COMET • Vol. 7, No. 30 – 5 November 2006



(1) AMATYC releases Beyond Crossroads: Implementing Mathematics Standards in the First Two Years of College

Source: Bruce Yoshiwara (
URL: www.bc.amatyc.orgThe American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMAYTC) released Beyond Crossroads: Implementing Mathematics Standards in the First Two Years of College on November 2, 2006 at the AMATYC Annual Conference in Cincinnati.  Beyond Crossroads builds on AMATYC’s first standards document, Crossroads in Mathematics, released in 1995.  Beyond Crossroads presents a renewed vision for mathematics courses offered in the first two years of college, as well as an implementation cycle to help mathematics faculty make needed changes in learning and the learning environment, assessment of student learning, curriculum and program development, instruction, and professionalism.

Beyond Crossroads is intended to stimulate faculty, departments, and institutions to examine, assess, and improve every component of mathematics education in the first two years of college. The standards, recommendations, and action items are designed to meet the broad and varying needs of faculty members, departments and institutions that comprise community colleges–higher education’s most diverse and fastest growing sector.  Community colleges currently enroll almost half (45 percent) of all U.S. undergraduates, placing these institutions at the center of improvement in post-secondary mathematics education.

Electronic resources accompanying Beyond Crossroads are available at the Beyond Crossroads Live website   These electronic resources extend and enhance the messages of Beyond Crossroads.  Also visit this website to order a copy (or to download a copy) of Beyond Crossroads, to see the Executive Summary, or to obtain further information about Beyond Crossroads.

(2) Education Chiefs Issue Call to Action on ESEA Reauthorization

Source: Council of Chief State School Officers

[The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks members’ consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.]

In 2007, Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

(ESEA) as currently defined in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB).

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released its Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization Policy Statement on October 16 at a news conference on Capitol Hill. The policy statement reflects the core principles CCSSO believes should guide the reauthorization of ESEA.

“States are ready to move beyond ‘no child left behind’ to ‘every child a graduate,’ but they need greater flexibility and resources to implement the next steps in standards-based reform,” says Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin state superintendent of public instruction and CCSSO ESEA Reauthorization Task Force chair. “Dramatically increasing student achievement will require a new and meaningful state-federal partnership–one in which states and districts lead.”

According to the Policy Statement, “standards must be raised “to reflect 21st century knowledge and skills, improving assessments to better inform teaching and learning, investing in teachers and administrators to improve effectiveness, improving data systems to help drive instruction, and building more valid accountability systems to value growth as well as status…

“The core of NCLB establishes specific requirements on states to put in place the foundations of standards-based reform. These foundations are now largely in place. States and districts must now have greater support and autonomy to build on those foundations and promote a range of strategies to dramatically improve student achievement. The U.S. Department of Education has recently begun to focus on the need for greater state and local control and flexibility in NCLB implementation, but this flexibility exists within rigid parameters. Enabling and supporting state and local innovation should be a hallmark of federal education law. The federal government should focus on accountability for results, with states and districts responsible for achieving those results based on innovative strategies and the most valid and reliable measures of student learning.

“It is our belief that success in the 21st century–for individuals and our nation–will require high expectations, including the ability to innovate, solve problems, and use complex data to understand and impact our increasingly complex world. In the context of ESEA reauthorization, we should expect and demand no less from our education system and our federal education laws.”

Valerie Woodruff, CCSSO president and Delaware secretary of education, stated, “This policy statement is the result of months of thoughtful work and deliberation by state chiefs across the country. CCSSO’s ESEA reauthorization Task Force looked at the best way to build on the foundations that states have laid over the last several years to leverage federal law to focus on what matters most–improving student learning.”

CCSSO’s ESEA Reauthorization Task Force was convened to identify the core principles that should guide reauthorization of ESEA. The task force consists of chiefs and a diverse group of other state education agency officials from across the country. The policy statement serves as a philosophical foundation for a more detailed reauthorization proposal to be released early next year. The CCSSO’s ESEA Policy Statement can be downloaded at

(3) “Academic-Growth Yardstick Kicks In” by Scott Stephens

SourceCleveland Plain Dealer – 17 October 2006

Many a parent has used pencil marks on a bedroom wall to plot the growth of a child.

Soon, every school district in Ohio will begin applying that simple ritual to the academic growth of the state’s public school students.

But for educators, the approach won’t be as simple as using a pencil to mark progress. Instead, they’ll be applying a new, sophisticated and sometimes controversial data analysis system known as “value-added.”

While the formula might be complex, the concept is not. Value-added measures the effectiveness of schools based on the amount of academic progress students make from year to year–or the “value” a school adds to a student’s learning experience. Like the pencil marks on the wall, it measures growth rather than a predetermined height…

For large urban districts with high numbers of low-income students, value-added could show substantial educational growth, even if districts’ test-passage rates miss state targets.

For some affluent districts, where students regularly hit those state targets, value-added might show that students are not challenged enough.

Ohio is among a handful of states–along with Tennessee, Pennsylvania and New York–that are using value-added systems.

“I think there is a lot of interest around the country in growth measures,” said Jim Mahony of Battelle for Kids. The Columbus-based nonprofit group has been conducting a test of the concept in Ohio. “It’s a powerful tool in determining whether we are effective or ineffective in our efforts to improve student learning.”

More than 600 educators from 25 states [were] in Ohio [last month] for a national conference on value-added sponsored by Battelle…

When an insurance actuary computes life expectancy, he or she takes into account factors such as a person’s family history and habits such as smoking or skydiving.

Similarly, value-added takes a student’s personal information and academic background and comes up with a predicted score.

The difference between the predicted score and the actual scores is the “value” a school “added” to the student’s experience. Every public school student in the state is assigned a personal identification number. That way, educators can monitor progress, regardless of how many times a child changes districts…

Ohio lawmakers adopted legislation in 2003 that established a value-added system as an official measurement of academic progress.

A year earllot project with 42 volunteer districts. This year, 110 districts–including Cleveland and other Northeast Ohio ier, Battelle’s began a pisystems–are using the value-added system.

Later this fall, all 612 Ohio districts will get value-added data for fourth-graders. Next year, all districts will receive value-added data in reading and math for students in grades 4-8.

Critics point out that value-added systems are still heavily weighted by standardized test scores. But officials say the new yardstick will give a better-rounded picture of test passage rates. “Measuring students’ achievement without taking into account their starting point provides an incomplete picture of student performance,” said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

(4) StatChat on The Nation’s Report Card: Results from the 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment in Science

Source: National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Join NCES Associate Commissioner Dr. Peggy Carr at noon (PST) on November 15 for a StatChat, a live online discussion about the results of the 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment in Science, scheduled for release earlier that day at 8 a.m. (PT). Submit your questions ahead of time at

“The Nation’s Report Card: Results from the 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment in Science” will provide information on performance of 4th and 8th graders in 10 large urban districts.  Visit at the time of the release for full results.

(5) National Summit on Educational Games

Source: Federation of American Scientists

The National Summit on Educational Games was held on October 25, 2005 in Washington,

DC.  The Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Association, and the

National Science Foundation sponsored the Summit.

The Summit convened nearly 100 experts to discuss ways to accelerate the development, commercialization, and deployment of new generation games for learning.  Participants included executives from the video game industry and education software publishers, researchers and experts on technology and pedagogy, game developers, representatives of user communities such as teachers and the U.S. military, R&D funders, and government policy makers.

The Summit focused on four issues: video game features useful for learning and aspects of learning that could be supported by video games, research needed to support the effective use of games for education and training, market barriers, and changes in schools that might be needed to take advantage of educational games.

Why should the United States focus on digital games for learning?

—  Many video games require players to master skills in demand by today’s employers–strategic and analytical thinking, problem solving, planning and execution, decision-making, and adaptation to rapid change.

—  They can be used to practice practical skills and important skills that are rarely used, to train for high-performance situations in a low-consequence-for-failure environment, and for team building.

—  Games offer attributes important for learning–clear goals, lessons that can be practiced repeatedly until mastered, monitoring learner progress and adjusting instruction to learner level of mastery, closing the gap between what is learned and its use, motivation that encourages time on task, personalization of learning, and infinite patience.

—  Today’s students–the so-called digital natives–are poised to take advantage of educational games.

What research is needed to advance games for learning?

—  Research is needed to determine which features of games and simulations are important for learning and why, and how best to design these systems to deliver positive learning outcomes.

—  Research is needed to develop automated tools to streamline the process of developing games and simulations, and to reduce development costs.

—  Research is needed on how to best assess the knowledge and skills learners acquire from games, and on understanding the barriers to the adoption of learning innovations in education institutions.

What stands in the way of bringing games and simulations to learning?

—  High development costs and an uncertain market for educational innovations make investments in developing learning games similar to commercial video games too risky for the video game and educational materials industries.

—  Schools are reluctant to give up textbooks or purchase educational technologies that have not proven their efficacy, especially in terms of today’s education standards.

—  Some parents and educators have negative attitudes about video games.

—  Schools are slow to adopt new innovations, and make the organizational and instructional changes necessary to make good use of new learning technologies.

—  While games may be especially good at teaching higher order skills, these skills are not typically assessed in standards of learning-types of examinations.

—  In some schools, access to computers may be too small for them to play a mainstream role in learning.

—  Data from evaluations is needed to show that learning games are effective.

What should the government, industry, and education community do to get educational games to teachers and learners?   

—  The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, and the National Science Foundation–in partnership with industry, educators, and the academic community–should support an

R&D agenda to encourage the development of education and training games for K-12, post-secondary, and adult learners.

—  R&D investments should catalyze collaborative efforts between game designers, and those who develop and implement educational materials.

—  R&D should include evaluation of educational outcomes generated by learning games.

—  Business leaders should work with education and training institutions to develop criteria for assessing higher order skills.

—  Educational materials publishers and game companies should explore the economics of developing and marketing simpler, shorter, and less costly to produce “downloadable” educational games.

–  Training materials and software publishers should explore opportunities for developing training games for the nationwide workforce development system overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor.

—  Educational software publishers and game companies should explore developing learning games for the informal after school market and for home video consoles.

—  Game companies should look at education as a secondary market for their technologies, and consider selling these at low cost for use in education.

—  Educational institutions should develop and execute a strategy for changing instruction to reflect the kinds of learning innovations expected in the coming decade.

—  Schools of education should work with the learning games community to develop new and revamp old pedagogy to take advantage of these new educational tools.

—  Teachers should be trained to use learning games.

—  Efforts are needed to aggregate education markets with common needs so developers can bid on a market large enough to justify a major investment in product development.

(6) “The Myth of Prodigy and Why it Matters” by Eric Wargo

Source: APS [Association for Psychological Science] Observer – August 2006

Judging from his boyish appearance and his voracious curiosity, it’s easy to imagine Malcolm Gladwell as some sort of child prodigy. And he was. But not the way you imagined.

As a teenager growing up in rural Ontario, the bestselling author of Blink and The Tipping Point was a champion runner, the number-one Canadian runner of his age. He was encouraged to dream of Olympic gold, and indeed was flown to special training camps with the other elite runners of his generation–on the assumption that creating future world-class athletes meant recognizing and nurturing youthful talent.

Precocity was the subject of Gladwell’s “Bring the Family Address” at this year’s Association for Psychological Science Convention, and the account of his own early athletic success served as a springboard. “I was a running prodigy,” he said bluntly. But–and this “but” sounded the theme of his talk to the rapt audience–being a prodigy didn’t forecast future success in running. After losing a major race at age 15, then enduring other setbacks and loss of interest, Gladwell said, he gave up running for a few years. Taking it up again in college–with the same dedication as before–he faced a disappointing truth: “I realized I wasn’t one of the best in the country … I was simply okay.”

The fall from childhood greatness to a middling state of “simply okay” is, Gladwell suggested, a recurring theme when the cherished notion of precocity is subjected to real scrutiny.

“I think we take it as an article of faith in our society that great ability in any given field is invariably manifested early on, that to be precocious at something is important because it’s a predictor of future success,” Gladwell said. “But is that really true? And what is the evidence for it? And what exactly is the meaning and value of mastering a particular skill very early on in your life?”

There are two ways of answering these questions. One is simply to track the achievements of precocious kids. Gladwell cited a mid-1980s study (Genius Revisited) of adults who had attended New York City’s prestigious Hunter College Elementary School, which only admits children with an IQ of 155 or above. Hunter College was founded in the 1920s to be a training ground for the country’s future intellectual elite. Yet the fate of its child-geniuses was, well, “simply okay.” Thirty years down the road, the Hunter alums in the study were all doing pretty well, were reasonably well adjusted and happy, and most had good jobs and many had graduate degrees. But Gladwell was struck by what he called the “disappointed tone of the book”: None of the Hunter alums were superstars or Nobel- or Pulitzer-prize winners; there were no people who were nationally known in their fields. “These were genius kids but they were not genius adults.”

A similar pattern emerged when Gladwell examined his own cohort of elite teen runners in Ontario. Of the 15 nationally ranked runners in his age class at age 13 or 14, only one of that group had been a top runner in his running prime, at age 24. Indeed, the number-one miler at age 24 was someone Gladwell had known as one of the poorer runners when they were young–Doug Consiglio, a “gawky kid” of whom all the other kids asked “Why does he even bother?”

Precociousness is a slipperier subject than we ordinarily think, Gladwell said. And the benefits of earlier mastery are overstated. “There are surprising numbers of people who either start good and go bad or start bad and end up good.”

Gifted Learning vs. Gifted Doing

The other way to look at precocity is of course to work backward–to look at adult geniuses and see what they were like as kids. A number of studies have taken this approach, Gladwell said, and they find a similar pattern. A study of 200 highly accomplished adults found that just 34 percent had been considered in any way precocious as children. He also read a long list of historical geniuses who had been notably undistinguished as children–a list including Copernicus, Rembrandt, Bach, Newton, Beethoven, Kant, and Leonardo Da Vinci… None of [them] would have made it into Hunter College,” Gladwell observed.

We think of precociousness as an early form of adult achievement, and, according to Gladwell, that concept is much of the problem. “What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement”…

Early acquisition of skills–which is often what we mean by precocity–may thus be a misleading indicator of later success, said Gladwell. “Sometimes we call a child precocious because they acquire a certain skill quickly, but that skill turns out to be something where speed of acquisition is not at all important. … We don’t say that someone who learned to walk at four months is a better walker than the rest of us. It’s not really a meaningful category.”

Reading may be like walking in this respect. Gladwell cited one study comparing French-speaking Swiss children, who are taught to read early, with German-speaking Swiss children, who are taught to read later but show far fewer learning problems than their French-speaking counterparts; he also mentioned other research finding little if any correlation between early reading and ease or love of reading at later ages.

When we call a child “precocious,” Gladwell said, “we have a very sloppy definition of what we mean. Generally what we mean is that a person has an unusual level of intellectual ability for their age.” But adult success has to do with a lot more than that. “In our obsession with precociousness we are overstating the importance of being smart.” In this regard, Gladwell noted research by Carol Dweck and Martin Seligman indicating that different dimensions such as explanatory styles and attitudes and approaches to learning may have as much to do with learning ability as does innate intelligence…

A better poster child for what precociousness really entails, Gladwell hinted, the famous intellectual late-bloomer, Einstein. Gladwell cited a biographer’s description of the future physicist, who displayed no remarkable native intelligence as a child but whose success seems to have derived from certain habits and personality traits–curiosity, doggedness, determinedness–that are the less glamorous but perhaps more essential components of genius.

Precocious is Pernicious

Our romanticized view of precociousness matters. When certain kids are singled out as gifted or talented, Gladwell suggested, it creates an environment that may be subtly discouraging to those who are just average. “In singling out people like me at age 13 for special treatment, we discouraged other kids from ever taking up running at all. And we will never know how many kids who might have been great milers had they been encouraged and not discouraged from joining running, might have ended up as being very successful 10 years down the road.”

Although Gladwell acknowledged the wisdom of wanting to provide learning environments suited to different paces of achievement, he suggested that “that very worthy goal is overwhelmed by … our irresistible desire to look at precociousness as a prediction.”

“We thought that Doug Consiglio was a runner without talent,” he said, returning to his earlier example. “But what if he just didn’t take running seriously until he was 16 or 17? What if he suddenly found a coach who inspired him?” Predictions from childhood about adult performance can only be made based on relatively fixed traits, he said. “Unfortunately…many of the things that really matter in predicting adult success are not fixed at all. And once you begin to concede the importance of these kinds of non-intellectual, highly variable traits, you have to give up your love of precociousness.”

Gladwell concluded his talk with a story he said his brother, an elementary school principal, likes to tell–“the story of two buildings. One is built ahead of schedule, and one is being built in New York City and comes in two years late and several million dollars over budget. Does anyone really care, 10 years down the road, which building was built early and which building was built late? … But somehow I think when it comes to children we feel the other way, that we get obsessed with schedules, and not with buildings. I think that’s a shame…