COMET • Vol. 6, No. 25 – 7 October 2005


(1) 2007 Mathematics Primary Adoption Publisher Briefing

Source: Curriculum Commission, California Department of Education

The publisher briefing for the 2007 mathematics primary adoption that was to be held last Friday afternoon following the Curriculum Commission meeting has been postponed. A new date has not yet been announced. The purpose of the publisher briefing is to provide information on the framework, evaluation criteria, timelines, and adoption process for publishers participating in the 2007 Mathematics Primary Adoption for Grades K-8.

(2) “Exit Exam Might Not be Last Word” by Laurel Rosenhall

Source: Sacramento Bee – 1 October 2005

State schools chief Jack O’Connell said last Friday that he will consider “additional options” that would give the 90,000 seniors who have yet to pass the California High School Exit Exam a shot at graduation in June.

O’Connell said his decision does not waver from his long-standing belief that the state should not make special accommodations for students struggling to pass the exam, which is a graduation requirement this year for the first time.

But his comments drew sharp criticism from the test’s supporters, who said the superintendent was sending a mixed message to students, teachers and parents.

“We’re staying the course, but does that mean we should preclude every possible option?” O’Connell said. “We’re going to look at (other options) very carefully, but it’s not a change of position one iota.”

Jim Lanich, president of California Business for Education Excellence, called O’Connell’s announcement a retreat that threatened efforts to hold students of all racial and economic backgrounds to the same academic expectations.

“It’s a sad day when the adults of the state will redraw targets before targeting the problem that kids are not being taught what they need to know,” Lanich said.

O’Connell’s comments followed the release Friday of a report by an independent consultant that said about 78 percent of the class of 2006 has passed the exam, which tests students on seventh-and eighth-grade math skills and ninth-and 10th-grade English skills. Students must pass both parts.

The report, by the Virginia-based Human Resources Research Organization, shows that African American, Latino and low-income students–who pass at lower rates than their white, Asian American and affluent peers–made big gains between 10th grade and 11th grade.

The report’s authors recommend that California maintain the exam as a graduation requirement. But they suggest the state provide options allowing students who don’t pass to receive a diploma. Those could include:

* A senior-year portfolio that contains a body of work showing a student has mastered the skills on the test.

* A ceremonial certificate that’s not a diploma.

* Additional years of high school.

* A summer school class after 12th grade that allows students to earn a diploma if they pass.

* New community college programs focused on teaching skills tested on the exit exam.

O’Connell said his staff would examine the options in preparation for the Legislature’s reconvening next year.

But educators who work with students say they are worried any changes could confuse students who have been told for years they must pass the exam to graduate.

“For most kids, it won’t affect them substantially. They want to pass the exam,” said Ted Appel, principal of Sacramento’s Luther Burbank High School, where 201 seniors have yet to pass the test.

“But for some, it creates a mixed message …It will affect their commitment and our ability to send out a strong message that they need to be focused on getting better.”

Russlynn Ali, director of Oakland-based Education Trust-West, said the improved passage rate among African American, Latino and low-income students shows the test is working.

“We need to be applauding that as a state today, not working backward” by creating other options, Ali said.

She said she was shocked at O’Connell’s announcement.

Some of the suggestions in the report amount to small changes of options that already exist. For example, students who do not graduate from high school already can enroll in community college and earn a GED. And some districts now offer summer school classes targeted to exit exam skills.

Other suggestions would expand rights now granted to students in special education, who may stay in school until age 22 and earn a certificate of achievement that is not a diploma.

Allowing a portfolio of work to substitute for passing the exam, however, would be a departure.

John Rogers, an education professor at UCLA, said he supports creating options that allow more students to graduate.

But he said debating alternatives in January creates a troubling timeline.

“It puts all of these young people in this extraordinarily vulnerable position and puts the educators working with them in an uncertain position as well,” Rogers said.

A bill on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk would create similar alternatives to the exam. Rogers said approval of AB 1531 would be the quickest way to start developing options.

But O’Connell said he remains opposed to the bill, and he has asked the governor to veto it.

So has Scott Himelstein, Schwarzenegger’s deputy secretary of education. But Himelstein said Friday he was open to creating alternatives to the exam, as long as they require students to demonstrate the same skills.

Patty Sullivan, director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, D.C., which studies exit exams in the 20 states that use them, said O’Connell’s suggestion is rare. Changes usually aren’t made within a school year, she said.

“At the same time you have to appreciate how politically sensitive high school exit exams are,” Sullivan said. “So it’s not unusual to see (politicians) trying to get the most students over the bar in a way that doesn’t lower the standards.”


(1) Disney Hand Invites Nominations for 2006 Disney Teacher Awards

Source: The Disneyland Report

Recognize an outstanding teacher who is sparking the imaginations of children across your community! Disney is accepting nominations for America’s most creative teachers until October 15, 2005. Nominations for the 2006 Disney Teacher Awards can be made in one of two ways: online at or by phoning toll free (877) 282-8322.

Since 1989, Disney Teacher Awards have been presented to teachers who construct learning environments where students and teachers alike explore, imagine, and engage in a variety of stimulating ideas and experiences. Specifically, the program honors those teachers whose approaches exemplify creativity in teaching and who inspire a joy of learning in their students.

“Sixteen years ago, we started celebrating local heroes by establishing the annual Disney Teacher Awards to honor America’s finest educators,” said Terry Wick, vice president, Disney Worldwide Outreach. “We hope all communities will take this opportunity to acknowledge their heroes as well–their greatest teachers. This nomination process shows thousands of teachers across the country how much their work means to their students, colleagues and communities.”

Honorees will be selected from the nationwide nominees. From there, they will be celebrated at a red-carpet Awards Gala in July, will be featured during a Disneyland Main Street Parade and Ceremony at Sleeping Beauty Castle, will attend VIP events and receptions, and will share teaching strategies with their fellow award-winning teachers. During the Gala, four Honorees will be selected as Outstanding Teachers and one will be named the 2006 Disney Teacher of the Year. In addition, the Honorees each receive $10,000, a $5,000 grant for their school, and a six-day professional development institute with their principal at the Walt Disney World Resort. At the institute, teachers share ideas to refine their innovative teaching approaches and learn how to engage other teachers to build an effective collaborative teaching culture at their school.

The Disney Teacher Awards is part of DisneyHand, worldwide outreach for The Walt Disney Company. DisneyHand is dedicated to making the wishes of families and children a reality through public service initiatives, community outreac,h and volunteerism in the areas of compassion, learning, the arts, and the environment. For more information, visit

(2) Debunking the Myth of High-Stakes Testing

Source: Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice – September 20, 2005

As the national debate continues over whether or not high-stakes testing benefits students, key findings of a newly released study funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice suggest that the pressures associated with high-stakes testing have no real impact on student achievement.

In the 25 states studied, results suggest that increases in testing pressure are related to increased grade retention and drop-out rates. The authors found that of the states studied, states with the highest proportions of minority students implemented accountability systems that exerted the greatest pressure. Thus, the negative impacts of high-stakes testing will disproportionately affect America’s minority students.

According to Teri Moblo, director of the Great Lakes Center, “This most recent research demonstrates that the pressure to produce high test scores as a result of No Child Left Behind hasn’t helped students to achieve more, and has served to limit the depth and breadth of what students are being taught in schools around the country.”

Four key findings emerged from the study:

1.  States with greater proportions of minority students tend to implement accountability systems that exert greater pressure.

2.  Increased testing pressure is related to increased retention and school drop-out rates. High-stakes testing pressure is negatively associated with the likelihood that eighth and 10th graders will move into 12th grade.

3.  NAEP reading scores at the fourth-and eighth-grade levels were not improved as a result of increased testing pressure. This finding was consistent across African- American, Hispanic and White student subgroups from the 25 participating states.

4.  Weak correlations between testing pressure and NAEP performance for fourth-grade mathematics and the unclear relationship for eighth-grade mathematics are unlikely linked to increased testing pressure. While a weak relationship emerged at the fourth-grade level, a systematic link between pressure and achievement was not established. For eighth-grade performance, the lack of clarity in the relationship may arise from the interplay of other indirect factors. Inconsistent performance gains in these cases are far more likely the result of indirect factors such as teaching to the test, drill and practice, or the exclusion of lower-achieving students rather than pressure to do well on the test.

More detail about the study follows below:

Answering a Call for More Accurate Measure

Co-authored by University of Texas at San Antonio researcher Sharon Nichols and Arizona State University researchers Gene Glass and David Berliner, “High-Stakes Testing and Student Achievement: Problems for the No Child Left Behind Act” documents the impact of high-stakes testing pressure on achievement using a newly developed Pressure Rating Index (PRI). The PRI is a measure of how much “pressure” is embedded in a state’s accountability system. Its use allows for a more comprehensive analysis of the environment associated with high-stakes pressure. The research conducted to date on high-stakes testing presents mixed conclusions about its effectiveness, a circumstance at least partially attributable to differences in the measurement systems different researchers have adopted. The PRI offers a more valid system for measuring the pressure that high-stakes testing systems apply to students, teacher and administrators since it is better able to account for all the variables involved.

A correlational study enables researchers to define and measure whether or not a relationship exists between two units of analysis. The purpose of this correlational study was to determine whether at a particular point in time a relationship could be established between pressure and student achievement as measured by data on student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The research-based PRI was used to:

1.  Analyze and correlate NAEP results from 1990 to 2003 across 25 states to determine the effect of “press” or “threat” on student achievement before and after NCLB was signed into law; and

2.  Challenge prior research findings that linked achievement gains to the strength of a state’s accountability model by substituting the original index with the PRI to replicate and re-examine prior analyses.

Finding the Broken Link Between Pressure and Achievement

In this study, what the researchers could not find is of the greatest importance. The results of many different correlational analyses were unable to establish any consistent link between the pressure to score high in a particular state and student performance on the NAEP–this means that a clear-cut link between pressure and performance simply was not found and cannot be considered credible.

Specifically, for the early, mid, and late 1990s, NAEP reading and mathematics data at fourth- and eighth-grade levels were used to examine the belief that high-stakes pressure and student achievement are related. Across African-American, Hispanic and white student populations, findings in reading show clearly that NAEP reading scores were not improved as a result of increased pressure to achieve. When the data were examined differently, by grade versus by student group, pressure was weakly linked to NAEP performance only for fourth-grade mathematics in the late 1990’s and early 2000. The relationship between pressure to score high and mathematics achievement in eighth-grade mathematics in the mid 1990s showed no clear relationship.

“A rapidly growing body of research evidence on the harmful effects of high-stakes testing, along with no reliable evidence of improved performance by students on NAEP tests of achievement, suggests that we need a moratorium in public education on the use of high-stakes testing,” said Sharon Nichols, assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and the study’s lead author. “Establishing a direct link is tenuous at best.”

The study’s findings are amplified when viewed in conjunction with a study released earlier this year by the Great Lakes Center, available online at The previous report documents the multitude of unintended consequences of high-stakes testing, including cheating, student exclusion from testing, misrepresentation of dropout numbers, teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, and declining teacher morale, among others.

One of the major goals of a correlational study is to present a continuum of meaningful relational data. In this study, the pressure data collected show how the 25 states rate against each other-on a scale of 0-5, with “5” denoting the most pressure, 14 of the 25 states analyzed earned high pressure ratings.

The 25 states for which access to complete NAEP data enabled analysis of the relationship between pressure and NAEP score gains over time are: Alabama (AL), Arizona (AZ), Arkansas (AR), California (CA), Connecticut (CT)-see Attachment B, Georgia (GA), Hawaii (HI), Kentucky (KY)-see Attachment B, Louisiana (LA), Maine (ME), Maryland (MD), Massachusetts (MA), Mississippi (MS), Missouri (MO), New Mexico (NM), New York (NY), North Carolina (NC), Rhode Island (RI), South Carolina (SC), Tennessee (TN), Texas (TX)-see Attachment B, Utah (UT)-see Attachment B, Virginia (VA), West Virginia (WV), and Wyoming (WY).

“Study findings indicate that high-stakes testing policies are modeled on a false premise, stated Great Lakes Center director Moblo. “Increased pressure simply doesn’t equate to increased achievement. Until convincing evidence exists that supports the contention that high-stakes testing is accomplishing its intended goal–to increase student achievement–testing policies that force the public education system to rely on high-stakes testing as the sole measure of success are unsound from an educational standpoint.”

Frequently asked what should replace high-stakes testing, Nichols suggests that other accountability systems can be used for school improvement. These include assessments that provide highly specific information about what students know and can do but do not have high stakes attached, such as inspections of classroom instruction by specially trained evaluators from the public and the teaching profession, and assessment of classroom work by trained judges.

(3) Yahoo to Upstage Google’s Library Plans

Source:  eSchool News – 4 October 2005

Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. is setting out to build a vast online library of copyrighted books that pleases publishers–something rival Google Inc. hasn’t been able to achieve.

The Open Content Alliance, a project that Yahoo is backing with several other partners, plans to provide digital versions of books, academic papers, video, and audio. Much of the material will consist of copyrighted material voluntarily submitted by publishers and authors, said David Mandelbrot, Yahoo’s vice president of search content.

Other participants in the alliance, which was announced October 3, include Adobe Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., the Internet Archive, O’Reilly Media Inc., the University of California, and the University of Toronto.

Although Yahoo will power the search engine, located at the Open Content Alliance (, all of its content reportedly will be made available so it can be indexed by other major search engines, too, including Google’s.

By joining the project, Sunnyvale, CA-based Yahoo is hoping to upstage Google, which has a one-year head start on scanning and indexing books so more literature and academic research can be accessed with an internet connection from anywhere in the world.

“My feeling is we are doing something new here,” Mandelbrot said. “We are building a collaborative effort that will make a great deal of copyrighted material available in a way that’s acceptable to the creators. That is novel.”

The alliance won’t include any copyrighted material unless it receives the explicit permission of a publisher or author. That restriction means the alliance is bound to be missing much of the material available in brick-and-mortar libraries.

In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, Google plans to index millions of copyrighted books from three major university libraries–Harvard, Stanford, and Michigan–unless the copyright holder notifies the company by Nov. 1 about which volumes should be excluded from the search engine index.

Google’s opt out provision has outraged many publishers, who contend the company is flouting long-established copyright laws. The Author’s Guild Inc., which represents about 8,000 writers, sued Google for copyright infringement last month. Google maintains its scanning represents “fair use” allowed under the law because it allows web surfers to view only excerpts from copyrighted books.

Some of the most strident critics of Google’s library project are endorsing the Open Content Alliance, or OCA.

Patricia Schroeder, president for the Association of American Publishers, described the alliance’s approach as “very encouraging.”

Sally Morris, chief executive for the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, said she hopes Google follows the alliance’s example. “The OCA’s model of allowing rights holders to control which of their works are opened up…and where they are hosted may encourage others to do so.”

Google also applauded the Yahoo-backed alliance. “We welcome efforts to make information accessible to the world,” the company said.