Remote Learning & the Future of Test Administrations

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: For many students, one of the first high-stakes academic challenges of school closures in the spring was at-home AP testing. At the time, College Board was promising the option of an at-home, remote-proctored SAT by the fall. However, they immediately ran into technological challenges with proctoring the AP tests, and, as a result, College Board quickly backed off the concept of secure, remotely proctored SATs. ACT, however, has pressed ahead, piloting a remote option they plan to have available for college-reportable tests by December of 2020. Both have now successfully offered in-person tests in August and September, though there have still been challenges for many students, including last-minute cancellations and travel to far-flung test sites. In-person test dates will continue through the fall, though safety requirements will mean continued issues with access and availability, leading many students eager to consider at-home testing options. Other tests—such as the law school admissions test, the LSAT—have at least somewhat successfully offered remote-proctored tests this year.  Remote proctoring options have received mixed reviews, and the online test platforms available for practice on ACT and SAT’s website leave much to be desired. However, students are anxious for a safe, reliable opportunity to test in the wake of spring and summer cancellations—even if they bring new challenges. We’ll be continuing to provide updates on options for testing this school year. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-29T17:22:00+00:00September 29, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Remote Learning & the Future of Test Administrations

Avoiding a “Data” Vacation

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:As we work more with schools and families this year to address mounting questions regarding learning loss and COVID slide, we appreciate—more than ever—the role of high-quality assessments.In a recent article, Chris Stewart, CEO of Brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists, highlighted that the role of assessment is twofold:First, as a parent, you want to see, especially now, that within the classroom, formative assessment is helping drive instruction to fill in the gaps where your child needs interventions. The teacher can learn from this week to week formative assessment data and understand what your child needs to know.Second, as a parent, teacher, or school administrator, you want to carefully review data from summative assessments, more so than ever. The summative part lets the public know how our schools are doing comparatively. Specifically, it lets a larger community of stakeholders know whether they need to seek improvements. Stewart warns, “I have a real worry about what I’m calling a ‘data vacation.’ I think that a lot of people are using COVID as a timely excuse to take a data vacation for a year or maybe two. I see that a lot, as if we would decide not to take Americans’ blood pressure for the next two years because people are in disarray. If we did that, hypertension would go out of control. And we wouldn’t find out who was most at risk until we got back from the data vacation.”We appreciate Stewart’s point, so we are excited to be working with families and schools to avoid a data vacation. We are finding flexible and creative ways to administer and analyze assessments—long, short, in-between, formative, and summative—to gather as much meaningful data as we can to drive focused instructional interventions.Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-28T18:00:00+00:00September 28, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Avoiding a “Data” Vacation

Academic Approach Named Better Magazine’s Best Tutoring Company in Chicagoland

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: We are excited to share some good news. Better Magazine, a Chicagoland publication, has named Academic Approach the BEST Chicagoland tutoring and test-preparation company! It’s an honor to be mentioned along with Northwestern University, Francis W. Parker, The Cove School, Walter Payton College Prep, and other impressive institutions in Better’s ranked catalogue of Chicagoland’s leading education organizations. This award is the result of a voting process—one that many of you participated in. And so let me first express our gratitude to you. We are so appreciative of our community’s consistent support. Thank you! This “Best of” award is, essentially, a reflection of our students and their families—specifically, their commitment to academic achievement and unwillingness to quit, especially in the face of age-old and new adversities this past year. We’ve been engaged in this work long enough to know: we are only as successful as our students. And success this year has been a precarious achievement. We extend our thanks to Better Magazine and, of course, to you--our students, families, and colleagues. This “Best of” award inspires us to work harder for you and to commit, especially during this school year, to the continuous improvement and expansion of our work, our service, and our impact. With appreciation, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-25T16:43:21+00:00September 25, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Academic Approach Named Better Magazine’s Best Tutoring Company in Chicagoland

Remote Learning & The Importance Of Student Engagement

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: We’ve explored the impact of school closures on academic growth. We know, however, school closures have also had a significant impact on student engagement and social experiences in school as well. In the spring, as many as three-fourths of teachers reported students having lower engagement in remote learning when compared to the “normal” school experiences, and nearly 60% of students report that online school is worse than their traditional learning experiences. Early research on Chinese students found that their experiences with Covid-19 increased anxiety and depression—and, importantly, more anxious students tended to find remote learning less appealing. Nevertheless, we know that students can still have strong positive experiences in learning, even in challenging times. Research on e-learning has found that students in online courses with more “live,” synchronous learning and intentional student-teacher interactions, received more meaningful feedback, found the course more engaging, and were more likely to complete the course. Students with instructors who incorporate strong communication, flexibility, and structure report that they learn just as much in the online setting as they had previously in face-to-face courses. In both our in-person and remote instruction, we’re using the latest research along with lessons learned from years of successfully preparing students for success in high school and college to ensure students are getting the best possible educational experience this fall. We also work to build positive relationships and structure into our programs that our students report are so essential to their educational experience. Reach out to us to learn more. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-23T18:00:00+00:00September 23, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Remote Learning & The Importance Of Student Engagement

Learning Loss & Economic Implications

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: Today, we’re sharing more data on the potential long-term impacts of learning loss of students. Assessment data from the recent past on summer learning loss predicts months to years of backward growth for many students—even those in above-average school-based remote learning programs this fall. The impacts could be long-lasting, costing the average K-12 student a full year of salary in lifetime earnings as a result of those learning losses. These educational losses likely lead to significant decreases (between 0.8 to 1.3%) in the national GDP when we look 20 years out as a result of fewer skilled workers entering the workforce. Other studies have put the cost of school closures at $14.2 trillion over the next 80 years—a sum that would nearly double should school closures last another 3 months. These impacts are hard to conceptualize, but the work educators need to do is not: we must work to support our students’ learning this fall, review and preview the highest-impact skills, and curb the loss. We’re offering instruction that’s personalized and rigorous to support our students both in their academic work and their preparation for high school and college entrance exams, so they maintain critical academic progress. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-22T18:00:00+00:00September 22, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Learning Loss & Economic Implications

Learning Loss & The Importance Of Assessments

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:We’ve shared many statistics and predictions regarding learning loss for students as a result of school closures and remote learning. One of the most important elements in addressing these statistics is often overlooked: the importance of high-quality assessments.Why Assess?Assessments can be used for a variety of purposes. We rely on diagnostic testing when we first start working with students to identify student strengths and gaps. This information is then is crafted into a customized learning plan for that student to maximize the efficiency of our programs, build purpose, and ensure the best possible outcomes.We also use assessment throughout our instruction to support learning. This may take on different forms:Careful, targeted questioning of students to learn more about their problem-solving process A short assessment after teaching a new skill to determine mastery; and Full-length practice tests to assess how students transfer their skills in a rigorous, timed settingFormative assessment is used to evaluate progress and adjust instruction to best meet the student’s needs. We consider ongoing assessment an essential part of instruction.Why Assess Now?While we always consider assessment to be an important part of our programming, it’s even more important now. While it may be difficult to administer assessments—and certainly difficult to compare results in this unprecedented year to the past—we need to avoid losing important information about our students at a time when they need the most support.On an individual level, diagnostic assessment can help us identify where a student might have lost or missed critical learning from the spring and can be used to guide support this school year. On a larger scale, assessment can be used to identify important emerging gaps between groups of students. All this information is essential in driving instructional actions that remediate learning loss.Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-21T17:40:28+00:00September 21, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Learning Loss & The Importance Of Assessments

COVID-Slide & ACT/SAT Progress

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: Yesterday, we shared some new research on the potential impact of remote learning on academic progress. Today, we’re sharing the likely impact of remote learning on standardized test scores. What’s the impact of COVID-slide on scores? In its  May research and policy brief, ACT shared its student performance estimates based on historical data and predicted the impact of remote learning on ACT performance. The table below summarizes the research on typical per-month gains for students in school versus out of school. *Source: ACT Research & Policy Brief What does it add up to? Typically, an ACT composite score increases by 1.96 points over a school year and decreases by 0.43 points over the summer -- a net gain of 1.53 points per year. By shifting two months of classroom instruction to typical summer losses (to reflect inconsistent approaches to remote learning in the spring), students would instead see a net gain of only 0.82 points per year. This seemingly small decrease in ACT scores can in fact indicate a large effect on overall student achievement and college readiness, admissions and scholarship eligibility across districts and states. With months of remote learning ahead, the deficit may grow. How to Combat COVID-slide? As in many contexts, quality and quantity of instructional time matters. A recent Education Week article explores the research on the proven impact of high-dosage tutoring. These are the key principles we have followed since 2001 that relate to these effective interventions: Our programming is  personalized—we use diagnostic assessments to learn exactly what support a student needs. The instruction is carefully targeted to meet those needs. Our programming is  engaging—we use questioning and feedback to keep students actively learning. Our students take ownership over their academic progress, and our instructors provide in-depth feedback on their learning along the way. Our programming is  rigorous—we use our bridges to high school and college readiness to ensure students are receiving high-level instruction to keep them on track for long-term success. We feel a stronger commitment than ever this school year in our one-on-one work and our school programs partnerships to deliver instruction and support that curbs learning loss and helps maintain academic progress. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-17T17:27:00+00:00September 17, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on COVID-Slide & ACT/SAT Progress

Understanding The Impact Of Covid Learning Loss

Dear Academic Approach Friends and Colleagues: As we gather more data from fall testing and our own internal diagnostic testing, we’re eager to understand the impact of extended summer learning loss. How will the COVID-slide reflect in this data? The Challenging Reality Experts are predicting significant learning loss for students, especially those students with extended remote learning experience this school year and students with poor-quality remote learning. An analysis by McKinsey and Company projected learning loss in a variety of scenarios: Even in the best-case scenarios, students are losing 3-4 months of learning; in the worst-case scenarios, the loss could be as much as a year. This loss is particularly significant for low-income students. Even worse, the negative impacts will likely lead to significant increases in high school dropout rates, based on historical experiences following disasters like Hurricane Katarina or Maria. The disengagement and poor attendance in school could lead to an additional 2-9% of high-school students dropping out—between 232,000 to as many as 1.1 million current 9th through 11th graders. These numbers only look at a few, more measurable impacts of the loss of in-school time; the social-emotional costs may be even more significant. How can we address these challenges? We’re working on developing new academic programming to better support engagement and academic progress with our families and school partners. Our targeted academic support helps students review key content they may have missed while previewing upcoming content and providing enrichment to students. Learn more about our academic Study Teams programming here.  Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-16T18:00:00+00:00September 16, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Understanding The Impact Of Covid Learning Loss

ACT, SAT, & College Admissions

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: Last week we attended a webinar with James Nondorf, Dean of Admissions, University of Chicago, and Darryl Tiggle, Director of College Counseling, Friends School in Baltimore. We include some relevant Q & A (paraphrased) below: This year, who should submit scores? If you took an ACT or SAT, and you feel that it is representative of your academic abilities, submit it. If you have a test in the middle or higher echelon of a school's range, send the score. If not, do not. Students use ACT or SAT scores to shape their list, to figure out which schools to apply to. If I haven't tested, I'm missing that information. How do I know which schools I should be applying to? Use your high school's info—what colleges have similar students at your high school gotten into with similar academic profiles through conversations with college counselors. You could use PSAT scores to help narrow. Coursework and academic records/grades are key drivers. Even when colleges have ACT & SAT scores, they rely heavily on GPA—ACT & SAT are a "check-in" on grades. What components are you weighing more heavily this year? In years past, as many as 80% of students submitted standardized test scores. In prior years, if you had a poor transcript, a great ACT or SAT score would not save your application. The things that have always made a big impact on admissions committees and have created a compelling case will continue to matter most: grades, essays, how engaged the student is, if the student knows a lot about the school. Yes, these will continue to matter most. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-15T17:00:00+00:00September 15, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on ACT, SAT, & College Admissions

ACT Testing Updates

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: After a weekend of Saturday and Sunday ACT testing, we want to share highlights we’ve received from families and students. Testing Centers Many students are reporting successful administrations of their tests, thanks to the efforts of school administrators who make these events possible. In some cases, families who encountered cancellations on Saturday, September 12th, were able to re-register for other test administrations, even as early as Sunday, the 13th, by contacting the testing center. While by no means perfect, the theme is one of improving communication with both the ACT and test centers.  In a case where one of our students felt the safety protocols were not correctly followed, parents directly contacted Janet Godwin, ACT’s CEO, and received a reply within 24 hours that the testing circumstances were being investigated. While this does not immediately allay their concerns, the responsiveness from ACT is positive, as ACT furthers its effort to communicate proactively.  Testing Experiences Many of our students reported on their test-taking experience: specifically, how it felt to test under safety protocols. A brief selection of some of their voices below:  “My test was well organized, and I felt very safe during the exam. Taking the test felt pretty normal even with all of the guidelines in place.” “I felt the English, Math, and Reading were just like when I took them for practice tests. Science was my weakest section, but that’s because they had a long passage that was difficult. Otherwise, it was like all my practice tests.” “It was fine. I felt like I could concentrate as usual and did not feel distracted. It was a good testing experience overall.” All in all, since February, these are some of the most positive reports of successful test-taking we’ve heard, and we hope that bodes well for these additional fall testing dates: Fall 2020 Test Dates September Saturday, September 19 October Saturday, October 10 Saturday, October 17 Saturday, October 24 Sunday, October 25 Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-09-14T17:00:00+00:00September 14, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on ACT Testing Updates
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