COMET • Vol. 6, No. 28 – 27 October 2005


(1) State Superintendent O’Connell Announces Significant Gains by Schools in Meeting State Academic Targets

Source: California Department of Education – 27 October 2005

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced today that 68% of California’s public schools met all of their state-required academic growth targets for the 2004-05 school year–a 20-point gain over 2003-04–indicating significant improvement by schools and by minority groups and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

An even greater proportion of schools, 83%, showed increases in overall academic growth compared to last year’s 64%. In addition, the percentage of schools at or above the statewide performance target of 800 is at an all-time high of 28%.

“These results show our schools are improving in nearly every subject and grade level,” O’Connell said. “I am particularly pleased to see progress made by all students and in each subgroup of students. While we clearly still have a long way to go, this shows our schools’ focus on California’s standards-based curriculum is paying dividends in improved student achievement.”

These results are part of the 2004-05 Academic Performance Index (API) Growth reports that reflect academic growth both schoolwide and for each numerically significant subgroup in the school.

The reports are part of the state’s accountability system that measures the academic success of a school on the basis of how much it improves. Schools’ API performance is based on the 2005 results of statewide assessments, the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program and California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).

This API Growth report marks the completion of the sixth API reporting cycle.

As in previous years, elementary schools are showing the highest overall performance, with a median API of 752, followed by middle schools with a median API of 716, and high schools with a median API of 696. High schools, however, posted the highest solid gain of 36 points from 2004 in median API performance.

“It is encouraging to see our high schools are making significant gains,” O’Connell said. “I am proud of the hard work of the students, teachers and school officials that has led to improved student performance in our high schools. However, to   better prepare students for the challenges of the global economy of the 21st century we need to continue to focus on reforms at the high school level.”

The percentage of schools meeting their subgroup growth targets increased from last year by 17.1 percent for the socioeconomically disadvantaged subgroup, 15.9 percent for the Hispanic subgroup, 14.2 percent for the white subgroup, 11.2 percent for the African American subgroup, and 5.8 percent for the Asian subgroup. The percentage of schools meeting their schoolwide growth targets increased from last year by 17.0%.

The API is a numeric index that ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1000. The 2004 results established the current baseline and academic growth targets for each school’s academic performance. A school’s annual growth target is set at 5 percent of the difference between the school’s base API and the statewide performance target of 800. API information released today includes both schoolwide results and student subgroup information. To meet all 2004-05 API Growth targets, a school must meet its 5 percent schoolwide target and each numerically significant ethnic and socioeconomically disadvantaged student subgroup at the school must improve at least 80 percent of the schoolwide target.

Beginning with the 2005 API Base report to be released in March 2006, two new subgroups will be added:  English learners and students with disabilities. With this addition, the subgroups for state and federal academic accountability will be aligned.

The 2004-05 API Growth reports are available on the California Department of Education’s Web site at

(2) Study Identifies Four Interdependent Practices that Distinguish High-Performing, High-Poverty California Elementary Schools

Source: EdSource – 26 October 2005
URL: http://eds

Why do some California elementary schools serving low-income students do better on the state’s academic performance index (API) than other schools with very similar students? A large-scale survey released yesterday by EdSource suggests an answer–findings that may help district superintendents, principals, and teachers respond to the K-12 API scores scheduled for release later this week.

School APIs are based upon student test scores on the California Standards Tests, which measure how well students at the school are mastering grade level academic standards. The EdSource study identified four interdependent practices associated with higher API scores among these elementary schools. Schools whose staff reported engaging most strongly in all four practices had, on average, the highest API scores.

*  Prioritizing Student Achievement – The highest performing schools have teachers who more often report taking responsibility for student achievement and believe the school has well defined plans for instructional improvement. Principals at high-performing schools also say they understand their district’s expectations for meeting the school’s API and AYP targets and make those student performance expectations clear to their teachers.

*  Implementing a Coherent, Standards-based Curriculum – Schools with the highest APIs are more likely to have teachers that report school wide alignment and consistency in curriculum, and instruction that is closely based upon state academic standards. Principals at these schools report that their districts have a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum and that the district evaluates principals based on the extent to which instruction in the school aligns with the curriculum.

*  Analyzing Student Assessment Data from Multiple Sources – Schools where principals report using data extensively–from a variety of student tests, including the California Standards Tests, and for a variety of school improvement purposes–are on average higher performing. These principals report personally using assessment data to identify struggling students and address their academic needs as well as to evaluate teacher practices and identify teachers who need instructional improvement. They also report that the district uses assessment data to evaluate the principal based upon student achievement.

*  Ensuring Instructional Resources – Schools in the survey where the principal reports that the district ensures an adequate supply of text books and support for facilities management are more likely to have higher APIs. Teachers reporting that their classrooms have adequate instructional materials and teacher and principal years of experience were also positively correlated with API.

“Our study found that API scores are highest when the entire team–teachers, principals, and district leaders–focuses strongly on helping students meet the state’s academic standards,” said Trish Williams, executive director of EdSource and study project director. Noting that demographically similar schools participating in the survey varied in API score by as much as 250 points (out of a possible 1,000), Williams added, “Socioeconomic factors are clearly not the sole predictor of academic performance. It appears that what schools do, and what resources they have for doing it, can have a powerful impact on student achievement.”

“Under California’s standards based school reforms, principals are showing high levels of hands-on leadership,” said principal investigator Michael Kirst of Stanford University. “They are re-defining the job to include a strong and active focus on effective management of the school improvement process. With district leadership and support, principals are helping to establish a coherent school curriculum aligned around the state’s academic standards. Their extensive use of assessment data was also somewhat surprising. Districts and principals dissect the assessment data to find solutions for their students and to identify teachers who need help.”

The survey also included questions related to parental involvement, teacher collaboration and development, and the enforcement of high expectations for student behavior. Although each of these types of practices made some contribution to a school’s API score, they were not nearly as strongly correlated with higher school performance as were the four key interactive, interdependent school improvement practices described above.

The study was conducted by EdSource and researchers from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the American Institutes for Research. The survey polled approximately 5,500 teachers and 257 principals in 145 California school districts, an extraordinarily large sample that bolsters the study’s key findings. All schools surveyed had similarly challenged student populations, including large numbers of low-income students.

The initial report of findings from this new survey, “Similar Students, Different Results: Why Do Some Schools Do Better?” is available at the above Web site.

(3) State Schools Chief O’Connell Comments on Release of 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress

Source: California Department of Education – 19 October 2005

On October 19, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell made the following comments about the results of the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):

“The NAEP scores…are not surprising and they are another indication of the challenges we face in California public schools and the hard work we must do to meet those challenges. While California’s overall performance tracks closely with nationwide trends, and there are valid reasons to question the fairness of state-to-state comparisons, it is clear that California schools must do more to improve student achievement.

“When considering the NAEP scores, it is important to remember some significant differences between NAEP and our state assessments, and also to take a close look at California’s demographics and the performance gains of specific student groups.

“Unlike our statewide assessments, NAEP is not aligned to the content taught in California’s classrooms and, therefore, is not as sensitive to changes in student achievement as our California Standards Tests. Unlike the California STAR assessments, average scale scores and other results from NAEP contain sampling error, so it takes a greater increase in achievement to register as significant on NAEP. Results on our statewide tests, which are aligned to our rigorous standards, indicate that a focus on high expectations is leading to steady gains in student achievement.

“There is some positive news in the results. For example, California Hispanic students who are not English learners have made significant gains in reading and math, and the gap between those students and white students has narrowed. Score gaps among black and white students and economically disadvantaged students have also narrowed, even as the proportion of economically disadvantaged students has steadily increased.

“California’s poor showing relative to other states in reading is at least in part due to the fact that California has the highest proportion of English learners in the nation and also that we assessed a higher proportion of our English learner students than any other state. While California excluded 12 percent of its English learner students from the 2005 NAEP reading assessment, Texas’ exclusion rate, for example, was 37.5 percent, and New York’s, 29 percent.

“California policymakers believe it is important to test all students regardless of their challenges, and we have stuck to high standards and expectations for all students. The result is that our state doesn’t fare as well as we’d like on some national comparisons, but our students are better served if we hold high standards and gather more complete data. If we continue to focus on California’s rigorous standards in the classroom we can expect the achievement gains seen on our state tests to be reflected on the next NAEP assessments.”


(1) 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): Mathematics and Reading Results for Grades 4 and 8

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Mathematics performance improved for the nation, for the majority of states, and for many student groups. Fourth-graders’ average score was 3 points higher and eighth-graders’ average score was 1 point higher in 2005 than in 2003, on a 0 to 500 point scale. The average scores increased since the first assessment year, 1990, by 25 points at grade 4 and by 16 points at grade 8.

Between 1990 and 2005, the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Basic increased by 30 percentage points, from 50 to 80 percent, and the percentage performing at or above Proficient increased from 13 to 36 percent. The percentage of eighth-graders performing at or above Basicwas 17 percentage points higher in 2005 (69%) than in 1990 (52%), and the percentage performing at or above Proficient increased from 15 to 30 percent.

Mathematics Results for the States

…The first state assessment at grade 4 was given in 1992 in 42 states and jurisdictions. Each of them had a higher average score and a greater percentage of students performing at or above Basic in 2005 than in 1992.

At grade 8, there were 38 states and jurisdictions that participated in both 1990 and 2005. Each of them had a higher average score and a greater percentage of students performing at or above Basic in 2005 than in 1990.

Mathematics Results for Student Groups at Grade 4

White fourth-graders scored higher on average in mathematics than their Black and Hispanic peers in 2005. The average scores for all three of these racial/ethnic groups were higher in 2005 than in any previous assessment year.

In 2005, students who were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch and those who were not eligible had higher average scores in 2005 than in 1996.

In 2005, male students scored higher on average than female students. Both male and female fourth-graders’ average scores were higher in 2005 than in any previous assessment year.

Mathematics Results for Student Groups at Grade 8

The average scores for White, Black, and Hispanic eighth-graders were higher in 2005 than in any previous assessment year.

Students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and those who were not eligible scored higher on average in 2005 than in any previous assessment year when information on eligibility was collected, from 1996 through 2003.

Average scores for male and female eighth-graders were both higher in 2005 than in 1990 or in 2003

Achievement-Level Trends in Reading 1992–2005

There was no significant change between 1992 and 2005 in the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Basic. While there was no change compared to 2003, the percentage of fourth-graders performing at or above Proficient increased from 29 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2005. The percentage of fourth-graders performing at Advanced in 2005 was not significantly different from that in 1992 or 2003.

The percentage of eighth-graders at or above Basic was higher in 2005 than in 1992 but showed a 1-point decrease between 2003 and 2005.  The percentage of eighth-graders performing at or above Proficient showed a 1-point decrease between 2003 and 2005, and the percentage in 2005 was not significantly different from that in 1992. The percentage of eighth-graders performing at Advanced in 2005 was not significantly different from that in 1992 or 2003.


Related link:

Archived Video Webcast of the Announcement of the 2005 NAEP Mathematics and Reading Results:

(2) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP)

Source: National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF recently announced a new grant competition for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), which seeks to increase the number of students receiving associate or baccalaureate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Proposals are solicited that provide for full implementation efforts at academic institutions. Full proposals are due February 9, 2006. For more information on this program, visit the above Web site.

(3) Sally Ride Science Presents Fourth Annual Engineering Design Competition: TOYchallenge 2006


Sally Ride Science is giving students in grades 5-8 the chance to step out of their classrooms and develop their engineering and design skills by creating their dream toy or game for the fourth annual TOYchallenge.

“TOYchallenge provides kids with a really fun way to explore the principles of science and engineering, they’ll also learn valuable lessons in problem solving and team work along the way,” said Sally Ride, founder of Sally Ride Science. “It is a great tool for keeping middle school-age children, especially girls, in the ‘technical pipeline.'”

TOYchallenge 2006 launched last month. The competition is open to fifth through eighth graders in the U.S., its territories, or possessions, and Canada during the Fall 2005/Spring 2006 school year. Team size can range from three to six members, half of which must be girls. To get started, teams must: find an adult coach (18 years of age, or older) and sign up this fall (fee is $45 per team); then choose from themed-toy categories like “Games for the Family” or “Get out and Play” and start brainstorming.

Further TOYchallenge information is available at All submissions will be judged on originality, creativity, engineering elegance, feasibility, design process description, team participation and clarity of communication.

Last year’s grand prizes included trips to Space Camp and the creation of personalized Hasbro figures in each team member’s likeness. There will also be awards in each category, and special awards for design, most educational, engineering, originality and team spirit.

TOYchallenge is designed to engage middle school-age students, especially girls, in science and engineering and to inspire them to pursue careers in those fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women comprise only 11 percent of the engineering workforce. However, studies show that, in elementary school, equal numbers of girls and boys are interested in–and good at–math, science and technology. Unfortunately, beginning around the sixth grade, more girls than boys drift away from these subjects. While open to all U.S. and Canadian students in grades five through eight, TOYchallenge focuses on catching girls’ attention in these subjects in order to keep them in the engineering “pipeline.”

To learn more about Sally Ride Science, visit or call (800) 561-5161.