COMET • Vol. 7, No. 24 – 22 September 2006



Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Comments on Latest Assessment of High School Student Readiness for College

Source: California Department of Education – 20 September 2006

On Wednesday, September 20, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement regarding the latest results of the Early Assessment Program (EAP) that were released that day by California State University:

“I am glad to see that more students took this important college-readiness assessment test in 2006 than ever before,” O’Connell said. “The demanding global economy that today’s high school student will soon face requires higher levels of skill and knowledge. A higher education will help many of our young people prepare for success in this competitive atmosphere. The fact that so many students are thinking about going to college is very encouraging. The Early Assessment Program provides high school students a head start in preparing for success in college. It also is a great example of a step we have taken to smooth the transition between the K-12 system and our college system.

“The EAP results tell students who want to attend college but need to brush up on basic skills where they must focus during their senior year. I encourage high school principals to use these test results to guide students and help them use their senior year productively. Ultimately, the success of this program will hinge on the extent to which students’ senior year is used more effectively so that greater numbers of students are ready for college after high school.”

The Early Assessment Program is the result of an extraordinary collaborative effort between the California State University (CSU), the California Department of Education, and the California Board of Education. Through this program, CSU’s placement standards are incorporated into existing high school standards tests in English and mathematics taken by high school juniors who chose to participate.

Students who score high enough on the EAP test receive a conditional exemption from the CSU math placement test.

For more information about the EAP program and test results, please see:



(1)  Tonight:  Season Premiere of Award-Winning Program–NUMB3RS


The season premiere of NUMB3RS airs tonight at 10 p.m. on CBS.

NUMB3RS co-creators and executive producers Cheryl Heuton and Nicolas Falacci were honored with the Carl Sagan Award for the Public Understanding of Science, presented by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, May 7. The Carl Sagan Award honors those who have become concurrently accomplished as researchers, educators and magnifiers of the public’s understanding of science. Founded in 1973, the CSSP is the nation’s premier center of science policy development and science leadership development.

“Nick and I are honored to be recognized with this award and we continue to be appreciative of the science and math community who have embraced the show,” stated Heuton. “We are proud to support CSSP in their efforts to increase national awareness about science.”

Past winners of the Carl Sagan Award include Carl Sagan, Popular Science magazine, Bill Nye (The Science Guy) and the “Science Times” section of The New York Times.


(2) Seed Magazine–Math-related Articles

URL:“ aims to provide readers with the most relevant, insightful and entertaining original science content on the web. Updated 6 days a week, [the SeedWeb] site includes everything from breaking news and in-depth features to columns and reviews, including articles from Seed Magazine.”

The magazine has included several mathematics-related articles that COMET readers may enjoy. Excerpts and links to the full articles appear below:

(a) “How We Know: What do an algebra teacher, Toyota and a classical musician have in common?” by Jonah Lehrer — September 2006 issue of Seed

“…The connection between Toyota, John Dewey and [Bob Moses’s] Algebra Project lies in the research of K. Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University, who has shown that doing leads to learning, and learning by doing leads to doing better…

“Ericsson started studying a range of ‘expert performers.’ He investigated chess grandmasters and the stars of the PGA tour, Scrabble champions and brain surgeons, concert pianists and circus acrobats. After putting these peak performers through a battery of cognitive tests, Ericsson realized that their talent wasn’t genetic… Talent comes from learning by doing…’The best performers are almost always the ones who practice the most’…

“But how does practice make perfect? …He noticed that the best performers had a unique training style. They tended to downplay mindless drills and rote repetition. Instead, their practice sessions were deliberate, creative and thoughtful, like the outings of the Algebra Project or the progression of a rat through a maze. They set specific goals for themselves, continuously analyzed their progress and focused on process. ‘A crucial part of practicing well is that you are always learning while practicing,’ Ericsson says.

“According to Ericsson, this is how elite performers always practice. It is the secret trick of their talent, the way they become the best. Instead of treating practice as separate from the learning process–i.e., doing is what you do when you are done learning–they constantly find ways to integrate learning into their doing process, and the payoff is immense. The brain is designed to learn in a very particular way, consistently favoring the concrete over the abstract, the practical over the theoretical… The individuals and organizations that take advantage of this psychological principle are the ones that excel, getting the most out of themselves and their charges…”

(b) Math’s Architect of Beauty–How Terence Tao’s quest for elegance earned him a Fields Medal and a MacArthur Fellowship” by Jordan Ellenberg–Posted September 22, 2006

“If I told you this article was about a young superstar whose work involves needles, honeycombs, puzzles, and progressions, you might never guess that my subject, Terence Tao, is a mathematician–and not just any mathematician, but one of the biggest names of his generation. In July, at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Madrid, he was awarded a Fields Medal–the ‘Nobel Prize’ of mathematics. Just this week he added a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ to his trophy case”…

(c) “Putting His Money Where His Math Is–A billionaire ex-mathematician believes he has a simple formula for improving math education and making America more competitive” by Joshua Roebke–Posted September 19, 2006

“James Simons has a considerable amount of money. He’s the head of the top-performing hedge fund in the world, Renaissance Technologies Corporation, which he started after leaving a successful academic career in mathematics. More compelling than Simon’s acquisition of wealth is what he chooses to do with it. Rather than collecting art or jets like many of his Wall Street peers, the former mathematician is donating substantial quantities of cash and time to basic science and math education.

“Since President Bush introduced the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) in his January 2006 State of the Union Address, Simons has given more than any other private citizen to the effort to keep American students competitive…”


(3) “Much-Used Elementary Math Program Gets Qualified Nod From U.S. Ed. Dept.” by David J. Hoff

Source: Education Week – 20 September 2006
URL (ED Report): popular K-6 math curriculum has shown promise for improving student achievement but needs more thorough study before it can be declared effective, a federal research center reported last week.

Everyday Mathematics, which is used by 3 million U.S. students in 175,000 classrooms, was deemed to raise students’ test scores by an average of 12 percentile points in a review of four studies reanalyzed by the What Works Clearinghouse at the U.S. Department of Education.

Those gains are “pretty strong,” said Phoebe Cottingham, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, which oversees the clearinghouse. But she said the curriculum could not receive the clearinghouse’s top ranking because none of the research conducted on it was a large-scale study that compared achievement among students who were randomly assigned either to the program or to a control group.

For the review, a team of clearinghouse researchers analyzed 62 studies on the impact of Everyday Mathematics, which was developed at the University of Chicago in the 1980s and is now published by the New York City-based McGraw-Hill Cos. Of those studies, just four met the clearinghouse’s quality criteria and underwent more analysis by its researchers.

Of those four, three studies found “positive” effects, but just one detected improvements in students’ math achievement that were considered statistically significant. The fourth study found no effect on test scores.

Based on those results, the report said the curriculum has “potentially positive effects,” the second-highest category on its ranking scale.

“The ranking underscores the stellar results [Everyday Mathematics] has had in the marketplace for over 20 years,” said Mary Skafidas, a spokeswoman for the McGraw-Hill Cos.

Everyday Mathematics is used widely across the country, including in most of the elementary schools in the 1.1 million-student New York City public school system, the nation’s largest.

In 1999, a federal panel of curriculum experts named Everyday Mathematics one of five math curricula with “promising” potential based on how well their materials aligned with national math standards. That list was later criticized by a group of mathematicians because they say programs it recognized failed to teach students basic math skills.

The current effort to evaluate programs’ effectiveness is hampered by a lack of high-quality studies published in academic journals and other places, some analysts say.

“It’s underwhelming the number of good studies done in math,” Ms. Cottingham said. “It’s a reflection on the past state of education research.”


For More Information

A review of research on Everyday Mathematics, including a link to the complete report, is posted by the What Works Clearinghouse at the U.S. Department of Education Web site:


Related Information:

The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse has released a report on interventions designed to improve the academic achievement of LEP elementary school students. See


(4) Oracle Education Foundation Invites Students and Teachers to Take Part in ThinkQuest International

URL: Oracle Education Foundation ( has announced the opening of a new ThinkQuest competition, ThinkQuest International 2007, and invites students between the ages of 9 to 19 and their teachers to take part in this unique learning experience. Since 1996, over 30,000 students worldwide have participated in this progam!

The program promotes collaboration and cross-cultural learning by encouraging students to team with peers in other regions to develop Web sites on educational topics. In the process of creating their site, students learn and practice their skills in research, writing, technology, and teamwork. Additionally, the competing teams have the opportunity to create Web sites that can be used as educational resources by students worldwide as part of the ThinkQuest Library, available online at

All submitted Web sites for ThinkQuest International 2007 will be judged by professional educators. The deadline for submissions is 16 April 2007.

Winners will receive prizes from the Oracle Education Foundation, including laptops and $1,000 school grants for the top ten teams in each age division; travel to the annual educational extravaganza, ThinkQuest Live, for the top three teams in each division; and digital cameras for the team that receives the Global Perspectives Award.

Visit for more information regarding this unique competition.