on August 25, establishing the California Service Corps. First Lady Maria Shriver will serve as honorary chairwoman and will lead the expansion of the state’s service and volunteer efforts.

“Through the California Service Corps, you can mentor needy children, feed the hungry, assist battered women, help Americans with disabilities, shelter the homeless, and carry out acts of kindness that will strengthen our communities, our state and our country,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “Through this effort, you can work to protect our homeland through the Citizen Corps, work full-or part-time in service to those in need through AmeriCorps or Senior Corps, help enrich our national and state parks through Take Pride in America, or work full-time or part-time in more than 70 countries around the world through the Peace Corps or Volunteers for Prosperity. Today, I ask every Californian to answer my call to service. Join the community of conscience, uplift the lives of others, and bring new meaning to your own life.”

The California Service Corps will assist Californians to identify meaningful service opportunities designed to strengthen and support the state. The Service Corps will serve as the stateÍs lead agency for community service and volunteerism and will partner with other public and not-for-profit agencies to leverage greater resources.

“California’s greatest natural resources are its people, who are 36 million strong. No matter your age, no matter what country or state you were born in, if you live here you’re a Californian. I am asking all Californians to join me in serving and strengthening our great state,” said Shriver. “Serving others is as easy as dishing out food in a kitchen line, donating blood, planting a school garden or building a neighborhood playground. When you bear responsibility for California and serve the Golden State, you become a member of the California Service Corps,” said Maria Shriver.

For additional information about opportunities for serving with the California Service Corps and more information regarding the members of the California Service Corp Commission, call (916) 323-7646 or visit

(3) “School Is an Experiment in Learning” by Cara Mia DiMassa

Source: Los Angeles Times – 27 August 2004


When school opens Sept. 9, Angela [Lincoln-Manuel] will be one of 700 students at the Science Center School, a joint venture between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the California Science Center.

“I love my life,” admitted Angela, dressed in the new school’s plaid pinafore uniform and standing to one side of a massive warehouse-sized building in Exposition Park.

Once a National Guard armory, the building has been reinvented as the school’s “Big Lab” and is part of an architecturally unusual campus that includes classrooms partly underground.

The Science Center School will offer its elementary students a rich curriculum focused on science, math and technology, said Los Angeles school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who represents the neighborhood near USC….

The $50-million campus is one of 160 schools the district is planning to build by 2012. About $34 million for the project came from the state-owned Science Center, the child-friendly museum that will share some facilities with the school. The district kicked in about $8 million in bond funds –the cost of one of its regular elementary schools. The rest of the funding came from state and other sources.

The Science Center School is an affiliated charter within L.A. Unified; as such it will have more autonomy than a regular district elementary school but less than an independent charter.

About 70% of its students come via lottery from six overcrowded elementary schools in the neighborhood, and 30% are students who applied directly to the school from around the district and elsewhere.

Speaker after speaker at the dedication ceremony [on August 26] remarked on the school’s long and slow progress from conception to completion. When the Science Center and school leaders first envisioned the school, George Deukmejian was governor of California. Thursday, he was in the audience…


(1) “US Team at 45th International Mathematical Olympiad Has Best Finish in 10 Years” by Harry Waldman

Source: Mathematical Association of America


Before the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, there was another Olympiad. Competing against teams from 84 countries at the International Mathematical Olympiad, the US team, comprising six students, outdistanced all but the team from China to capture second place in the 2004 competition, held in Athens from July 4-18. That was the best showing by a U.S. IMO team in ten years. The team from Russia came in third [Vietnam in fourth, and Bulgaria in fifth place].

The IMO is the preeminent mathematical competition for high school students around the world. This year there were 485 students in the competition. Most countries were represented by six students; smaller nations such as Luxembourg and Cuba sent only one or two students to the Olympiad. Each student had to solve six challenging problems in nine hours over two days. Each problem was worth seven points. The maximum number of points any student could attain was 42; the team 252. The US team total was 212, only eight points shy of China’s total.

Individually, competitors won medals for outstanding and elegant solutions. There were 45 gold medals awarded overall. The US team took six medals, the most it had won in any IMO since 1994, when it also won 6 gold medals.

All US team members were winners: Oleg Goldberg (Bedford, MA) took a gold with 40 points; TianKai Liu (Saratoga, CA) was awarded a gold medal with 38; Aaron Pixton (Vestal, NY) garnered a gold with 37; and Alison Miller (Niskayuna, NY) and Tony Zhang (Arcadia, CA) also won gold medals with 33 points each. [Alison is the second female ever to qualify for the U.S. team. The first female, Melanie Wood, won the silver medal in 1998 and 1999]. Matt Ince (Arnold, MO) won a silver medal with a score of 31 points.

The MAA sponsors the US team through its American Mathematics Competitions program, which is headquartered at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Steven R. Dunbar [800-527-3690] is the director. Training for the team at the University of Nebraska was aided by a grant from the Akamei Foundation. Travel support was provided by a grant from the Army Research Office and additional support came from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Society of Actuaries, Mu Alpha Theta, Casualty Actuarial Society, American Statistical Association, AMATYC, AMS, American Society of Pension Actuaries, Art of Problem Solving Inc., Pi Mu Epsilon, USA Math Talent Search, Clay Math Institute, and INFORMS.

[Cancun, Mexico is the site of next year’s Olympiad.] The official IMO website is

(2) Science News For Kids; MatheMUSEments; Champion Paper Folder


Science News for Kids is a Web site devoted to science news for children ages 9 to 13.

Our goal is to offer timely items of interest to kids, accompanied by suggestions for hands-on activities, books, articles, Web resources, and other useful materials.

Our emphasis is on making the Web site appealing by offering kids  opportunities to comment on the subject matter, ask questions of scientists featured in articles, try out mathematical puzzles, and submit their own work for possible Web publication. At the same time, we are interested in offering teachers creative ways of using science news in their classrooms.

MatheMUSEments ( contains articles about math in everyday life. The column is written by Ivars Peterson, who is the online editor of Science News and Science News for Kids. Peterson is also the author of several mathematics books, including The Mathematical Tourist, and, with Nancy Henderson, two math books for kids: Math Trek: Adventures in the MathZone and Math Trek 2: A Mathematical Space Odyssey.

Peterson wrote the following article, “Champion Paper Folder,” which was published in the July/August 2004 issue of Muse and available online at 

You’ve probably heard that it’s impossible to fold a sheet of paper in half more than seven or eight times. Usually you’re also told that it doesn’t matter how big or thin the sheet is.

Try folding a sheet of notebook paper. You’ll probably find that it is pretty tough to get beyond eight folds. However, just because people–even experts–say something’s impossible doesn’t mean it is. That’s what high-school student Britney Gallivan discovered when she succeeded in folding a sheet in half an unheard-of 12 times. She had to solve the problem to get extra credit in one of her math classes.

Why is it hard to get past eight folds? Suppose you’re just folding in one direction instead of turning the paper 90 degrees between folds. Each time you fold, the thickness of the folded wad doubles and its width is halved. If you start with a standard sheet of paper, after seven folds, the wad is thicker that it is wide, and it takes too much strength to fold it again.

Analyzing the problem this way, however, you might begin to wonder whether you could beat the limit by folding something very, very thin or something very, very wide.

At first, Britney tried thin. She spent hours trying to fold paper sheets, newspapers, and any other flat material that she could get her hands on. Paper didn’t appear to work, so she decided to use gold foil–only 11 millionths of an inch thick. Working with soft artists’ brushes, rulers, and tweezers, she managed to fold a 4-inch-by-4-inch square of gold foil in half 12 times without tearing the extremely delicate sheet.

But that wasn’t good enough. Britney’s teacher said the problem was to fold a sheet of paper–not gold foil–12 times.

Determined to solve the problem, Britney tried again. This time she decided to go for width. If she used paper that was the same thickness as regular paper, she calculated, she would need a roll that was nearly 4000 feet long (about three-quarters of a mile) to be able to fold it 12 times. She found special toilet paper that met these requirements and bought a roll for $85.

Equipped with her jumbo roll, Britney went to a shopping mall in her hometown of Pomona, California. She unrolled the paper and marked the halfway point. It took three people (Britney and her parents) 7 hours, mostly on hands and knees, to complete the folding.

“The problem was a lot of work, a lot of frustration, a lot of fun, and I learned a lot from it,” Britney later wrote in a booklet describing her accomplishment. “The world was a great place when I made the twelfth fold.”


You can order a copy of Britney’s booklet at (Historical Society of Pomona Valley).

(3) “1026 Remains Average SAT Score” by Justin Pope

Source: Pioneer Press – 1 September 2004


Average SAT scores nationwide did not change in 2004 though some minority groups made modest improvements. Last year’s high school graduates scored 1026 on average, the same as the class of 2003, the College Board reported Tuesday. Average scores on the verbal section rose one point to 508, while math scores fell one point to 518. Each section is graded on a 200-800 point scale.

Nationally, …the average scores masked racial gaps, and some testing critics worry they will widen with the introduction of a revamped test that includes a written essay.

While gaps between non-Asian minorities and other students show “a system of unequal education,” test administrators said, they added they were encouraged by improvements among Hispanics.

Students identifying themselves as Mexican-American saw their scores jump nine points to 909. Scores from those identifying themselves as Puerto Rican were flat at 909, but students in the “other Hispanic” category increased their scores five points to 926.

However, students identifying themselves as “other” saw scores drop 12 points, the most of any group.

Scores for students identifying themselves as black were flat at 857, while scores for whites fell four points to 1061. Nineteen percent of students did not respond to the question about their racial or ethnic identity.

Also, boys scored 44 points higher than girls, the widest gender gap since 1993. Boys scored 512 on the verbal section and 537 on math, identical to a year ago. Scores for girls rose one point on the verbal section to 504 and fell two points on math to 501.