COMET • Vol. 8, No. 30 – 17 November 2007

(1) Chance Favors the Prepared Mind: Mathematics and Science Indicators for Comparing States and Nations

Source: American Institutes for Research (AIR)
URL (Report): prepared.mind.pdf

Students in most U.S. states are performing as well as or better than most students in foreign countries in math and science, but the highest achieving states are still significantly below the highest achieving countries, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The first-of-its-kind report provides a comparison of the mathematics and science skills of 8th-grade students in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools with those of their counterparts around the world.  The report provides international benchmarks to help states see how their students are doing within an international context.

“If you think of states and nations as in a race to prepare the future generation of workers, scholars and citizens to be competent and competitive in a technologically complex world, then the states are in the middle of the pack,” said Dr. Gary Phillips, a chief scientist at AIR and author of the report.  “The bad news is that even our best performing states are running far behind the highest performing countries.”

Dr. Phillips, who is nationally known for his expertise in large-scale assessments and complex surveys, served as the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) within the U.S. Department of Education from 1999 – 2002.

The report, Chance Favors the Prepared Mind: Mathematics and Science Indicators for Comparing States and Nations, classifies student performance levels as Basic, which indicates a partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge; Proficient, solid academic performance; and Advanced, which shows superior performance.

In mathematics, students in 49 states and the District of Columbia are behind their counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.  Students in Massachusetts are on a par with Japanese students, but trail the other four nations.  In science, students in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin trail only students in Singapore and Taiwan, while performing equal or better than students in the other 45 countries surveyed.

“More than a century ago Louis Pasteur revealed the secret to invention and innovation when he said ‘chance favors the prepared mind.’ The take away message from this report is that the United States is loosing the race to prepare the minds of the future generation,” said Dr. Phillips.

Students in the District of Columbia had the lowest U.S. performance in mathematics (they did not participate in the science test). In math, the average D.C. student is at the Below Basic level, putting them behind students in 29 countries and ahead of those in 14 countries.  In science, nine states are at the Below Basic level: Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Alabama, Hawaii, California and Mississippi.

“The report shows the United States needs to substantially increase the scientific and mathematical competency of the general adult population so citizens can better understand and address many of the world’s most pressing problems,” said Dr. Phillips.

The AIR study describes state and international education indicators for mathematics and science using state data collected by the 2005 and 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and international data collected by the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in grade 8.

Data from the two studies were reanalyzed and expressed in the same metric through statistical linking. By expressing both assessments in the same metric, states within the United States can use TIMSS results as international benchmarks to monitor progress over time.

The report suggests the United States needs more people working in the scientific disciplines in order to better compete in the global economic environment.

Other findings include:

— At the national level, several Asian countries generally outperform the United States in both math and science.

— In both mathematics and science, the United States is generally comparable to other English-speaking nations and to European countries, while many African and Middle Eastern countries perform significantly below the United States.

— The highest performing countries are the same ones that grant the largest proportion of college degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

— In mathematics, only five countries reach the Proficient level of achievement: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Twenty-two countries are at the Basic level (including the U.S.) and 19 countries are Below Basic.

— In science, only two countries are at the Proficient level: Singapore and Taiwan. Twenty countries are at the Basic level (including the U.S.) and 24 countries are Below Basic.

The full report can be downloaded from the above Web site.


(2) Results of the Third NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment

URL (Executive Summary):
URL (Entire Report):

This year, approximately 38,000 fourth- and eighth-graders from 11 urban districts (Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, District of Columbia, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Diego) participated in the third NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in mathematics…

The TUDA results make it possible to compare the performance of students in participating urban school districts to that of public school students in the nation, in large central cities (population over 250,000), and to each other.

Fourth-graders in Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, New York City, and San Diego scored higher on average than students in large central cities. Scores for fourth-graders in the other five districts were lower than the score for students in large central cities.

Eighth-graders in Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Houston, and San Diego scored higher, on average, than students in large central cities. Students in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, the District of Columbia, and Los Angeles scored lower on average, and the score for eighth-graders in New York City was not significantly different from the score for students in large central cities.

Between 2003 and 2007, mathematics performance for 4th graders improved in 8 of the 10 districts that participated both years. At grade 8, eight districts had higher scores in 2007 than in 2003. Further, at both grades 4 and 8, most districts had higher percentages of students performing at or above Basic and Proficient in 2007 compared with 2003. In general, there was a reduction in percentages of students performing below Basic and an increase in percentages at or above Basic.

For more results, please visit the above Web sites and see the below Los Angeles Times article.

NOTE:  If you have questions about the 2007 NAEP TUDA, please submit your questions to NCES Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr at   This new Q & A format replaces the usual chat event, so please be sure to submit your questions by noon (ET) on Monday, November 19, and visit on November 20 at 3 p.m. to see Dr. Carr’s responses.


(3) “L.A. Students Improving in Math, but not in Reading” by Tina Marie Macias

Source: Los Angeles Times – 16 November 2007


Math scores continued to rise in the Los Angeles Unified School District, but reading is showing no improvement with fourth-graders ranking among the lowest among urban districts, according to a federal report released Thursday…

School district officials and administrators caution that comparing [NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA)] results can be tricky: California tends to include more special education and limited English-speaking students. Houston and Austin schools exclude most of those students.

But the results provide a look into the achievement in the nation’s urban schools.

And they echoed some of the concerns from the nationwide assessment, the results of which were released in September: While math scores rise, reading progress is mixed and the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their black and Latino counterparts remains wide.

“The fact that the gap is not narrowing is quite troubling,” said Bruce Fuller, an education and public policy professor at UC Berkeley. “The dirty little secret is California has mounted multimillion-dollar efforts to narrow the achievement gap and we have done little to do so.”

California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell held a summit on the issue this week in an attempt to bring together experts to help determine how best to attack the problem.

In most instances, white and Asian students at Los Angeles Unified School District schools are on par with their counterparts elsewhere. Those scores were often higher than the nation’s average for all students.

L.A. Unified’s black and Latino students, however, are not only 30 points or more below the nation’s average scores, but also much lower than the average for their peers in the other cities, leaving L.A. Unified with a much wider achievement gap than the national average.

Of the 11 districts tested, only Charlotte, N.C., and Austin, Texas, are above the nation’s average. But even in the below-average districts, “in some cases the gains are greater than the nation as a whole, which means that achievement gaps are closing,” said Robin C. Hall, a NAEP board member.

That’s not the case for L.A. students. Scores in LAUSD mainly stayed the same across the board. The exception was for eighth-grade math; those scores are improving more quickly in Los Angeles Unified than in the nation and in California.

L.A. Unified fourth-graders performed the worst of the 11 urban districts in reading, with 61% scoring below basic level.

Eighth-grade reading went up between 2002 and the latest results but had no significant change since 2005.

In math, things were better. Scores for fourth-grade math rose from 2003 to 2007, but showed no change from 2005. The school system still remains below the large-city average, with 40% testing below “basic” in fourth-grade math.

For eighth-graders, scores in math went up from 2003 to 2007 and dramatically improved from 2005 to 2007. The scores were still below the urban average, with 55% testing at the below basic level for eighth-grade math.


(4) “Leonid Meteor Shower Peaks Saturday” by Christine Dell’Amore

Source: National Geographic News – 16 November 2007


The dazzling Leonid meteor shower will streak across the skies again [tonight].

The annual light show, which occurs in mid-November, will return this year with a maximum of about a dozen meteors an hour at around 8 p.m. PST.

North American skywatchers will get an unusually clear view, as the moon will set early and leave a dark canvas for the illuminations to begin.

Past Leonid events have been particularly spectacular–from 1999 to 2002, the yearly showers neared the intensity of “meteor storms,” when viewers spotted up to a thousand meteors an hour.

This year’s meteor rates are expected to be much less showy, with an outburst lasting about one to two hours, according to forecasters at NASA’s Leonid Multi-Instrument Aircraft Campaign.

“There will be pretty much normal shower activity, 20 per hour at most,” said Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“We don’t expect any more spectacular Leonid displays for over 20 years.”

Comet Debris

The Leonids are remnants of the Tempel-Tuttle comet, which follows a 33-year orbit that extends as far as the planet Uranus.

The showers are visible when Earth travels through debris left behind by the comet. Those particles, which can be as small as a grain of sand, appear as meteors streaking across the sky.

Leonid’s meteors are the fastest, racing through the atmosphere at 44 miles a second….

Leonids are named for their location in the constellation Leo, a mythical lion figure. The arrangement of stars creates an outline of a lion’s head and mane…

Fans can visit for the most up-to-date advice on spotting the cosmic bodies.


(5) On this Day in History…

Source: Scope Systems

Today is the 217th anniversary of the birth of German mathematician August Ferdinand Mobius. For lists of famous (and infamous) individuals who were born or died on a particular date, as well as events that occurred on that date, visit the above Web site.