COMET • Vol. 9, No. 26 – 3 November 2008


(1) Judge Halts Algebra I Mandate; December Hearing Set

Source: California School News–California School Boards Association (CSBA)

Accepting arguments put forward by the California School Boards Association’s (CSBA’s) Education Legal Alliance and the Association of California School Administrators, a Sacramento Superior Court judge has ordered the State Board of Education (SBE) to halt any further action on its controversial mandate that all California eighth-graders be tested in Algebra I pending a December court hearing on the issue.

Judge Shellyanne Chang issued a temporary restraining order on October 28, ruling that the plaintiffs–and the school districts and students these education organizations represent–would “suffer irreparable injury” if the SBE is allowed to implement its algebra mandate without a comprehensive hearing on the issue.

The judge’s ruling was a significant victory for the education associations that sued to halt the Algebra I mandate, which the SBE imposed unexpectedly at its July 9 meeting. The lawsuit challenges the State Board’s authority to change the state’s content standards, which do not currently require eighth-grade students to take Algebra I.

“We are pleased by the judge’s ruling,” CSBA Executive Director Scott P. Plotkin said after it was announced. “Prior to making their decision, the SBE didn’t provide the public with an opportunity to express how such a change in policy will have significant ramifications for all aspects of the educational system. This restraining order validates our belief that the SBE overstepped its authority”…

December 19 hearing set

The judge’s temporary restraining order prevents the SBE from taking any action to implement its Algebra I mandate and from approving or executing a timeline waiver or compliance agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. The SBE was scheduled to consider a waiver at its November 5-6 meeting. Instead, SBE representatives must appear in court December 19 to show cause why the judge should not issue a permanent injunction until the algebra issue comes to trial.

The U.S. Department of Education had previously complained that California’s eighth-grade math test lacked sufficient rigor. O’Connell recommended that the state satisfy the federal concerns by requiring eighth-graders to take a new, more demanding test that included some algebraic concepts but did not require complete mastery of the subject. Instead, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recommended–just 24 hours before the SBE’s July meeting–that all eighth-graders be assessed on Algebra I skills, and the panel agreed on an 8-1 vote.

Opponents sued, challenging the process by which the mandate was imposed and the SBE’s authority. Critics also contend that many students are not ready to master Algebra I in eighth grade and many question the cost. O’Connell asserted that hiring more math teachers to prepare students to pass an eighth-graders Algebra I test would divert billions of dollars from more essential education programs.


(2) Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Comments on Temporary Restraining Order Granted in Algebra I Litigation

Source: California Department of Education

In response to the granting of a temporary restraining order preventing the State Board of Education from implementing its July 9, 2008 decision requiring all eighth grade students in California to be tested in Algebra I, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell made the following remarks on October 28:

“I am pleased that the court has approved a temporary restraining order preventing the State Board of Education from implementing its decision to require all eighth grade students in California to take Algebra I. The Board made the decision in response to a letter from the Governor sent just hours before the Board met. I said at that time that there had not been adequate public notice or discussion for an issue of this magnitude. The Court found that these concerns were valid and stopped implementation of the Board’s plan until a full hearing can be held on the merits of the case in December.

“Algebra is a critical skill that all students must master. But, our public education system currently is not set up to provide the institutional support that schools, teachers, and students will need to ensure every student succeeds in Algebra I in the eighth grade. To do so would require significant investments to our system, costing billions of dollars. For example, California would have to double the number of middle school Algebra I teachers over the next three years. Given the growing budget shortfall in our state and the troubled national economic climate, which Governor Schwarzenegger is discussing with legislative leaders and key constituent groups just this week, it is unlikely that the Governor would be able to find the resources necessary to successfully implement the Algebra I mandate.”

Supt. O’Connell’s declaration in support of the Temporary Restraining Order appears below:

I, Jack O’Connell, declare:

1. I am the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of California, having been first elected to the position in November 2002 and reelected in November 2006. I make this declaration in support of plaintiffs’ application for a temporary restraining order in the above-captioned case.

2. I have filed a responsive pleading in this case in which I agree with plaintiffs that the State Board of Education acted unlawfully at its July 9, 2008 meeting in adopting the Algebra I end-of-course examination as the sole grade eight mathematics assessment, and in directing staff of the Department of Education to negotiate an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to implement that decision. I agree with plaintiffs that the State Board’s actions in this regard should be declared null and void. Attached as Exhibit 1 to this declaration is a true and correct transcript of the remarks I made at the July 9, 2008 meeting urging the State Board not to adopt the Algebra I end-of-course examination as the grade eight assessment (

3. The existing content standards do not require that grade eight students take Algebra I, and many do not do so. As a consequence of the State Board’s July 9, 2008 decision, within the next few years all grade eight students will have to take Algebra I in order to pass the Algebra I end-of-course examination. Our public education system currently is not set up to provide the institutional support that schools, teachers and students will need to ensure every student succeeds in Algebra I in the eighth grade. For example, the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a nonprofit research organization that produces an annual report on California’s teaching workforce, reports that California will have to double the number of middle school Algebra I teachers over the next three years through new hires and retraining to meet the Algebra mandate. After the State Board’s action, I prepared the California Algebra I Success Initiative, which sets forth the steps that I believe are necessary to prepare all California eighth grade students to succeed in Algebra I. A true and correct copy of the California Algebra I Success Initiative is attached as Exhibit 2 to this declaration (
4. For the last six years, test scores have been trending upwards in all subjects, in all grades. The State Board’s decision puts that progress at risk. Unless the State Board is enjoined from implementing its July 9, 2008 decision, schools and districts will have to immediately begin taking steps to ensure student readiness to take and pass the Algebra I end-of-course examination. That will require a significant, immediate investment of resources, both financial and instructional, that will have to be diverted from other worthy educational needs during this time of severe fiscal crisis…



(1) “Institute to Study Connections Between Computer Gaming, STEM Learning” by Katie Ash

Source: Digital Directions – 28 October 2008

A new research institute will investigate the connections between interactive computer and video games and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning. Microsoft Research, an arm of the Seattle-based Microsoft Corp., and a consortium of universities and education organizations, led by New York University, launched the institute Oct. 7.

With a $1.5 million grant from Microsoft Research that was matched by the consortium of educators in New York–which includes Columbia University, Dartmouth College, the City University of New York, Teachers College, Columbia University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology, among others–for a total of $3 million, the Games for Learning Institute ( plans to undertake a three-year project.

John Nordlinger, the program manager for the gaming initiative at Microsoft Research, says he suspects that is just the beginning, however.

“We’d be shocked if [that time] wasn’t extended,” he says, noting the institute has already attracted attention from other foundations.

The rising popularity of computer and video games makes this is a perfect time to conduct scientific research around them, says Jan L. Plass, an associate professor of educational communication and technology at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development and a co-director of the institute.

“Schools are, more and more, thinking about alternative ways of teaching and engaging kids,” he says. “Games have surpassed movies in terms of sales and revenue, and as a result, there’s been a lot of interest in games.”

Kurt D. Squire, an assistant professor of educational communications and technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and educational gaming researcher, agrees that much more research in educational gaming is needed.

“This is absolutely a key area, and this is the kind of work that we need a lot more of,” he says. “There’s a lot of the field to be mapped”…

‘Crisis in Education’

Along with Plass, the institute will be co-directed by Ken Perlin, a professor of computer science at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

The Games for Learning Institute, which will be located at NYU, will focus primarily on games’ connections with the set of subjects commonly referred to as STEM–an area of growing emphasis for education, business, and political leaders.

“There’s a real crisis in education right now,” Nordlinger says. “We need more folks getting into science and engineering.”

So far, anecdotal evidence suggests that computer and video games have the potential to increase student engagement in those subjects, as well as teach important concepts, Nordlinger says. The institute aims to conduct research to verify–or disprove==those observations, he says, and specifically investigate the architecture of games to identify effective methods for teaching.

“We’re asking what can we learn from games that can help us design better learning environments,” adds Plass.

Rather than just focusing on whether games help students learn, researchers at the Games for Learning Institute want to identify the specific aspects of games that are effective and come up with a blueprint for game designers to follow to make the most effective educational games.

“We want to take [the research] to the next level,” Plass says, to provide game designers with “a systematic process that is based on design principles and informed by research.”

Engaging STEM Learners

The institute will begin by studying middle school students, who represent a critical age for recruiting students into STEM subjects, researchers say.

“Research has shown that [students’ disengagement with science] begins in middle school,” says Plass. “They think [STEM subjects] aren’t interesting. They think they’re not cool. We want to see if we can change that.”

The research will be divided into three phases.

During the first phase of the project, researchers will examine what makes games fun for students, if and how educational games transfer knowledge to students, and whether they’re appropriate learning tools.

Next, the institute will break down the components of games to see what helps students learn at faster rates and what techniques are most effective for helping students learn.
Lastly, researchers will investigate how those techniques can be incorporated into games in order to make them as effective as possible.

Researchers will be looking at a variety of platforms, such as Nintendo’s Wii and Microsoft’s Xbox, for delivering games, but will primarily focus on “low-end platforms that could be easily available in schools,” says Plass, such as hand-held applications and computer games.

Although the Games for Learning Institute does not have plans to produce its own large-scale game, researchers will develop mini-games to investigate specific research questions, Plass says.

All the materials created by the team of researchers at NYU will be made free for students to use.


Note: The Fall 2008 issue of Digital Directions is now available online at Access to the entire issue is free of charge.


(2) U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings Announces Final Regulations to Strengthen No Child Left Behind

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Last Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced final regulations to strengthen and clarify No Child Left Behind (NCLB), focusing on improved accountability and transparency, uniform and disaggregated graduation rates and improved parental notification for Supplemental Education Services and public school choice. The Secretary made the announcement while speaking to educators, state and local policymakers and business leaders at South Carolina Educational Television in Columbia, S.C.

“NCLB has shined a spotlight on schools,” said Secretary Spellings. “It is compelling grown ups to do the right thing by kids. And it’s working. According to the Nation’s Report Card, since 2000, more kids are learning reading and math. Since this law was passed, nearly one million more students have learned basic math skills. Children once left behind are making some of the greatest gains, but more work needs to be done. That’s why I’ve taken a responsive, common sense approach to implementing the law with today’s announcement.”

The Secretary noted that these new regulations reflect lessons learned over the past six years since NCLB was enacted and builds on work that states have made with their assessment and accountability systems. One area that there is broad public consensus around is the need for a uniform graduation rate.

Recognizing that the nation can no longer tolerate–much less prosper–with its abysmal graduation rate, particularly among minority students, the final regulations establish a uniform graduation rate that shows how many incoming freshman in a given high school graduate within four years.

“As far back as 2005, governors from all 50 states agreed to adopt a uniform, more accurate graduation rate. But so far, only 16 states have done so,” said Secretary Spellings. “Parents know that a high school diploma is the least their children need to succeed in today’s economy.”

Under the new regulations, all states will use the same formula to calculate how many students graduate from high school on time and how many drop out. The final regulations define the “four year adjusted cohort graduation rate” as the number of students who graduate in four years with a regular high school diploma divided by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier, adjusted for transfers, students who emigrate and deceased students. The data will be made public so that educators and parents can compare how students of every race, background and income level are performing.

The final rules announced by the Secretary today also require that parents must be notified in a clear and timely way about their public school choice and supplemental education service options. The regulations seek to ensure that states make more information available to the public about what tutoring providers are available, how these providers are approved and monitored, and most importantly, how effective they are in helping students improve.

“These services can’t make a difference if parents don’t know they’re available,” said Secretary Spellings.

Several of the regulations seek to clarify elements of the law that require school systems to be accountable for results and transparent in their reporting to parents and the public. States and districts must now publish reading and mathematics results from the Nation’s Report Card alongside data from their own tests for students and include participation rates for students with disabilities and those who are limited English proficient. The regulations also state that measures of student academic achievement may include multiple question formats and multiple assessments within a subject area. In addition, in order to ensure the inclusion of all sub-groups of students, states will be required to explain how its minimum group size, or “N-size” and other components of its AYP definition, interact to provide statistically reliable information and at the same time ensure the maximum inclusion of all students and subgroups.

Building on the Department’s growth model pilot program, the regulations outline the criteria that States must meet in order to incorporate individual student progress into the State’s definition of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Recognizing schools in restructuring need the most significant intervention, the regulations seek to ensure that the interventions are more rigorous and that they specifically address the reasons for the school being in restructuring.

Under the new regulations, the Secretary of Education will be required to continue the dialogue and address some of the more technical needs of the states through the National Technical Advisory Council. The council is comprised of experts in the fields of education standards, accountability systems, statistics and psychometrics.


(3) Mathematics Education Trust: Grants for Teachers

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Established by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Mathematics Education Trust (MET) offers opportunities to expand your professional horizons! MET supports the improvement of mathematics teaching and learning at the classroom level through the funding of grants, awards, honors, and other projects by channeling the generosity of contributors into classroom-based efforts that benefit all students.

MET provides funds to support classroom teachers in the areas of improving classroom practices and increasing teachers’ mathematical knowledge. MET also sponsors activities for prospective teachers and NCTM’s Affiliates, as well as recognizing the lifetime achievement of leaders in mathematics education. There may be a program that’s just right for you!

Most awards are available through a competitive process based on proposals submitted by individual applicants. All 2009-10 applications (except for those otherwise noted) must be postmarked by November 14, 2008. Below is a listing of the available grants. See the above Web site for links to details about each.

School In-Service Training Grants (Gr. K-12): Up to $4000 to provide financial assistance to schools for in-service education in mathematics. (Deadline: May 9, 2009)

Emerging Teacher-Leaders in Elementary School Mathematics Grants (Gr. K-5): Up to $6000 to increase the breadth and depth of the mathematics content knowledge of an elementary school teacher who has a demonstrated commitment to mathematics teaching and learning

Teacher Professional Development Grants (Gr. K-12): Up to $3000 to support professional development to improve teacher competence in the teaching of mathematics

Using Music to Teach Mathematics Grants (Gr. K-2): Up to $3000 to incorporate music into the elementary school classroom to help young students learn mathematics

Engaging Students in Learning Mathematics Grants (Gr. 6-8): Up to $3000 to incorporate middle school classroom materials or lessons that actively engage students in tasks and experiences to deepen and connect their content knowledge

Equity in Mathematics Grants (Gr. 6-8): Up to $8000 to incorporate middle school classroom materials or lessons that will improve the achievement of student groups that have previous records of underachievement

Improving Students’ Understanding of Geometry Grants (Gr. K-8): Up to $3000 to develop activities that will enable students to better appreciate and understand some aspect of geometry that is consistent with the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics of NCTM

Content Standards Implementation Grants (Gr. 7-12): Up to $3000 to create lessons to increase mathematics content knowledge for one or more of the Content Standards defined by the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics of NCTM

Connecting Mathematics to Other Subject Areas Grants (Gr. 9-12): Up to $3000 to create senior high classroom materials or lessons connecting mathematics to other fields

Classroom-Based Research Grants (Gr. K-12): Up to $8000 to support and encourage classroom-based research in precollege mathematics education in collaboration with college or university mathematics educators

K-8 Preservice Teacher Action Research Grants (Gr. K-8): Up to $3000 to support action research conducted as a collaborative by university faculty, preservice teacher(s), and classroom teacher(s) seeking to improve their understanding of mathematics in K–8 classrooms.

Mathematics Graduate Course Work Scholarships (Gr. K-12): Up to $2000 to provide financial support for improving teachers’ understanding of mathematics by completing graduate course work in mathematics

Summer Mathematics Study Grants (Gr. 6-8): Up to $6000 in support for teachers seeking to improve their understanding of mathematics by completing course work in mathematics content.

Prospective Middle School Teacher Course Work Scholarships (Gr. 6-8; deadline: May 9, 2009): Up to $3,000 to college students preparing to be middle school mathematics teachers

Prospective Secondary Teacher Course Work Scholarships (Gr. 7-12; deadline: May 9, 2009): Up to $10,000 to college students preparing to be secondary school mathematics teachers

Prospective Teacher NCTM Annual Conference Attendance Awards (Gr. K-12): Up to $1,200 for travel and subsistence expenses for full-time undergraduate or graduate students who are committed to teaching mathematics in grades K–12 to attend an NCTM annual meeting or a regional meeting of NCTM

Future Leaders Initial NCTM Annual Conference Attendance Awards (Gr. K-12): Up to $1200 for NCTM members who are full-time mathematics teachers and have never attended an NCTM annual conference.

Additional MET Initiatives

NCTM Lifetime Achievement Awards for Distinguished Service to Mathematics Education (

NCTM Affiliate Awards including the Kenneth B. Cummins Grant (