Distance Learning Has Parents Feeling Distanced

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: In a recent poll commissioned by The National Parents Union, we find parents expressing some mixed opinions: a great appreciation for the efforts of our schools but a desire for more direct communication. Effort: Meeting & Exceeding More than four-fifths of those surveyed say the education offered by their child’s school is good or excellent. Researchers conjecture that the high mark given by parents to schools is reflective—and rightfully so—of the herculean efforts school administrators and teachers are taking to keep students safe, keep themselves safe, and maintain academic progress under the most challenging of circumstances. The confidence rating seems to also be correlated with a growing confidence in the effectiveness of online learning, with 73 percent of parents reporting a willingness for their child to take some high school courses digitally. Communication: Needs Improvement However, parents want more communication: 39 percent of parents in distance learning and 37 percent in hybrid learning say they want more communication about their students’ academic progress. Bridging the Distance For parents who want more insight into their students’ academic progress, a few thoughts: Leverage Parent-Teacher Conferences Ask the right questions What specific skills does my child need to work on? Are there additional assignments or apps my child should be working on to build skills? Are there additional office hours or instructional opportunities my child can attend? Teach students to ask their teachers the right questions Can I review my mistakes from the last assignment with you? Can I talk with you briefly about how to prepare best for the next test? Are there ways I can practice or engage to build my skills? With distance learning changing traditional communications, we must focus more on advocacy and student self-advocacy than ever before. We’ll be off next week for Thanksgiving. We hope you have a good holiday (though it may look quite different this year), and we are, as always, grateful to have the opportunity to work with you and your students! Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-11-19T18:30:57+00:00November 19, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Distance Learning Has Parents Feeling Distanced

Close Tracking: Identifying Early Warning Signs Of Learning Loss

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: For months we’ve shared research predicting increased losses in foundational skills for students this fall. Some studies suggested students will only register 70% of the learning gains in reading and 50% of math compared to a typical school year. Now that we’re a quarter into the school year, it’s time to track closely all data available to assess where students stand. A recent article in Education Week highlights some key data points we need to look for:    Ramp Up Parent Engagement One theme this research focuses on is the importance of ramping up parent engagement. Why? Especially with students at home, parents are uniquely poised to answer essential questions: Are grades and test scores trending consistently or is there evidence of downward trend? Are students attending class consistently and seriously? Are students working rigorously during school and completing homework after school? Many parents are now—like teachers—poised to conduct classroom observations almost daily. Parent engagement is critical to track closely early warning signs of underperformance in order to react, correct, and help students maintain academic progress and avoid learning loss. Be well,Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-11-17T18:00:00+00:00November 17, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Close Tracking: Identifying Early Warning Signs Of Learning Loss

Applying To College During COVID

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: We’ve heard from many families about the challenges of applying to college this fall. With so much still uncertain and many students unable to visit colleges, many students are finding an already challenging process even more of an uphill climb. With the early decision deadline for many schools at the beginning of November, we’re already seeing the impacts of these difficulties. Through November 2nd, the Common Application, through which students can apply to more than 900 colleges and universities, saw 8% fewer first-year applications when compared to the same time period in 2019. Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is down 16% from last year. One small advantage to students this year, however, is the robust availability of online information about schools. Many colleges and universities are offering more and more virtual visit and information session options, increasing access to learn more about schools when in-person visits are unlikely. Many colleges are relying more heavily than ever on metrics like demonstrated interest (how much interest the student shows in a given college) to help admit students more likely to attend, and students are able to demonstrate that interest in more accessible ways through these virtual engagements. Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-11-12T18:30:00+00:00November 12, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Applying To College During COVID

First-Quarter Results Demonstrate Impact of Learning Loss

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: We’ve shared significant research this year on anticipated learning loss. Today, with the close of the first quarter of the school year, we’re sharing some updates from school districts across the country that are beginning to learn more about those impacts. In Utah, one school district found that twice as many students this fall received at least one failing or incomplete grade when compared to 2019, and an incredible five times as many students received all Fs or incompletes when compared to last fall. Most of the students who received all failing grades (73%) were students attending only online classes. In Dallas, fall NWEA-MAP assessments showed that nearly half of all students experienced learning loss in math, and a third fell behind in reading from spring 2019.  These results can have a long-term impact on students; these grades will be used to apply to college and the academic slide may set them back for years. Schools are exploring creative options to combat the issue this fall, and personalized learning has become an important way for educators to reach students with more profound needs this fall than in the past. We’re working with families and schools to develop customized academic tutoring solutions to meet the specific challenges students are facing this school year.   Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-11-10T18:00:00+00:00November 10, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on First-Quarter Results Demonstrate Impact of Learning Loss

Seeking Special Accommodations On Standardized Tests

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: In a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, I had the chance to share our insights into working with students with learning differences, specifically through the college admissions process. We focus below on the topic of seeking special accommodations on standardized tests, an important but controversial topic: Understanding Special Accommodations on Standardized Tests Accommodations for the SAT and ACT are designed to adjust the test-taking environment so that it works for students with learning differences, enabling them to “show what they know.” They do not affect the standardization of the tests. Research generally backs their efficacy. In the 1970s and ’80s, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom showed that learning speed is not an indicator of intelligence and that, with additional time, students who otherwise struggle can achieve at the highest levels. A research review published more recently comes to a similar conclusion, noting that students with learning differences benefit more than their typical peers when granted additional time. But this finding isn’t universal (here, for example, researchers reached the opposite conclusion), and the existing research is far from exhaustive. Such contradictions are disappointing to those of us who have seen accommodations work well at the individual level, as they undermine the credibility of accommodations overall. Also undermining their credibility: accommodations are not always used as intended. The 2019 Varsity Blues scandal illustrated that the system is open to abuse. That scandal seemed to reify the most damaging myths about learning status and educational accommodations -- among them, that accommodations amount to special treatment. When used as intended, they don’t. Further, while Varsity Blues may have hurt the public’s perception of test accommodations, it likely did not impact their treatment by admissions teams. That’s because these teams cannot see accommodation status, thanks to a 2003 decision by the College Board (administrator of the SAT) and ACT. ACT’s recent payment of more than $16 million to settle charges that it was improperly disclosing disability status indicates that regulators and watchdogs are serious about keeping accommodation status private. Ultimately, students and families must decide for themselves whether to apply for accommodations. If they can enable students with learning differences to better demonstrate their knowledge in a testing environment, there’s no good reason not to. (Here is a helpful breakdown of how to apply.) The most important takeaway for students and families is this: the SAT or ACT should not be the first time a student tests with accommodations. Just as accommodations throughout a student’s career can better position them to be attractive college applicants, so too can a track record of accommodations illuminate which ones actually help. This ought not to be an 11th hour effort but a sustained effort over years to articulate the unique learning profile of the student.  Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-11-05T17:14:00+00:00November 5, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Seeking Special Accommodations On Standardized Tests

Highlight, Don’t Hide, Your Learning Difference

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues: In a recent article in Inside Higher Ed, I had the chance to share our insights into working with students with learning differences, specifically through the college admissions process. We focus here on the question of whether to disclose learning differences in your college application. “Should we disclose a learning difference on college applications?” It’s an understandable concern. The general population has many wrongheaded biases that can make applicants wary of mentioning learning differences. This may be why the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) found that only 24 percent of students with learning differences inform their college about their status. Experts, though, are nearly universal in their recommendation: it’s best to disclose, for three main reasons.  First, learning differences are common, affecting one in five students. Second, disclosing learning status gives students an opportunity to explain information that might otherwise raise a red flag, such as high grades but low test scores. Deans at such selective schools as Dickinson College and Yale University agree that disclosure can be helpful in such situations. Finally, disclosure offers a chance to tell a story of adversity overcome -- resilience. Students who demonstrate that they’ve achieved academic success by overcoming the adversity of learning differences show that they’re prepared for the rigors of higher education -- a key differentiator in a competitive applicant pool.  So how should students go about disclosing? General wisdom suggests using the “additional information” section of the Common Application. This formula can be effective: Educate the admissions team by naming and defining the learning difference. Inform them about the impact it’s had -- on learning, grades, test scores, etc. -- and how the student has compensated, including any accommodations they’ve received (IEPs, 504s, test accommodations). Impress with results. Describe what the accommodations and adaptations have let the student achieve.  This three-part explanation lets students make the case for themselves as scholars willing to engage in the difficult work necessary to thrive in a demanding academic setting. To ensure this section truly illustrates resilience, the work of assessing, documenting, and accommodating should start long before the college application process. This ought not to be an 11th hour effort but a sustained effort over years to articulate the unique learning profile of the student.  Be well, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

By |2020-11-03T18:00:00+00:00November 3, 2020|Letter|Comments Off on Highlight, Don’t Hide, Your Learning Difference
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