COMET • Vol. 6, No. 09 – 16 March 2005


(1) El Camino Wins Statewide Decathlon” by Richard Fausset

Source: Los Angeles Times – 14 March 2005
URL (Academic Decathlon):

A team of nine seniors from El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills was awarded the statewide Academic Decathlon championship Sunday, earning a trip to Chicago and a chance to defend the school’s national title.

With three national championships in the last seven years, El Camino is the second-winningest school to participate in the nationwide contest, which was founded in 1982 and tests students in 10 subjects, such as math and music theory. J.J. Pierce High School of Richardson, Texas, has won the most national titles, with five.

Last year, an El Camino team beat the Arizona state champions to win the national title. But this year’s team–composed of all new contestants–lost in the Los Angeles Unified School District contest to longtime rival Taft High School in February and entered the state competition with a wildcard berth.

Ventura County’s Moorpark High School–the national champion in 2003–came in second in Sunday’s statewide rankings. El Camino’s winning score was 49,067.8 points out of a possible 60,000. Moorpark finished with 48,765.1 points. Granada Hills Charter High School came in third, Edison High School of Fresno was fourth and Taft took fifth place.

Just five months ago, the statewide contest was in danger of being canceled because of a financial crunch and dwindling corporate support. Running the annual decathlon costs about $250,000, less than half of which comes from entry fees, study materials and such in-kind contributions as office space. But after the problems were publicized, organizers reported a surge of contributions, including a sponsorship deal with a private equity firm that will cover much of the annual costs of the state contest.

As a result, this year’s competition was officially known as the California Academic Decathlon Presented by Leonard Green & Partners.

The Academic Decathlon was created by a former Orange County school superintendent, and the state has historically produced some of the most competitive teams in the country. California schools have placed first or second in every national competition except one, in 1992. California is tied with Texas for the most national titles, with 11.

The statewide competition began Friday, when 50 teams from across California took a grueling series of tests in math, social sciences, literature, economics, art and other topics.

Sunday’s award ceremony was both formal and tension-packed, as students in suits and cocktail dresses waited nervously for winners to be announced in individual and team categories…

The national contest in Chicago is scheduled to start April 13.

(2) Superintendent O’Connell Releases 2004 API Base Results, Growth Targets, School Rankings

Source: California Department of Education – 15 March 2005

Yesterday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released the 2004 Academic Performance Index (API) Base results, growth targets, and school rankings for more than 8,000 eligible California schools.

“The API is a powerful tool for holding our schools publicly accountable for student achievement and setting measurable goals for improvement each year,” said O’Connell.

“Even when faced with budget limitations, California’s school administrators, teachers, and students should set their sights high and stay focused on achieving at higher levels. I also call on the broader community of businesses, higher education, and civic leaders to support their public schools with the goal of greater student success,” he said.

Schools are expected to meet their annual API growth targets during the 2005 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) and California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) examinations. The academic performance and progress of schools are measured by using a numeric index that ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1000. The growth target for a school is 5 percent of the difference between a school’s API Base and the statewide performance target of 800.

Schools are also ranked academically on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) to determine a school’s standing compared to other schools statewide (statewide ranks) and to schools with similar characteristics (similar schools ranks). The similar schools characteristics include average class size, percentage of students who are English learners, percentage of teachers who hold emergency credentials or are fully credentialed, student mobility, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

It is important to note that there will always be schools ranked 1 and schools ranked 10 because of the nature of the decile system. Ten percent of schools will always be in each decile.

The API reports school performance on student assessments that are a part of the STAR program, plus results from the CAHSEE. Changes in the 2004 API Base include the addition of the California Standards Test (CST) Science, grade five; and CST History-social science, grade eight. As in the past, the API includes CST English-language arts as well as CST Mathematics for grades 2-11, CST Science for grades 9-11, CST History-social science for grades 10-11, and CAHSEE grade 10.

A change in the administration of the Norm Referenced Test (NRT), California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6), affects the calculation of the 2004 API Base. Beginning with the 2005 administration of the CAT/6, only students in grades three and seven will take this test. In previous years, students in grades two through eleven were tested. The reduction in the number of grade levels with NRT test results means that the 2004 API Base indicators, weights, and calculations need to match the 2005 API Growth. As in the past, only tests given in the Growth year API are included in the Base year API.

Also, the majority of weight is placed on CSTs and the CAHSEE that are specifically geared toward California’s standards. The remainder of the weight continues to be placed on the nationally normed CAT/6. By placing limited weight on the nationally normed test, it is then possible to focus on testing to California’s standards while maintaining the ability to benchmark our students against the nation’s school children.

Two changes occurred to bring the API more into alignment with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This includes a change in the school mobility rule and a slight change in the definition of a significant subgroup.

(Because the 2004 API Base includes CSTs at new grades, CAT/6 results at fewer grades, and because the calculation of the 2004 API Base is different from the 2003-04 API Growth released last October, any comparison between the 2004 API Base and 2004 API Growth would be inappropriate.)

The 2004 API Base results and school rankings are posted at  The 2004 API Base Report Information Guide is available at

(3) Calendar of Events for California’s Schools

Source: California Department of Education

This year’s special events, observances, and holidays related to education in California are included in this calendar. The California Department of Education hopes the calendar will assist schools in planning special recognition events. Dates included are gathered from various sources and are not intended as definitive or official notification from the Department.


(1) Presidential Awards for Mathematics and Science Teaching

Source:  National Science Foundation
URL: About the Awards

The Presidential Awards for Mathematics and Science Teaching were established in 1983 by an Act of Congress and are administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Each year the program recognizes outstanding mathematics and science teachers from across the United States and four U.S. jurisdictions for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. In addition to honoring individual achievement, the goal of the Awards is to expand and exemplify the definition of excellent science and mathematics teaching. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspirations to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.

Mathematics and science teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade are eligible for the award. In even-numbered years, the award is given to elementary teachers (grades K-6); in odd-numbered years, secondary teachers (grades 7-12) are recognized.

Why Apply?

Every year up to 108 recipients of the Presidential Awards receive:

*  A citation signed by the President of the United States.

*  An opportunity to join a dynamic network of Presidential Awardees.

*  A $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

* A paid trip for two to Washington, DC, to attend a week-long series of recognition events and professional development opportunities.

*  Gifts from sponsors of the program from around the country.

Who is Eligible?

Teachers must satisfy the following criteria to be eligible:

*  They must be teachers in one of the 50 states or four jurisdictions.

*  They must be full-time employees of their school districts.

*   They must have at least five (5) years of mathematics and/or science teaching experience prior to application.

*  They must be assigned to teach mathematics and/or science during the current year at a public or private school.

*  Elementary (K-6) teachers must be assigned, at least half time during the year, to classroom teaching of mathematics or science; or be grade K-6 teachers in self-contained classrooms.

* Secondary (7-12) teachers must be assigned, at least half time during the year, to classroom teaching of mathematics or science; or teach in self-contained classrooms in grades 7-8.

Teachers compete in either the mathematics or the science category. Individuals who have received the Presidential Award in prior competitions in either category are not eligible.

What is the Application Process?

Teachers must be nominated prior to completing an application. Anyone–principals, teachers, students, parents, members of the community, or the general public–may nominate a teacher. Self-nominations are not accepted.

Once nominated, a teacher must complete an application to be considered for the award. The application includes a videotaped lesson and written responses to questions about the teacher’s instructional practice.

Completed applications must be postmarked by the deadline and sent to the appropriate State Coordinators. Further instructions regarding submissions are included in the application packet. Upcoming application deadlines are shown below.

Secondary (7-12) Teachers — May 2, 2005

Elementary (K-6) Teachers — May 1, 2006

What Happens After I Submit My Application?

Each state and jurisdiction organizes a selection committee to review the applications. These committees may select up to three applicants from each award group (mathematics and science) as finalists for the national award. A national selection committee reviews the state finalists’ applications and makes recommendations to the National Science Foundation. These recommendations are forwarded to the White House. The President of the United States announces the recipients of the Presidential Awards.

If you have any questions, please contact your State Coordinator. To locate your State Coordinator, visit

Note: In California, the State Coordinator for  the Gr. 7-12 Mathematics PAEMST is Sandie Gilliam: (Phone: 831-335-1677)

(2) “David Vigliarolo Bauer of New York Named Top High School Scientist

Source: Intel Corporation – 15 March 2005

Intel Corporation awarded a $100,000 scholarship to David Vigliarolo Bauer of Bronx, N. Y. He is the first-place winner of the 2005 Intel Science Talent Search (Intel STS), America’s oldest and most prestigious high school science competition.

Bauer, 17, of Hunter College High School, designed a new method using “quantum dots” (florescent nanocrystals) to detect toxic agents that affect the nervous system. Bauer believes his research could save thousands of lives by rapidly evaluating individual exposure to these agents. In addition to his love of research, Bauer is a member of the varsity fencing team and founded a nonprofit organization that raises money for social justice in Liberia.

The second-place prize, a $75,000 scholarship, went to Timothy Frank Credo, 17, of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Highland Park, Ill. Credo developed a more precise method to measure very brief intervals of time–picoseconds (trillionths of seconds)–over which charged secondary particles of light travel. A varsity swimmer, Credo enjoys cycling and playing guitar.

The $50,000 third-place scholarship went to Kelley Harris, 17, of C.K. McClatchy High School, Sacramento, Calif. Harris studied Z-DNA binding proteins which may play a role in cell responses to certain virus infections. She is an award-winning Scottish Highlands dancer and enjoys backpacking and whitewater rafting.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett congratulated the winners at a black-tie banquet in Washington. “We look forward each year to uncovering new scientific and mathematical talent, and each year we’re rewarded with an outstanding array of students whose ability to explore, imagine and discover absolutely amazes us,” Barrett said. “These scholarships will help allow them to fulfill their potential, and help keep America at the center of innovation.”

Fourth- through sixth-place winners each receive a $25,000 scholarship. Seventh- through tenth-place winners receive a $20,000 scholarship.  The remaining 30 finalists receive $5,000 scholarships, and each student attending the competition receives an Intel CentrinoTM mobile technology-based notebook computer.

Road to Intel STS

This year, more than 100 scientists from a variety of disciplines reviewed 1,600 entries from 47 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The students ranged in age from 15 to 18, with females representing half of the entries. From this group, 300 semifinalists were named with each semifinalist and his or her school receiving $1,000. Through the Intel STS program, Intel has contributed $1.8 million to support science and math at U.S. high schools.

In late January, 40 finalists were selected from the group of semifinalists to compete in the Intel STS. In Washington, the winners were chosen by a 12-member panel chaired by Dr. Andrew Yeager, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


The Intel STS represents six decades of excellence. Alumni of this program hold more than 100 of the world’s most coveted science and math honors, including six Nobel Prizes, three National Medals of Science, 10 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships and two Fields Medals.

Science Service, a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance the understanding and appreciation of science among people of all ages through publications and educational programs, has administered the program since its inception in 1942. For more information on Science Service, visit

Intel’s sponsorship of the STS is part of the Intel® Innovation in Education initiative, a sustained commitment –in collaboration with educators and government leaders worldwide–to help today’s students develop the higher-level thinking skills they need to participate and succeed in a knowledge-based economy. For more information, visit

(3) Counting Without Numbers by Susan Kruglinski

Source: Discover Magazine – 9 March 2005

In the mid-1950s, one of the vanguard theories in linguistics was Benjamin Lee Whorf’s hypothesis that language greatly influences, or even determines, thought. While most linguists have since dismissed this notion, Peter Gordon of Teachers College at Columbia University is giving it another look. He recently studied an isolated 200-person tribe called the Piraha in the Amazon region of Brazil, whose language is so restrictive, its only numerical words are translations of “one,” “two,” and “many.”

Gordon ran some tribe members through a series of tests that required them to compare small amounts of objects and duplicate groups of AA batteries and nuts. He found that the community could not count or discern the number of objects above three. Previous studies have shown that many animals and even babies have an innate sense of “three,” which could imply that a requirement for understanding the concept of “four” and above is the language for it. “Is it the language,” Gordon asks, “or the lack of practice in doing it?” But he adds, “You can’t really have a number system if you don’t have the number words.”

Other researchers, however, have conducted math studies with a larger tribe and their results oppose Gordon’s work. French linguist Pierre Pica and neuroscience and mathematics expert Stanislas Dehaene designed computer tests for the Mundurukú villagers, who only have words for numbers up to five. The scientists found that these Amazonians were surprisingly adept at estimating the totals or differences in comparing sets of up to 80 objects, doing almost as well as a control group of French speakers.  Although the villagers could not succeed in exact calculations, the researchers say their work suggests that a rough number sense is inherent in all humans. “It shows very clearly that they have the rudiments of arithmetic,” says Dehaene. “I would tend to think that this is part of the endowment of humanity and of many animals.”

Related article:

“Can You Count Your Chickens?” by Roger Harris


(4) American Honda Foundation Educational Grants

Source: Grant Alert – The School Funding Center  (

The American Honda Foundation provides funding to K-12 and higher education programs in the areas of youth (up to age 21) education and scientific education.  The foundation seeks proposals that correspond with the characteristics of the Honda companies: “Dreamful (imaginative), Creative, Youthful, Foresightful (forward-thinking), Scientific, Humanistic, Innovative.”

Average Amount of Award:  $10,000 to $100,000

Proposal Deadline:  May 1, 2005