2001 Archive‎ > ‎

Vol. 2, No. 29 - 22 October 2001


(1) "Meeting the Achievement Challenge in California"  (series begins tomorrow)

Source:  Art Sussman via e-mail at asussma@wested.org - 19 October 2001

The Northern California Comprehensive Assistance Center at WestEd is producing a series of television programs entitled "Closing the Gap: Meeting the Achievement Challenge in California."  The series describes the work of schools with challenging demographics that are making strides toward closing the achievement gap. Viewers can participate in a research-based discussion about the schools' successes and what lies ahead. The one-hour show will air live from the Los Angeles County Office of Education beginning at 3:30 PDT on Tuesday, October 23.

Each broadcast offers the following:

= Research-based Context: Join nationally renowned researchers as they probe the local data, direction and results.

= Teaching and Learning: Listen to the story of the featured school's journey toward improved student achievement. What has worked? How did they know? Where do they go from here?

= Interaction: Respond to what you hear by call-in, fax, or by email. Ask the questions you want answered directly of school administrators and researchers.

= Ongoing Discussion: Continue the discussion after the broadcast. An online discussion forum will be open for two weeks after each broadcast to allow for further questions, sharing and learning.

Horace Mann Elementary School in the Glendale Unified School District will be profiled in the first program (program foci: sustained academic growth in a school with high poverty and a high English learner population; changes resulting from data-driven decision making).

Those within the Los Angeles area will be able to view the broadcast on KCLS. Others in California will be able to view live downlinks at their local county office of education.

Alameda County: 510-670-4157; Butte County: 530-532-5650; Butte County IRC: 530-532-5807; Contra Costa County: 925-942-5362; El Dorado County: 530-622-7130; Fresno County: 559-265-3058; Humboldt County: 707-445-7000; Imperial County: 760-312-6464; Los Angeles County: 562-401-5622; Mono County: 760-932-7311; Monterey County: 831-755-6495; Merced County: 209-381-6638; Napa County: 707-253-6828; Placer County: 530-889-8020; Riverside County: 909-826-6688; Sacramento County: 916-228-2378; San Diego County: 858-292-3742; San Joaquin County: 209-468-4911; San Luis Obispo County: 805-782-7290; Santa Barbara County: 805-964-5244; Tehama County: 503-528-7363

(2) Highlights from the State Board of Education:  A Monthly Summary of Key Actions Taken by the SBE (October 10-11, 2001)

URL:  http://www.cde.ca.gov/board/octoberhighlights.pdf (linked from http://www.cde.ca.gov/board/)

The State Board of Education (SBE) took action at its October meeting to continue to shape the state’s student testing program into a streamlined system of assessment aligned to California’s rigorous academic content standards.

First, the Board approved selection criteria that will be used to review submissions for a new norm-referenced test for the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program beginning in 2003. The STAR program currently consists of the Stanford 9 norm-referenced tests; the California Standards Tests, which are based on the state’s academic content standards; and the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education, 2nd Edition. Under state law, the Board designates the norm-referenced test for the STAR program. Each norm-referenced test submitted by publishers for consideration will undergo extensive review by expert panels, including a look at the quality of test items and their alignment to the state’s academic content standards.

The Board also unanimously approved a proposal by California Department of Education (CDE) staff to use federal funds for an independent evaluation contractor to help the state achieve a more effective and efficient testing system. The 2001-02 Budget Act provides $3 million for the purpose of ensuring that the California High School Exit Exam and standards-based STAR tests are aligned to the state’s academic content standards, with the funds contingent upon prior approval of an expenditure plan by the SBE. The motion approved by the Board stipulated the following: 1) any studies to be conducted must be reviewed by an expert testing panel and be an integral part of the state’s long-term testing plan; 2) any RFP for the independent evaluation contractor will be developed in consultation with the Board testing liaisons and SBE staff; 3) to the maximum extent possible, the independent evaluation contractor will assist the CDE and SBE in the development of the proposals for the NRT, the California Standards Tests, and the testing plan for 2003 and thereafter...

At the Board’s September meeting, Board President Reed Hastings asked CDE staff to review the possibility of including the grade 2-7 mathematics California Standards Test performance levels in the 2001 base API, rather than waiting until 2002. He asked staff to bring back a recommendation and a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of this addition to the 2001 base API. The Board consensus was to concur with CDE staff recommendation to proceed with the current plan to include mathematics results in the 2002 base API.

(3) "Fewer Schools Get Grades That Earn Them Cash"by Martha Groves and Duke Helfand

Source: Los Angeles Times - October 16, 2001

URL: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-101601api.story

The percentage of California schools qualifying for performance-based cash rewards shrank by 21 points this year compared with last, the state reported Monday.

Just under half of the schools qualified for rewards, compared with 69% last year, according to an index based on standardized testing. And a quarter of nearly 7,000 schools in California included in the program actually lost ground.

The second annual release of the state's Academic Performance Index, based on Stanford 9 test scores, revealed some wild fluctuations in the state's accountability program.

Policy researchers said the score swings raise questions about the wisdom of attaching high-stakes rewards to the results of a single test. The performance index, though now based solely on schools' performance on the Stanford 9, will take into account other factors, such as graduation rates, in coming years.

"There's a lot of volatility in these test scores," said Thomas J. Kane, a professor of policy studies and economics at UCLA. "Very often, improvement one year is followed by declines the next."

One stark example: One-third of the low-ranking schools where individual staff members qualified in 2000 for hefty cash bonuses because of stellar test-score gains failed to meet their improvement targets this year. That made these 94 schools, the academic stars of 2000, eligible for state aid designed to help flagging schools in 2001.

Still, Gov. Gray Davis praised the overall showing of schools this year. He noted that 57% met their target goals this year, even if some did not qualify for reward money because, for example, they failed to test enough students. "Schools are rallying to the challenge of helping all students improve academically," he said.

By the time this year's $257 million in rewards is doled out, the state will have spent about $1 billion in two years on rewards for schools, teachers, principals, custodians, nurses and others. Some of that was in the form of $25,000, $10,000 or $5,000 checks to individual professionals at low-ranking schools that exceeded expectations last year.

The state schools superintendent acknowledged that California probably got ahead of itself in parceling out such big bonuses based on potentially fleeting improvements. "In the long run, it's a good idea," Delaine Eastin said of the reward program. "[But] I thought we moved a little quickly on it. I don't think that much money should have been given based on a single standardized test."

But Kerry Mazzoni, Davis' education secretary, defended the reward programs, saying they have "helped to focus schools and teachers and provided financial support for teachers, something that's very important."

The Academic Performance Index, launched in January 2000 as a way to measure academic progress and rank schools, is the cornerstone of Davis' school-accountability program.

This year, two reward programs will be linked to the index. One is the Governor's Performance Award, a $157-million pot to be given out to schools, with a cap of $150 per tested pupil, to be used on campus as parent and teacher groups decide. This fund will be divided among all schools that qualify for rewards.

As was the case in 2000, an additional $100 million is earmarked for professional staff members at schools that rank in the state's bottom half but show the greatest gains above targets set by the state.

A thousand teachers, principals and others whose students show the biggest improvements will receive $25,000 each; an additional 3,750 will get $10,000 each, and 7,500 will receive $5,000 each. The state will not be able to determine who is eligible for those rewards until flawed data provided by about 370 schools statewide are corrected, probably in December.

Although the big-money rewards are touted by Davis as an incentive for teachers to serve in low-ranking schools, Mazzoni acknowledged that the souring economy could force legislators to reconsider how the state spends its education dollars in the future.

A one-time bonus program from 2000 worth $350 million was dropped. Under that program, all staff members at qualifying schools got checks for several hundred dollars, with the school itself receiving an equivalent total.

California Department of Education data showed that:

...* The proportion of schools performing at or above the statewide target score of 800 (on a scale of 200 to 1,000) has also increased slightly, to 20% this year from 17% in 2000.

* As in the past, elementary schools showed the biggest improvements, followed by middle schools. High schools showed the least progress.

* Although their gains were less significant than last year's, Latinos, blacks and economically disadvantaged children continued to improve at a greater rate than whites and Asian Americans...

State education officials said they were not surprised that the percentage of schools reaching their growth targets shrank significantly, to 48%.

"You cannot pump [big gains] out year by year," said William L. Padia, director of the California Department of Education's office of policy and evaluation. He added that schools tend to show the most improvement in the first couple of years of a testing program. Though the performance index itself is just 2 years old, the Stanford 9 test has been given for four years.

Moreover, once schools make significant gains, it is hard to keep up that pace...


(1) "Mental Math Dependant on Language"

Source: EurekAlert press release - 11 October 2001 (Contact Ryan Garcia-979-845-4680)


The language most bilingual people use to mentally solve math problems isn't necessarily their native language or even the language that is most prevalent in their environment. Psychological research shows it's the language in which they were first taught math--a finding with educational implications, especially for areas with high concentrations of bilingual persons.

Texas A&M University psychologist Jyotsna Vaid's research has found that bilinguals' preferred language for different mental arithmetic activities is the language in which the associated skills have been acquired.

Her research is part of a larger ongoing project aimed at exploring the role of language in bilingual people's mental computations. She says although bilingual people are capable of performing mental computations in either language, their preference is strongly influenced by the language in which they first learn math skills.

In areas such as Texas, where the vast majority of Hispanic children receive mathematics instruction in English, this could place even more of an emphasis on English proficiency because this will be the language they continue to use to solve math problems, says Vaid, who has studied the cognitive aspects of bilingualism for nearly 20 years.

"A defining characteristic of at least first-generation Hispanic immigrants is use of Spanish," she says. "It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that none of the major studies that show decrements in school achievement and attainment in Hispanic populations have included measures of the student's primary language proficiency or proficiency in English."

School districts looking to address the lag in math and science test scores for Hispanic children should consider placing a strong emphasis on "true" bilingual instruction, Vaid notes.

Research, she says, suggests that children receiving such instruction stand to perform as well as or at higher levels of overall academic achievement than those receiving instruction in a second language or than monolingual comparison groups.

True bilingual instruction--in contrast to what she says is commonplace in schools now--is instruction that cultivates the child's native language in addition to teaching English. It is bilingual education that places worth on the child's first language instead of trying to transition them out of it and into English, she explains.

The problem is partly cognitive, she says, but partly social as well. There must be a positive social climate that values a bilingual individual, not one that aims to instill an English monolingualism, she adds.

Vaid's study, published in a special issue of "Spanish Applied Linguistics," examined four predictor variables for more than 500 Spanish-English college students who were asked about their preferred language for various mental activities.

On the question, "When doing simple mental arithmetic in your head, what language do you normally use?" nearly 95 percent reported a single language preference, with the language of choice being English for 84 percent and Spanish for 16 percent.

The variables studied were language of elementary school instruction, length of residence in the United States, age of second language acquisition, and degree of proficiency in the second language. All four variables significantly predicted language preference for mental arithmetic, with the language used in elementary school being the strongest predictor, Vaid says.

In addition, all of these factors, except for the age of the second language, also predicted language preference for thinking to oneself and dreaming, she adds.

For thinking to oneself, she says, the most important factor appears to be the amount of exposure to English (as defined by the length of stay in the United States), whereas for dreaming, language proficiency rates as the most influential.

(2) "East Meets West In Math Classes" by Annie Gowen

Source:  Washington Post - 18 October 2001

URL: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A9422-2001Oct17.html

On a recent day at College Gardens Elementary School in Rockville, a group of fourth-graders was sitting at the back of the room, heads together, concentrating, trying to work out a story problem.

"There are nine red balloons. There are three times as many blue balloons. How many balloons are there altogether?" read Caroline Christoff. She and her classmates soon had the answer--36 balloons--in three different ways: forming an equation, using a stack of colored blocks and drawing a diagram.

"There's a lot of ways to come on one answer without using the same numbers over and over again," said Caroline, 9.

Welcome to Singapore math, a pilot program using textbooks created for students in Singapore--among the best in the world in mathematics--now entering its second year in four Montgomery County elementary schools.

Virtually unknown in this country until recently, Singapore math programs have sprouted across the nation in the past two years. The teaching method is being used in more than 140 schools, 80 of them public, with major pilot programs in Baltimore; Paterson, N.J.; Chicago; Marshall, Wis.; Murrysville, Pa.; and the North Middlesex Regional School District in Massachusetts.

Proponents of Singapore math believe that these numbers will grow as school systems try to find new ways to bolster sagging mathematics performance.

"It's going to explode," said Yoram Sagher, a mathematics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sagher trains teachers, including instructors in Montgomery County, in Singapore math.

Educators became interested in Singapore's methods after the country ranked first in mathematics in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study in 1995 and again in 1999.

About that time, Jeffery Thomas and his wife, Dawn, a native of Singapore, founded a small business, now called SingaporeMath.com Inc., in 1998 in West Linn, Ore., to distribute the Singapore math textbooks in the United States. The texts were slim volumes filled with simple, easy-to-understand line drawings developed by Singapore's Ministry of Education. They quickly caught on with home-schooling families and charter schools. Public schools followed.

"They're doing something right," said Leah Quinn, who oversees the mathematics curriculum for Montgomery County public schools. "We looked at getting the resources, the curriculum was available, and so we decided to try it out"...

"At first, everybody was really skeptical," said Angela Gugliotta, 25, a fourth-grade teacher at College Gardens. "They said, 'Why are we doing this? This is crazy.' You know, people are always resistant to change." But she said she believes her students are much more advanced and think more logically about math now, after a year in the program. "I hope we keep it. I really do," Gugliotta said.

Singapore math stresses students' foundational skills, introducing first-graders to math concretely, using counting blocks and pictures. Students as young as second grade begin learning multiplication and division and are performing simple pictorial algebra by fourth grade. There is a lot of student discussion about solving math problems. Quick mental calculation is stressed; in Singapore math, students do not get out their calculators until seventh grade, and then use them only sparingly.

On a recent day, second-grade teacher Mark Harrigan devised a game with playing cards so that his students could practice their addition and subtraction skills. The students had to explain their strategies to the class for determining the correct number.

"Remember, we have to learn all the strategies so we can figure out the fastest way to get the answer," Harrigan told his students.

Students in Singapore--an urban city-state in Southeast Asia with about 3.5 million residents in 240 square miles--do not learn their math facts by playing such card games. American teachers had to be creative and come up with their own "manipulatives," such as counting blocks, that would be similar to those used in Singapore.

Singapore math's proponents admit there are many challenges to adapting a curriculum written for Asian students to American classrooms. Singapore uses the metric system, so its word problems are in metric measurements rather than in pounds or inches. (Example: Mr. Li bought 3750 kilograms of rice. He packed the rice into bags of 10 kilograms each. How many bags of rice did he have?)

Teachers must change word problems that use Singapore's currency into American dollars and cents. And many names are unfamiliar. Instead of counting apples and oranges, students might be asked to count exotic tropical fruits such as durian or rambutan...

"You can't just give a kid a textbook and expect Singapore math to work," said Alan Ginsburg, the director of planning and evaluation for the U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education launched a two-year, $350,000 study into the effectiveness of Singapore math earlier this month.

Ginsburg said there is a societal difference between the way Americans and Singaporeans view math. Singaporeans frequently get math tutors for their children, and children attend math clubs after school to practice, he said. Teachers, too, are better prepared than American teachers. Some take 100 hours of professional development a year, Ginsburg said.

The Department of Education study will review state assessment scores from among the 140 schools that have had Singapore math for at least two years, Ginsburg said.

Locally, educators say the program is so new that results are inconclusive. Susan Gross, the coordinator of program evaluation at the school system's Office of Shared Accountability, is preparing an evaluation of the program that will combine the schools' results on the national Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS), in-house testing data and interviews with parents, students and educators.

CTBS results are mixed. At College Gardens, the median score for second-graders in math increased from 60 in 2000 to 87 this year, and from 58 in math computation to 90 this year. However, in the fourth grade, math scores decreased from 85 in 2000 to 71 this year, but increased in computation, from 71 to 87...

"By and large, there seem to be some positive reactions from the kids and the parent focus groups," Gross said. "I'm just hopeful we'll see test scores be commensurate with what people feel about it."

(3) "Science Foundation's Director Sees Equity and Access as Major Technology Issues" by Dan Carnevale

Source:  Chronicle of Higher Education- 19 October 2001

URL: http://chronicle.com/free/2001/10/2001101901t.htm

URL for NASSMC News Brief #1027 (below): http://notes.nassmc.org/nbsweek.nsf/d77729792accc386852569bd00786a6d/

Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, talks with the Chronicle of Higher Education about the foundation's top technology priorities. Colwell, whose term ends in 2004, says the NSF is "very concerned about supporting really good teaching and students with a learning capacity in advanced technologies --- having students who really are capable, not just computer-literate, but highly versatile."

The NSF is looking for ways to "update curricula, to enrich courses with technology," with a particular focus on serving minority communities. The computer "can be a source of enrichment for children in ways that we haven't even thought about ... digital libraries, efforts to make students technology-literate, reaching parents," she said.

One challenge facing the NSF, she says, is "to move from those who are computer-agile to introducing the computer to those who have never looked upon themselves as computer users."

Another area of focus is investing in course-curriculum lab improvements. While investing in good educational materials and instructional models, the foundation is also able to enrich these courses through technology, she said.

"Now this doesn't mean just plunking a computer in a classroom and saying to the teacher, 'Now you're technology-linked.' Because we have found that unless the teacher is comfortable and understands the use of the computer...then it's not anything more than something else in the classroom," Colwell said.

(4) "ED Launches Redesigned Web Site"

Source:  U.S. Department of Education (Lindsey Kozberg: 202-401-3026) - 16 October 2001

URL:  http://www.ed.gov/PressReleases/10-2001/10162001a.html

U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced today that the Department of Education Web site has been redesigned to improve its organization and function for all customers and to offer users interested in customizing the Web site the option to personalize it.

"This redesigned site can help reduce the time teachers, parents and others spend looking for information so they can spend more time using it to help children learn," Paige said. "The new www.ed.gov is part of what will be an ongoing effort to make the information and resources of the Department of Education available and understandable to policymakers, government leaders educators, parents and students alike."

The new www.ed.gov site includes several improvements and adds new features for its users including the following:

=  Information has been reorganized and can be reached through multiple paths, including these five categories: grants and contracts, financial aid for students, education resources, research and statistics, and policy.

=  Customized pages have been created for teachers, principals, parents and families, students, higher education institutions and grantees and technical assistance providers.

=  Visitors may personalize the site to see the latest information about their favorite topics. They can also sign up for weekly updates announcing new additions to the site.

=  An improved search function will produce results that are more relevant and reliable.

(5) "Mathweb 2001: Focus on Algebra PreK-12"

Source: Charlene Chausis via the NCSM listserv -17 October 2001

A unique, interactive Web-based conference will begin November 28 and run through December 12.  Teachers, parents, and other educators are invited to "attend" keynote sessions (e.g., "What is Algebraic Thinking?" and "Algebra for All") and to engage in workshops such as "Teaching Algebraic Thinking" and "Assessing Algebra."  Parents are invited to "come find out what to look for, ask for, and do for your child."  The cost is $30.00 for the 2-week conference, which includes a CD-ROM (PC/Mac) of conference proceedings that will be mailed to participants at the conclusion of the conference. Sponsors include PBS TeacherLine, the NSF-funded project "Modeling Middle School Mathematics," and the Show-Me Center. For more details and to register, visit http://www.mathweb2001.net.

COMET is sponsored in part by a grant from the California Mathematics Project.

COMET is produced by:

    Carol Fry Bohlin, Ph.D.
    Professor, Mathematics Education
    California State University, Fresno
    5005 N. Maple Ave. M/S 2
    Fresno, CA 93740-8025

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