2001 Archive‎ > ‎

Vol. 2, No. 1 - 15 January 2001



ARTICLES, LETTERS, ANNOUNCEMENTS (CALIFORNIA FOCUS)

(1) "State OKs New Math Textbooks to Meet Tough Standards" (AP)

Source: Los Angeles Times - 12 January 2001
http://www.latimes.com/news/state/20010112/t000003377.html

School districts for the first time will be able to use state money to buy math textbooks that fully meet the state's tough 1997 standards, which call for algebra in eighth grade.

The state Board of Education has approved a dozen math textbook programs offered by nine publishers for elementary and middle school students. The board also rejected 11 programs by seven publishers as not meeting the standards that outline in detail what students should learn in each grade.

Dozens of teachers and school officials and state Supt. Delaine Eastin asked in vain for the board to approve a set of books for kindergarten through third grades by Everyday Learning Corp. The board did allow districts that are currently using Everyday's books and can show "exemplary achievement" by students on the statewide test to apply for a waiver to use state funds to buy the books.

(2) 2001 Mathematics Instructional Materials Adoption

On 10 January 2001, the State Board of Education approved the following mathematics materials for adoption, supporting the recommendations of the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission ("Curriculum Commission"):

PUBLISHER

PROGRAM NAME

GRADE(S)

CSL Associates, Inc.

Success with MathCoach

K-5

Harcourt School Publishers

Harcourt Math 2002

K-6

Houghton Mifflin Co.

Mathematics by Houghton Mifflin

K-5

McDougal Littell

Concepts and Skills

6-8

McDougal Littell

Structure and Method

6-8

McGraw-Hill School Division

McGraw-Hill Mathematics

K-6

Prentice Hall, Inc.

Prentice Hall Pre-Algebra, California Edition

7

Prentice Hall, Inc.

Prentice Hall Algebra I, California Edition

8

Sadlier, William H. Inc.

Progress in Mathematics, California Edition

K-6

Saxon Publishers, Inc.

Saxon Math K-3, An Incremental Development

K-3

Saxon Publishers, Inc.

Math 54, 65, 76, 87

3-6

Scott Foresman

Scott Foresman California Mathematics

K-6

Refer to http://www.ca4cs.org/CometData/Vol1/001204-COMET.html for a summary of IMAP (Instructional Materials Advisory Panel), CRP (Content Advisory Panel), and Curriculum Commission recommendations. The State Board's final decision reflects IMAP and CRP recommendations except in the following instances: (a) both IMAP and CRP recommended that Everyday Math K-3 be approved; (b) neither panel recommended approving McGraw-Hill Mathematics 3-6; (c) CRP members were split in their recommendation to approve Saxon 54, 65, 76, 87; (d) IMAP recommended against approving Success with MathCoach K-5, McDougal Littell's Concepts and Skills for 8th grade, and Saxon Math K-6.

The Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources web site (http://www.cde.ca.gov/cilbranch/eltdiv/cdsmc.htm) contains links to the current Mathematics Framework as well as to information about textbook adoptions. It is anticipated that the latest recommendations will be posted within the next month.

(3) "State to OK Math Books Geared to Tough Standards" by Martha Groves

Source: Los Angeles Times - 10 January 2001
http://www.latimes.com/news/learning/20010110/t000002648.html

Putting a key piece of California's school accountability puzzle into place, the State Board of Education is expected today to approve textbooks geared to rigorous math standards. Even before the vote, however, the topic is generating controversy, as is often the case when the subject of math instruction arises in California.

One key source of contention is a highly sophisticated program called Everyday Mathematics, which Los Angeles Unified, among other districts, is considering using in its elementary schools. The Curriculum Commission, which advises the board, has recommended rejection of Everyday Mathematics for kindergarten through third grade, but teachers and professors have rated it positively.

Some of the state's leading authorities in math content fear that most California teachers are not yet up to the task of teaching the challenging program...Delaine Eastin, state superintendent of public instruction, is urging the board to adopt the program, as is the California Math Council, the state's branch of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics...

In the council's view, Everyday Mathematics is one of the better programs. Developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, it is published by Everyday Learning Corp. in Chicago. The program has garnered good reviews in Poway, Glendale and dozens of other districts.

Jim Milgram, a Stanford math professor who has become embroiled in the state's quest for better math instruction, said he had no quibbles with the quality of Everyday Math. "Even though it doesn't align well with the state standards, we felt it was a program that California should have available," he said.

However, evaluators said in a report to the Curriculum Commission: "With a good teacher it could be a highly successful program. With a weak teacher it could be a disaster."

Math has long been a contentious issue in the state and the nation. As California was developing standards in 1997, educators and others debated what sort of mathematics should be taught. As in reading, with its whole language versus phonics debate, math too had traditionalists versus reformers. The reformers favored more conceptual thinking, whereas traditionalists sought a back-to-basics approach focused on repetition and memorization that would provide children with foundational skills.

With the adoption of challenging standards three years ago, California launched itself on a bold new path that emphasized algebra as a prerequisite for success in life.

Recognizing that instruction was not up to snuff, Gov. Gray Davis began pouring millions of dollars into training and other incentives for math teachers. For this year's budget, he is calling for $380 million to be spent on a variety of public school initiatives, including a new teacher training program and improvements in algebra instruction. ...

(4) "State Math Classes Going Back to Basics" by Nanette Asimov

Source: San Francisco Chronicle - 10 January 2001
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/01/10/MN91249.DTL

The state Board of Education is expected to take the final step today in returning "back-to-basics" education to California when it selects new math textbooks for elementary and middle schools. For thousands of California children, it will mean that "fuzzy math" is out and "drill and kill" is in.

The board's choices are expected to close the lid -- at least for the next six years -- on teaching math mainly in a conceptual fashion. For years, California's textbooks have presented math through discovery and ideas rather than through an emphasis on memorized algorithms and answers. Critics blame the state's low test scores on that approach.

"It's now turned around almost completely," said Larry Gipson, a co-founder of Mathematically Correct, a once-fringe group of Southern California scientists, engineers and parents whose mastery of Internet lobbying helped put their radical back-to-basics agenda at the forefront of state educational policy.

That agenda fits in with California's new emphasis on test scores, which -- to the chagrin of many who believe education should be about a love of learning -- have become an all-important measure of success in the state...

The state Board of Education is expected to approve only those texts they believe will help students score better [on the high school exit exam] while rejecting those perceived to diverge from that goal. That is partly driven by law: If books do not prepare students to pass the exit exam, those who fail could sue, claiming they were inadequately prepared.

Although school districts are not required to buy the board-approved texts, they are the only books the state will pay for over the next six years, until new books are adopted...

In general, the texts differ from California's previous crop of math books in three ways:

= Most introduce subjects earlier (algebraic concepts in grade 2, for example).

= They are more "teacher-proof," a phrase veteran instructors often find offensive because, in this era of uncredentialed teachers, it refers to recipe-style texts that almost anyone could use to teach a class.

= In a sense, some are also student-proof, relying on straightforward instruction delivered to everyone rather than inspiring students to discover answers themselves at their own pace.

It is this last point that continues to fuel the math wars. It also caused divisions on the three panels that screened the books to see whether they matched California's new math standards, a list of subjects students are expected to learn at each grade level...

The first group, the Instructional Materials Advisory Panel, was composed mainly of teachers who gave thumbs-down to texts with the most recipe-style instruction, while approving a more hands-on approach...The second group, the Content Review Panel, were math professors who generally echoed the call to keep some hands-on instruction.

The third and most influential group, the Curriculum Commission, will formally present the texts and its own recommendations to the board. Appointees of state lawmakers and state Board of Education members, the commission took the opposite approach, reversing several recommendations.

Among the texts the commission will urge the board to adopt are several by Saxon Publishers, whose strict use of step-by-step instructions has long been favored by homeschoolers and Christian schools, as well as by some public school districts, including Sacramento.

"A lot of people say we're drill and kill," said Frank Wang, Saxon's president. "We say drill and skill. We show students the recipe for the problem. It's 'I do; you watch.' Then, 'I do; you do.' Then, 'You do; I watch.'

"We've been criticized because people say this is learning by mimicking. I answer with my favorite quote from (founder) John Saxon: 'Creativity springs unsolicited from a well-prepared mind'"...

Competing with Saxon for board approval is its ideological opposite, publisher Everyday Learning. Both panels of educators expressed enthusiasm for some Everyday Learning texts. The commission, however, rejected them all. The board could still approve them.

"In fourth grade, for instance, we have the World Tour, a yearlong project in which the kids take an imaginary journey around the world," said Andy Isaacs, an author at Everyday Learning. "(The text) is full of information about population, area, literacy level, number of cars, radios, in countries around the world. They'll be doing computations and making graphs. It's tied in to the real world"...

(5) "Leaders Stress Low-Performing Students, Teachers, Tests" by Jennifer Kerr

Source: Sacramento Bee - 11 January 2001
http://www.sacbee.com/news/calreport/calrep_story.cgi?story=N2001-01-11-1630-5.html

Rather than following Gov. Gray Davis' lead on improving schools, the Legislature's education leaders this year are devising their own education plan, stressing help for low-performing kids and struggling teachers and a new look at high-stakes testing.

"We're building on the first two years of reform," Sen. John Vasconcellos, new chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said Thursday...

The Legislature made some modifications, but essentially has approved Davis' proposals. In his first year, those included a high school graduation exam and an accountability program of rewards and sanctions. Last year, they included a tax break for teachers, and merit scholarships for students and cash rewards for teachers and schools for high test scores.

Davis' latest proposals this week include a longer school year for middle-school students, increased training for math and English teachers and principals and incentives such as higher pay for algebra teachers.

Six legislative education leaders from both houses held a news conference in a crowded Capitol room Thursday to outline what they called their "agenda for student learning and achievement." They outlined five main areas of concern with no specific proposals. They plan to add those after the two education committees hold seven hearings in the next six weeks.

The five areas are addressing the needs of low-achieving students, attracting and retaining good teachers, moving toward universal preschool, evaluating and refining the state's high-stakes test system and looking at vocational education.

One of those meshes with Davis' 2001 plan. The governor wants to spend $350 million on intensive training for math and English teachers and principals.

Those training dollars are a great idea, said the new chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncans Mills, a former teacher.

The lawmakers were not as enthused about Davis' proposal to lengthen the year for middle-school students from 180 days to 210 days. Davis' plan "sounds good in the papers" but might not be the best way to lengthen the school year, if that's found to be desirable, added Sen. Dede Alpert, D-Coronado.

"We want to look at it and make sure it actually benefits those who most need it," said Alpert, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and former education chair...

The lawmakers also want to look at ways to improve the state's testing program. Davis' elaborate system of school rankings, rewards and sanctions is all tied into a single standardized, multiple-choice test. It covers basic knowledge, but not the tougher state standards outlining what students should learn in each grade.

"Many of our students are, I think, judged unfairly on the basis of this assessment," said Strom-Martin.

The leaders included five Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz, the Senate education vice chairman. McPherson and Vasconcellos are working on the plan for low-performing students.

The Legislature's GOP leaders last month presented their education plan for this session. Their main proposal is spending $1 billion of the state's expected tax surplus on building and remodeling schools. Democrats, by contrast, want to put a bond issue of at least $10 billion on the 2002 ballot to build schools and colleges.

(6) "Proposal Toughens Test Rules" by Lisa Shafer

Source: Contra Costa Times - 15 January 2001
http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/education/stories/skulcash_20010115.htm

Cashing in on the state's high-stakes testing program would become more difficult for thousands of schools under a proposal tucked inside Gov. Gray Davis' recently released 2001-02 spending plan.

The rules would tighten for any school that last year logged a 712 or above on the governor's Academic Performance Index, a scale from 200 to 1,000 that is derived from scores on California's annual STAR tests. That means more than one in three schools in the state...would face higher performance thresholds, an analysis of state testing data shows.

Current award rules call for schools above 711 on the index to improve one to four points, but the governor's proposal would demand a five-point gain. For schools already at the top of the ladder, even a one-point gain is hard to pull off, say testing experts.

The target for other schools would not change; they're expected to inch closer to the statewide goal of 800 by gaining 5 percent each year.

At a news conference Wednesday, Davis touted his plan to add $123 million to the $227 million pot already set aside for the governor's performance awards. He said the extra money would ensure that all qualifying schools get $150 per student as promised. Last year, so many schools met their targets that the state had to trim awards to $68 per student. Those awards could reach schools next month.

Davis did not mention his plans to raise the bar for 2,500 schools on the index. Nor did he disclose his plan limits the number of students that schools could count in claiming part of the fattened jackpot. The state would count only test-takers, not kindergartners, first-graders, high school seniors or anyone else who does not take the state exam.

"It's a matter of fairness," said Kerry Mazzoni, the governor's new education secretary. "We want to have a high bar, and we want to have as many students tested as possible."

The rewarding and punishing of schools and educators based on students' standardized test results is a key piece of Davis' Public Schools Accountability Act. Most schools that met targets last year will soon share part of a $677 million package, including the governor's award. However, some schools learned they lost their awards because too few students took the test.

Sporadic test participation among the 6,700 schools on the index has prompted state officials to order minimum testing levels for the awards, even though the law allows parents to keep their children out of the exams.

The latest attempt to boost test participation came on Thursday, when the State Board of Education voted to retroactively disqualify any school from the rewards program if 15 percent or more of their students had parental waivers last spring.

The move enraged many educators who complained that the state was changing its rules after the testing ended and punishing schools for test opt-outs that are legal and beyond a school's control.

Even if such adjustments anger some, the state board's 15 percent rule and the governor's proposed changes would create a "better system and a fairer system," said Mazzoni. The governor's office is not afraid to fine-tune the rules as it goes along in the school accountability process, she said....

In addition to facing loftier school-wide goals, the highest-performing schools would be expected to show comparative strides for poor students and ethnic subgroups. Instead of simply maintaining a score of 800 or above, those groups would have to improve at least four points each year.

The proposals make sense if the governor wants to make good on fully funding the $150 per student initiative, said Robert Rayborn, testing director for Mt. Diablo Unified, where 29 of 44 schools on the index could be affected by the tougher standards.

Still, he said, the changes would be tough for some schools. "To expect an increase of one point is reasonable; five points is much more difficult, especially in a high-performing school," said Rayborn. "But a high performing school can still make gains, and that is the message."

Rayborn, who recently returned to Mt. Diablo after serving as STAR director for the test publisher, warned the challenge for schools will be greater this year even without a tightening the rules by the governor.

After all, this is the fourth year of California's STAR program. The challenge, he acknowledged, should be familiar to anyone trying to lose weight on a crash diet.

"It's fairly well documented that in the first two years, the scores are low and then they start to improve in year three," Rayborn said. "But once you achieve those initial gains, it gets harder."

(7) "State Seeks Delay in Setting Exit Exam Grades" by Kate Folmar and Sara Neufeld

Source: San Jose Mercury News - 12 January 2001
http://www0.mercurycenter.com/front/docs1/exit0112.htm

Wary of potential lawsuits and mass failures, California seeks to scale back the high school exit exam that is one of the pillars of Gov. Gray Davis' plan to hold all students throughout the state to higher academic standards.

State Sen. Jack O'Connell, D-Santa Barbara, introduced urgency legislation Thursday on the governor's behalf that would make this spring's exit exam a trial run for high school freshmen, rather than a pass-fail proposition as was planned. Students will have multiple opportunities to take the exit exam throughout their high school years, but must pass before graduation.

If the law is approved, the state will wait until the next school year to set a minimum required score for the test, which students in the Class of 2004 -- today's freshmen -- must pass or forfeit their diplomas.

Already, the State Board of Education has sliced the length of the test from eight hours to six and eliminated some of the toughest algebra questions. The moves come after field testing showed many students were likely to fail the exam at least once. A court ruling in Texas last year, while upholding the validity of such tests, also renewed concerns about giving students ample opportunity to learn the material on which they are tested.

Exit exams are popular nationwide as an education reform designed to raise the value of a high school diploma in the eyes of a skeptical public. But many states have experienced problems putting the tests in place, often watering them down or delaying their application...

So far, California is not retreating from the 2004 date, when the test determines who gets a diploma. But O'Connell's bill would ensure that the passing grade is not set until a large sample of students take the test next year -- when all 10th-graders will be required to take the exam.

The test differs from other, off-the-shelf exams because it was written to match specific statewide standards for what students should learn...

An outside evaluator hired by the state -- the Human Resources Research Organization of Alexandria, Va. -- has recommended delaying consequences for a year or two. The evaluator found that even if the exit-exam passing score were set as low as 50 percent, "roughly half the students who take the test will fail on their first try.''

"We're trying to be fair and trying to move the test forward as quickly as possible so we can improve the learning for all the students of California,'' said Phil Spears, director of the state Education Department's standards and assessment division.

The state is spending $12 million to develop the test and $15 million annually to administer it...

At its December meeting, California's State Board of Education cut the math portion of the test from 3 1/2 hours to 2 1/2. Eliminated were some of the toughest algebra concepts, such as the quadratic equation. The English-language arts portion of the test was shortened from 4 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, without excluding any standards.

The decision to scrap the toughest algebra items has prompted criticism from educators in districts where many students are expected to be ready to pass the exam by the end of middle school.

"It's backing away from what is essentially a good idea and turning the whole task into a kind of unnecessary exercise,'' said Palo Alto High math teacher Raegen Miller. "If there's not really any high school-level content on the test, it's not really a high school exit exam"...

But Bakersfield math teacher Margaret DeArmond, who sits on a panel that advises the state board of education on the exam, said algebra is still about a third of the math exam. And it still will be challenging for many students to pass by the end of senior year. She says the exam should focus on math that students will actually use in the future, so she's pleased with the recent changes.

If this year's exam is just a trial run, state education officials plan to release a prototype test so teachers, parents and students alike can see what it looks like and better prepare in the future.

To get students up to speed, the Davis administration already has earmarked $500 million a year for summer school and after-school classes and hundreds of millions more for teacher training and instructional materials.

The scaled-back exam may not be much more than a nuisance to students who breeze through Algebra I in eighth grade. But at many schools, teachers are petrified that -- despite tremendous effort -- their students still will fail, or drop out in frustration...

In the San Mateo Union High School District, Superintendent Tom Mohr already is wondering whether his district should offer a "certificate of completion'' in place of a diploma for students who earn enough credits to graduate but cannot pass the exam by the end of their senior year. "I would think despite all the effort,'' Mohr said, "there will be some students who don't pass.''



ARTICLES, LETTERS, ANNOUNCEMENTS (NATIONAL FOCUS)

(1) "Bush Taps Paige as Education Chief"

Source: NCTM Legislative & Policy Update - 9 January 2001
Kyle McCowin (KMcCowin@nctm.org)

Just before the new year started, President-elect George W. Bush named Rod Paige, the superintendent of schools in Houston, to serve as Secretary of Education in his administration.

During his six years as superintendent, Paige has made sweeping changes in the nation's seventh largest district. He tied principals' salaries and job security to their students' performance, blocked failing students from being promoted and established a strict expulsion plan for violent students. Above all, test scores for the Houston district, which is largely comprised of minority students, have climbed steadily upward. Paige, however, has enraged some education experts who say that test scores have risen only because teachers are teaching to the test and driving out students who appear unable to pass it.

Bush has often cited the success in Paige's district as symbolizing the new reform methods that are needed in today's public schools. Paige has embraced Bush's more controversial voucher plan; however, he has been quick to point out that it will take many new changes to fix the system and vouchers alone are not the solution.

Paige earned his bachelor's degree from Jackson State University and a master's and doctorate in physical education from Indiana University.

(2) "Bush Plan to Increase Math and Science Performance"

Source: NCTM Legislative & Policy Update - 9 January 2001
Kyle McCowin (KMcCowin@nctm.org)

Following is President-elect Bush's plan to increase student performance in Math and Science. Rep. Vernon Ehlers worked closely with Bush campaign leaders to develop this plan:

  • Establish a Math and Science Partnership Fund of $1 billion to link states with colleges to strengthen K-12 math and science education.
  • Create partnerships to strengthen math and science standards; recruit math and science majors to teach in K-12; and expand availability of Advanced Placement courses.
  • Require states in the Math and Science Partnership program to meet clear accountability measures in boosting student achievement.
  • Provide Additional College Aid to Students Who Take Advanced Courses in Math and Science
  • Provide $1 billion over five years for enhanced Pell Grants to students who take college-level math and science courses in high school, allowing them an additional $1,000 to pay for college tuition.
  • Recruit High Quality Math and Science Teachers
  • Provide $345 million to increase from $5,000 to $17,500 the amount of student loans that may be forgiven for science, math, technology and engineering majors and minors who commit to teach in a high-need school for at least five years.
  • Additional information can be obtained at: http://www.georgewbush.com/QuickPicks.asp?FormMode=Call&LinkType=Text&ID=8#MAthScience

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