Is STEM Education in Permanent Crisis?

By Michael Marder-EdWeekxv36-10-op-1-copyright-peterhoey-jpg-pagespeed-ic-5rihxb0w4t

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” raised grave concerns that America’s schools, particularly in the academic area we now call STEM, were damaging the country’s ability to compete. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war,” warned the report from a federally appointed commission. Twenty-two years later, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” a report from the National Academy of Sciences, leveled a similar charge: “[O]ur overall public school system—or more accurately 14,000 systems—has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science.”

How can education in science and mathematics be in such crisis for so long? If fixing the crisis has the urgency of responding to foreign attack, how can it be that after 33 years of warnings, we are still stuck?

or some student populations, there is improvement. The best measure of long-term performance is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Long-Term Trend Assessment. For 9- and 13-year-old white, black, and Hispanic students, math scores have increased since they were first measured by NAEP in 1978. Schools moved racial and ethnic groups in middle school ahead by around four years of learning: In fact, the scores of black and Hispanic 13-year-olds in 2012 almost matched the scores of black and Hispanic 17-year-olds from 1978.

But high school Long-Term Trend NAEP scores tell another story: Flat since 1990, NAEP math scores understate the scale of our problem. The United States stands apart from Europe and Asia in its conception of how much science and math is appropriate for all students. The United States has a culture of lower expectations for its students—one that will be hard to change, even if we want to.

Our country’s single biggest obstacle is a perpetual STEM teacher shortage. In surveys of school districts, openings in physics, chemistry, and math are regularly near the top of the list of positions hardest to fill. As a result, a large percentage of high school STEM teachers have neither a college major nor minor in their main assignment, or they lack full certification. Forty percent of math teachers fall into one of these categories. In physics, chemistry, and earth science, the number is over 60 percent.

Why do we have this STEM teacher shortage? It exists because incentives to change it are weak. For students who major in a STEM subject, the decision to become a teacher can add time and cost to their degrees. Teaching jobs pay tens of thousands of dollars less per year than nonteaching jobs in science, technology, engineering, or math. For university colleges of science, where all STEM teachers take content coursework or get their degrees, every staff or faculty position devoted to preparing STEM teachers is one not devoted to STEM researchers bringing in grants.

For many companies reliant on a strong STEM workforce to remain competitive, there is an inexpensive alternative to using their money and influence to solve the STEM teacher shortage: Hire scientists and engineers born and educated abroad. Fifty-three percent of the Ph.D.-level computer scientists in this country were born abroad, and 75 percent of Ph.D.-level aerospace engineers. Those are staggering numbers.

In 2005, the “Gathering Storm” report suggested a coordinated response to the STEM crisis, including the goal of producing 10,000 new STEM teachers a year by providing $20,000 a year in college scholarships for STEM majors who committed to teaching; $10,000-a-year salary increases for STEM teachers in hardest-to-staff schools; and $5 million incentive packages to universities to create programs for STEM majors to get bachelor’s degrees and teaching certificates simultaneously.

The report highlighted UTeach, which I co-founded in the late 1990s and currently co-direct. UTeach integrates STEM bachelor’s degrees with teacher certification and has expanded to 45 universities in this country. More than 85 percent of our graduates become classroom teachers, and more than 60 percent of them are in schools with majority low-income populations. Retention rates are strong: After five years, more than 80 percent of those who began teaching are still in schools.

These efforts—and those of other programs—could enable the United States to greatly reduce the STEM teacher shortage. A recent survey of more than 6,000 current and recently graduated STEM majors, which was sponsored by the American Physical Society, indicates that 35 to 55 percent would consider middle or high school teaching. There is also encouraging news in the finding of a relationship between STEM departments where college faculty simply discuss the possibility of teaching and increased student interest. Furthermore, 80 percent of those considering teaching say that incentives such as scholarships would make them more likely to teach.

But federal scholarships for STEM teachers are funded at less than 10 percent of the level “Gathering Storm” recommended, and what STEM majors and new STEM teachers say they most want are better working conditions and higher salaries. These are the hardest goals to achieve.

The current election season underscores the profound discontent with economic prospects and income inequality in the United States. There is no clear solution on how to address it. But education must be part of the solution. Kids from all economic classes and ethnic groups must have true access to fields ranging from computer science to finance. And there will be no cheap online fixes. Unless we finally resolve to pay what it takes to prepare and retain teachers for key STEM subjects, the next 30 years, like the last 30 years, will find us still shocked that our kids are behind, held back by our permanent STEM crisis.


GEAR UP Regional Leadership Forums Make Strides


Developed to meet the diverse and complex needs of California GEAR UP middle schools, the 2015 Spring Regional Leadership Events provide a forum for school teams to problem solve together and learn from each other about school practices, challenges and solutions.  The events were designed to build on the progress made at the Fall events and were facilitated by Whole School Services Coaches with content designed to respond to the needs of each unique middle school community in their region. Activities were customized to engage and support participating schools within each region aligned with target areas of growth identified in the School Self Assessment Rubric.

Goals of the Regional Leadership Events:

  • Develop and expand working, cohesive school teams;
  • Share and reflect on leadership and approaches for developing leadership;
  • Network to share smart practices and opportunities for continued regional work;
  • Reflect on progress in building a sustainable college-going culture using the SSAR;
  • Use data to identify and address challenges to access and equity for All students;
  • Develop implementation plans for of GEAR UP partner resources and services;
  • Complete the PDAP and Communication Plan.

Below is the complete regional events report including attendees, content areas, presenters, and locations.

2014 Regional Institutes: 360 participants; 15 counties, 29 school districts, and 1 charter school were served

Title: North State Regional Collaborative                                                           October 15 & 16, 2014
GEAR UP Coach: Brad Trimble                                                                         Number of Participants: 55
Focus: Support and engage students transitioning to high school.
Presenters: Brandon Santiago (YouthSpeaks), Mark Cerutti—Assistant Superintendent (Elk Grove USD).
Region: North State                                                                                           Counties: Tehama and Shasta
Districts: Red Bluff, Antelope Elementary, Happy Valley Union Elementary, Richfield Elementary, and Gateway.

Title: 2014 Bay Area Regional Learning Institute                                             October 7 & 8, 2014
GEAR UP Coach: Michele Molitor                                                                    Number of Participants: 60
Focus: Achieving social justice and equity through Common Core strategies to ignite student success.
Tovi C. Scruggs, Principal, San Lorenzo High School, and Alice Kawazoe.
Region: Bay Area                                             Counties: Alameda, San Francisco, Solano, and Contra Costa
Districts: San Lorenzo, San Francisco, Vallejo, and West Contra Costa.

Title: 2014 Southern California Regional Institute                               September 30-October 1, 2014
GEAR UP Coaches: Mary Unverferth and Barbara Sedano                   Number of Participants: 105
Focus: Advancing Equity and Access for ALL Students through High Quality Teaching
Presenters: Robert Kaplinsky (Glenrock Consulting), Bruce Arnold and Mary Sirody (MDTP).
Region: Southern California                                                         Counties: San Bernardino and Los Angeles
Districts: Long Beach, Los Angeles, Mountain View, Palmdale, Rialto, San Gabriel, Baldwin Park, San Bernardino, Hacienda La Puente; Charter: The Accelerated School.

Title: 2014 Riverside Regional, GEAR UP Round-Up                                                September 30, 2014

GEAR UP Coach: Jon Sides                                                                                   Number of Participants: 55
Focus: GEAR UP Leadership Team progress & connecting with the School Self-Assessment Rubric (SSAR).
Presenters: Jon Sides
Region: Riverside                                                               Counties: Riverside, Los Angeles, San Bernardino
Districts: Moreno Valley, Azusa, Los Angeles, and Upland.

Title: Central Valley Regional Institute 2014                                                                    October 1, 2014
GEAR UP Coach: Martin De Mucha Flores                                                     Number of Participants: 45
Focus: Developing the “Why?” in Leadership and Cohesive Teams to influence school change.
Presenters: Encarnacion Ruiz—Director of Admissions (UC Merced); Raul Moreno—Coordinator (CSU Fresno, University Migrant Services), Sharon Twitty, Robyn Fisher, & Martin De Mucha Flores.
Region: Central Valley                                                                       Counties: Fresno, Stanislaus, and Tulare
Districts: Caruthers, Empire Union, Parlier, Pleasant View, and Raisin City Elementary.  

Title: ELA Differentiated Instruction                                                                                October 15, 2014
GEAR UP Coach: Frank Holmes                                                                         Number of Participants: 40
Focus: Strategies in English — Differentiated instruction in middle school Language Arts.
Presenters: Lynne Lertzman (the College Board).
Region: San Diego                                                                                                   County: San Diego County
Districts: Oceanside and San Diego County.

2015 Regional Forums: 318 participants; 12 counties, 21 school districts, and 1 charter school were served

Title: Southern California Regional                                                                                        March 6, 2015
GEAR UP Coaches: Mary Unverferth, Barbara Sedano & Frank Holmes        Number of Participants: 132
Focus: Engaging GEAR UP Schools in their continued work of achieving the conditions on the SSAR.
Presenters: James Kass (YouthSpeaks), Carole Gallagher (WestEd), Julie Mendoza (CAIC), and ScholarShare.
Regions: Southern California & San Diego   Counties: San Bernardino and Los Angeles, San Diego County
Districts: Long Beach, Los Angeles, Mountain View, Palmdale, Rialto, San Gabriel, Baldwin Park, San Bernardino, Hacienda La Puente, Oceanside and San Diego County.

Title: 2015 Bay Area Learning Forum                                                                                    April 15, 2015
GEAR UP Coach: Michele Molitor                                                                    Number of Participants: 66
Enhancing student engagement and building community.
Presenters: Vicki Rice, Cloteal Thrower-Herron, Carlene Davis (CEP), Mildred Gains & Joe Lara (PIQE), Patrice Hill (YouthSpeaks), Tyrone Weaver (Samuel Jackman Middle School), ScholarShare.
Region: Bay Area                                             Counties: Alameda, San Francisco, Solano, and Contra Costa
Districts: San Lorenzo, San Francisco, Vallejo, and West Contra Costa.

Title: Elk Grove/Sacramento Regional Leadership Forum                                              March 25, 2015
GEAR UP Coach: Jill Campbell                                                                          Number of Participants: 60
Focus: The purpose and value of building strong community for all students.
Presenters: Kadhir Rajagopal (Grant Union High School), Jay King, Tyrone Weaver (Samuel Jackman Middle School), Alice Kawazoe, and ScholarShare.
Region: Elk Grove/Sacramento                                                                  Counties: Sacramento and Amador
Districts: Elk Grove and Twin Rivers.

Title: GEAR UP Spring Symposium                                                                                 _____May 15, 2015
GEAR UP Coach: Jon Sides                                                                                 Number of Participants: 60
Focus: Foster care system—resources and tools to support foster youth in Riverside County.
Presenters: Tamera Trotter (Child Protective Services), Alyssa Heckmann (Guardian Scholars, UCR), Christopher Dech (Advisor Student Support, Moreno Valley College), Julie Orozco (EAOP, Cal State San Bernardino), Bruce Petersen (Riverside County, Office of Education & Student Programs) and Cedric De Visser (Upland Unified Child Welfare and Former Principal at Upland Junior High School).
Region: Riverside                                                         Counties: Riverside, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino
Districts: Moreno Valley, Azusa, Los Angeles, and Upland.

Big takeaways: The exchange of ideas, events, projects, etc. as a result of the “reflecting on the past” exercise has been mentioned a number of times.  One (GEAR UP) site contact returned to school and, using her notes, immediately drafted a memo of implementation listing ideas to share with the rest of her staff.  The group-alike breakout sessions gave teachers, administrators, counselors and out of classroom advisers a chance to share job specific experiences in building a college-going culture.  The regional event provided an opportunity for participants to work collaboratively and function as a learning community.

 Jon Sides-California GEAR UP School Services Coach


The mission of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education. California GEAR UP is a program of the University of California Office of The President Education Partnerships department and has served whole school communities across the state since 1999.

Getting to the Core with GEAR UP

college board concord

In the fall of 2013, the California Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) convened school teams from 48 middle schools serving predominantly low-income students in three locations to learn more about academic rigor and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). With the help of representatives from College Board — a program partner — participants viewed a model English Language Arts (ELA) lesson that is aligned to CCSS and practiced using instructional strategies that engage students across all curriculum areas.

In the spring and fall of 2014, the California GEAR UP Program offered a variety of interactive, participatory workshops in mathematics and English/Language Arts to representatives from all 48 participating GEAR UP middle schools. Sessions were led by expert educators focused on the implementation of the Common Core State Standards from a social justice and educational equity perspective.

Building on these CCSS activities, the California GEAR UP Program is in the second year of a pilot program with selected middle schools that are using the College Board Pre-Advanced Placement (Pre-AP) Programs in mathematics and English/Language Arts. The Program provides staffing and funding for this quality professional development opportunity for teachers with SpringBoard trainers. This pilot is aligned with the program goal of building capacity at the school site and positively influences the ways in which teachers instruct to meet the individualized and differentiated manner in which students learn.


Ann Carnes, Professional Development Manager, California GEAR UP

Bay Area Regional Leadership Institute Oct 7-8, 2014

The intention of this event is to bring Bay Area GEARUP schools together for two days of professional development, learning and exchange of ideas to build greater communication, collaboration and success towards building a College Going Culture at each of your schools this year.

Date: Tuesday and Wednesday, October 7th & 8th 7:30am – 4:00pm

Location: Mills College – Carnegie Hall, Oakland 

Theme: “Achieving Social Justice and Equity through Common Core strategies to Ignite Student Success”


  • Deepening our understanding and facilitation of Common Core Strategies
  • Enhancing communications between Gear Up Schools, Partners and Community Based Organizations
  • Best practices and learning from each other – Role Alike conversations
  • Shared Parent engagement strategies for greater success
  • Sharing strategies for fostering a positive school culture that facilitates learning
  • Focused time to work on and your Professional Development Action Plan (PDAP)

Day 1

7:30-8:00 a.m. Breakfast and Registration

8:00-12:00 p.m.         Morning Session

        • Welcome, Introductions of the team, schools and GEAR UP partners
        • Expectations and ground rules and agreements for the 2 days
        • Keynote speaker –Social Justice and Transformative School Leadership topic
        • Open Space overview and setting our agenda together
        • 2, one-hour breakout sessions in the morning with multiple tracks each depending on the topics raised by participants.

12:00-12:45 p.m.          Lunch    

1:00-3:30 p.m.            Afternoon Session

  • 2, 45-minute break out sessions in the afternoon with multiple tracks each depending on the topics raised by participants

3:30-4:00 p.m.         Day’s Recap and Highlights/Evaluation

Day 2

7:30-8:00 a.m. Breakfast and Registration

8:00-12:00 p.m.         Morning Session

        • Overview of the day and topics available for discussion
        • Group exercise: What’s Your Why?
        • Role-Alike breakout discussions
        • 2, one-hour break out sessions in the morning with multiple tracks each depending on the topics raised by participants

12:00-12:45 p.m.          Lunch    

 12:45-1:00 p.m.            Inspiration Youth Speaks Artist to perform spoken word

1:00-4:00 p.m.             Afternoon Session

  • Regroup with your teams for a group debrief of ah-ha’s, best ideas and practices learned
  • Take what you’ve learned from the sessions your team members have attended and incorporate that into your PDAP for the year. Discussion and planning time for creating their PDAP so it’s completed when they walk out the door.
  • Evaluations

Potential topics for the breakout sessions over both days Could include

(but are not limited to):

  • Role-alike best practices
  • Parent engagement strategies
  • Valuable resources for undocumented students/families
  • Community school best practices
  • Successful common core strategies
  • Fostering a positive school culture
  • Creating strong partnerships with Community Based Organizations
  • Getting the most bang for our buck – working with the GU partners [MDTP, CEP,, PIQE, AAREA]
  • Effective leadership strategies

State Board Commends Higher Ed Common Core Approach

In an unprecedented action, the four systems of higher education announced their endorsement of Common Core standards and have engaged in a comprehensive, coordinated approach for implementation that links the K-12 system with higher education on standards, assessments and teacher training.

The leaders of the University of California, California State University, California Community Colleges, and Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities outlined their endorsement of Common Core standards in a letter to the State Board of Education. The announcement is part of the California State Board of Education’s National Governors Association grant for K-12/higher education collaboration.

“This endorsement reinforces other significant actions by higher education to align standards and assessments with Common Core including major revisions to the PSAT and SAT, updates to the a-g requirements for the University of California and California State University, improvements to teacher preparation, and collaboration on the Early Assessment Program and Smarter Balanced assessments for 11th grade,” explained California State Board of Education president Mike Kirst.

“The implementation of the Common Core standards and aligned assessments has the potential to dramatically improve college readiness and help close the preparation gap that exists for California students,” wrote Janet Napolitano, Timothy White, Brice Harris and Kristen Soares. The system leaders note the “transforming promise of these new standards” as more students master them and more teachers, students and parents are given clear and consistent messages about college and career readiness.

The letter states that “Common Core standards provide teachers and districts a roadmap to developing courses that cultivate the deep understandings required for college preparation.  In concert with this transition, the a-g requirements for CSU and UC admission, specifically areas ‘b’ (English) and ‘c’ (Mathematics), have been updated to align with the Common Core standards and the message is being transmitted to schools, parents and students.”

The system leaders also highlight the Early Assessment Program and higher education’s participation in teams working on the performance standards for the Smarter Balanced 11th grade assessments. The “partnership California has built over the last 10 years to implement the Early Assessment Program has helped to define the national effort to measure college and career readiness in the 11th grade, and it places California in an optimal position to successfully transition to the new system of standards and assessments.”

“Collaborative efforts will help ensure that the tests measure standards that our K-12 and higher education systems all agree address appropriate expectations for the preparation of high school graduates who are ready to succeed…. These assessments align with our commitment to new learning outcomes to ensure our graduates are ready to succeed in an increasingly complex global environment,” the letter notes.

The link between K-12 and higher education starts with teacher preparation, according to Napolitano, White, Harris and Soares.  Accordingly, “higher education systems are aligning teacher preparation programs and content with the Common Core standards.”

More information about California’s implementation of Common Core standards can be found at


New Online Toolkit to Help Educators Explain Common Core



SACRAMENTO—Educators and school districts now have a new free toolkit to help them spread the word about how the Common Core State Standards are remodeling California’s education system to better prepare students for college and careers, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today.

“As students and teachers head back to school they will be experiencing exciting changes in California education, including a new way of teaching and learning through the Common Core,” Torlakson said. “Now educators have additional help in dispelling the mystery and concerns of families about this transition with a new communications toolkit created with the help of several major education groups in the state.”

Explaining Common Core to Californians: A Communications Toolkit” is an online resource created with the help of the California Department of Education, State Board of Education, Californians Dedicated to Education, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, California State PTA®, California School Boards Association, California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teaches AFT/AFL-CIO, Association of California School Administrators, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, and the nonprofit FrameWorks.

The resource is a collection of research, recommendations, and sample communications designed to help educators increase their own and the public’s understanding of the kinds of instruction, testing, and support needed to fulfill the potential of the Common Core. For example, educators can download printable message cards that provide metaphors to help them explain Common Core, talking points to help them describe what Common Core does, frequently asked questions on challenging topics, tips on how to use social media, sample letters to parents, and a Common Core video.

Californians Dedicated to Education also will hold a series of Webinars to provide an overview of the Communications Toolkit and practical tips on how to use it with a special focus on back-to-school messaging. Click on the links below to register for the free Webinars. Advanced registration is required. For more information, contact Caitlin Lawrence-Toombs at or 510-528-1558:

The State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics in 2010. Standards define the knowledge, concepts, and skills students should acquire at each grade level. The new standards provide a practical way to prepare students for the challenges of a constantly changing world by helping them learn step-by-step the real world skills they need for college and careers. The Common Core provides all students, no matter where they live or where they were born, a world-class education that’s consistent from school to school so they will graduate ready to contribute to the state and nation. It also replaces the state’s outdated ways of learning with a clear focus on the key knowledge and skills students need while providing teachers the time to teach the standards well.

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The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education Web site or by mobile device. You may also follow Superintendent Torlakson on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


New Generation Assessments Set to Launch


California Schools Set to Launch Trial Run of New Generation of Assessments 

            LOS ANGELES—The Smarter Balanced Field Test will launch Tuesday, marking an important milestone in California’s transition to a new assessment system as it assesses technological capacity and the quality of test questions, and helps students and teachers prepare for next year’s first operational test, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.

“Over the next three months, students, teachers, and administrators will gain valuable hands-on experience in a new era of student assessments,” Torlakson said. “With more than three million students participating, this is the largest field test of its kind in the nation. It is a challenging transformation, but our schools are rising to that challenge with a great sense of excitement and determination.”

Field testing begins Tuesday and runs through June 6. By the end, more than three million students in school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools will have had a chance to try the new system.

This “test of the test” will serve multiple purposes—foremost gauging the accuracy and fairness of the test questions ahead of the new assessments becoming operational next year. Across the nation, more than 20,000 assessment questions and performance tasks will be evaluated to determine which work well and which need to be improved. Test questions are aligned with the Common Core State Standards adopted by California in 2010 to encourage critical thinking, complex problem solving, and deeper knowledge of subjects.

“I am particularly interested in hearing teachers’ views on the questions and their appropriateness for the students they work with every day,” Torlakson said.

The field test also serves as a barometer of technology capability, allowing the state and local educational agencies to assess computer availability and server capacity to prepare for the new testing in spring 2015. Furthermore, teachers will be able to observe the computer savviness of their students.

“This field test gives us the opportunity to prepare our students for success,” Torlakson said. “The STAR program served us well for years, but the world has changed, and our schools also have to change the way they teach and test their students.”

The field test, which will cover English-language arts and mathematics, will take place between March 25 and June 6, with districts testing within assigned six-week windows during this timeframe. All students in grades three through eight will participate, as well as a sample of students in grades nine and ten and most eleventh graders.

The test will be about 3½ hours long, and no paper and pencil version will be offered during the field test. There will be no student, school, or district scores produced from this administration of the assessment.

Additional information may be found on the California Department of Education Spring 2014 Smarter Balanced Field Test Web page.


Access, Equity, and Common Core: GEAR UP Forums

jorge aguilar

California GEAR UP concluded their 2014 state-wide Leadership Forums with the theme “Social Justice and Equity: Common Core State Standards”.  Jorge Aguilar (pictured above) Associate Vice Chancellor for Educational and Community Partnerships at the University of California, Merced was the keynote speaker. His lecture was focused on ‘Advancing the Golden Rule Through Common Core State Standards’, which looked at the opportunity and obligation provided  by the common core state standards centered around  the notion that we will be able to measure  “college and career” readiness  through grade level assessments. His key question was: “How do we measure  whether ALL  students benefit from this policy shift?” You can view his entire presentation on our website here.

The forum was broken in to workshops for school leadership teams to attend. Forum workshop leaders brought relevant expertise and/or practical experience in specific areas of the Common Core State Standards, as well as an understanding of the work of California GEAR UP, grounded in the belief of social justice and equity in education. Workshops explored the connections between social justice and equity and the effective implementation of the CCSS in Mathematics, English Language Arts, or the development of critical thinking through the Arts. How do we teach ALL students to think critically– including low and under-performing students who may not have been exposed to high academic demands in the past? How will their learning needs be supported?

Workshop sessions were design to be participatory and interactive–not merely PowerPoint presentations. Participants engaged in activities and conversation. The workshop leaders facilitated dialogue among participants using a variety of strategies to promote thinking and “talk” to understand. GEAR UP Coaches as co-facilitators assisted the workshop leaders and sessions included time to answer questions from the audience and respond to guiding questions posed to the participants by the group leaders.

Schools teams will now return to their sites with a better understanding of creating a transformative community-wide college going culture while being better equipped to leverage GEAR UP resources. Being a California GEAR UP school is a 6 year process, of which schools are embarking upon their third year. California GEAR UP School Services Coaches will meeting with schools across the state to facilitate use of GEAR UP tools, work on implementing Professional Development Action Plans, and scheduling Partnership and Statewide Services.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education.

For more information on California GEAR UP, please visit our website.


SAT Redesigns Admissions Test, Drops Essay


Creators of the SAT exam announced plans Wednesday to toughen the test in the face of stagnant national scores, planning to challenge students to provide more analysis, cite evidence and even turn in their calculators before answering some math questions. The new version will be first administered in 2016.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” said David Coleman, president of the non-profit College Board, which produces the SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Skeptics questioned whether a new format will be any more successful than previous efforts to use the standardized test in a campaign for college access, in part because the test’s scores historically have correlated with family income. They also point out that the 88-year-old SAT in recent years has slipped behind the rival ACT — a shorter exam with an optional essay — in total student customers.

Through the revisions, the College Board aims to strip many of the tricks out of a test now taken by more than 1.5 million students in each year’s graduating high school class. The College Board also pledged to offer new test-preparation tutorials for free online, enabling students to bypass pricey SAT-prep classes previously available mostly to affluent families looking to give their children an edge.

But in the redesign will be “SAT words” that have long prompted anxious students to cram with flashcards, as the test will now focus on vocabulary words that are widely used in college and career. The College Board hasn’t yet cited examples of words deemed too obscure, but “punctilious,” “phlegmatic” and “occlusion” are three tough ones in an official study guide.

Out, too, will be a much-reviled rule that deducts a quarter-point for each wrong answer to multiple-choice questions, deterring random guesses. Also gone: The 2400-point scale begun nine years ago with the debut of the required essay. The essay will become optional.

Back will be one of the iconic numbers of 20th-century America: The perfect SAT score, crystalline without a comma, returns to 1600.

Coleman, head of the College Board since fall 2012, previously was a key figure in the development of the new Common Core State Standards. Those standards, which set national expectations for what students should learn in math and English from kindergarten through 12th grade, have been fully adopted in 45 states and the District. Coleman’s vision for the SAT, with emphasis on analysis of texts from a range of disciplines as well as key math and language concepts, appears to echo the philosophy underlying the Common Core and could help the test track more closely with what students are learning in the nation’s classrooms.

Whether the College Board can break the link between test scores and economic class is the subject of much debate. Critics complained that too little time was given for essay revisions and that assignments did not reflect the level of analysis expected in college. Some college admissions officers also were lukewarm.

“As a predictor of student success, a 25-minute essay isn’t going to tell us a great deal,” said Stephen J. Handel, associate vice president of undergraduate admissions for the University of California.

And in recent years, more and more students were gravitating toward the rival ACT exam. The SAT has long been dominant on the West Coast, in the Northeast and in the Washington region. The ACT, launched in 1959 and overseen by an organization based in Iowa, attracts more students in the middle of the country and the South.

The two tests overlap in mission but diverge in style and content, with the ACT traditionally measuring achievement (including a science section) and the SAT measuring thinking skills. But the ACT has made inroads on the SAT’s turf, and many students now take both. In 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT in the number of reported test-takers.

ACT President Jon L. Erickson said he was “a little underwhelmed” by the College Board’s announcement. “I appreciate and I’m glad they’re fixing their acknowledged flaws in their test,” he said.

Both exams also are facing challenges from the growing test-optional movement. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing lists about 800 colleges and universities that admit a substantial number of undergraduates without requiring them to submit SAT or ACT scores.


Torlakson Announces New Online Tools for Educators


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces New Online Tools for Educators

SACRAMENTO—Educators across California, from those who work with the state’s youngest learners to those in high school classrooms, can use several free online professional development tools created by the California Department of Education (CDE), State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.

The CDE is continuing to develop these resources as the state asks its educators to re-emphasize college and career readiness for their students. A series of Professional Learning Modules (PLMs), for example, is designed to help teachers implement the Common Core State Standards. Each of the 13 modules focuses on a single subject, such as Getting Started with the California English Language Development Standards, which provides guidance to teachers so they can provide a world-class education for English learners. The PLMs were developed in collaboration with county offices of education, the state subject-matter projects, and WestEd and are available on the Brokers of Expertise Web site at no cost.

“We are working to support our teachers with professional learning as they work to support their students with lessons and activities that prepare them for the real world,” Torlakson said. “From the earliest years through graduation, California’s children and teachers deserve to have the tools they need to succeed.”

The modules were intended to be used by educators independently, in collaborative groups, or as a face-to-face presentation. For instance, the online professional learning resource for English Language Development (ELD) Standards offers self-guided or face-to-face training for educators in how to use the ELD standards in tandem with the Common Core State Standards. Other modules include CCSS Mathematics: K-8 Learning ProgressionsCCSS: Literacy in Science, and also an Overview of the Common Core State Standards for California Educators.

Torlakson also unveiled a new Web-based professional development resource called the Early Childhood Educator Competencies Self-Assessment Toolkit (ECE CompSAT) to help hone the skills of early childhood teachers, aides, and directors of programs serving very young children.

“By investing in our children earlier in life, we reap the benefits of a better educated, more productive workforce, and a healthier state in the future,” Torlakson said. “We do that by also investing in early childhood educators to ensure they have the skills and the support they need to prepare our children for school.”

Early childhood educators can use the free ECE CompSAT to consider their everyday practices, examine what they can do, and what skills they should develop. The ECE CompSAT is an interactive Web site with 100 pages of information and nine hours of streaming video that viewers can use to assess their skills in multiple areas. The ECE CompSAT is based on a 2011 CDE publication found on the California Early Childhood Educator Competencies Web page.

The ECE CompSAT was a project of the Governor’s State Advisory Council for Early Learning and Care. This project was completed with the help of California State University-Fresno, WestEd, and the CDE’s Early Education and Support Division and Technology Services Division. It was also a component of CDE’s award of a federal Race to the Top—Early Learning Challenge grant to develop and support systems to rate and improve early learning programs so parents can make the best choices for their children.

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