Making Academic Progress during COVID-19:
Letters from our Founder

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Making The Best Of MAP Testing & Scores

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

With NWEA’s Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing taking place this month for many students enrolled in public schools, we wanted to offer some insights for families and students:

For Families

At a time when many feel that they’re in the dark in accurately assessing their students’ academic progress, this forthcoming Winter MAP Growth assessment offers an important benchmark. NWEA releases expected growth data year over year, so you can refer to expected gains in assessing whether or not your child is on track. Comparing your child’s growth Fall to Winter to the mean grade level growth using a table like the one below will provide you with an important reference point. Half way through this unusual school year you will be able to pause and take a close and meaningful look at your student’s growth. Below, you’ll see the average growth in RIT score on the MAP test in reading and math for each time frame and grade level. Keep in mind these norms are based on a student performing at about the 50th percentile–so for a student far above or below grade level, the expectations may be different.

Map Assessment Charts

For Students

The MAP Growth assessment is adaptive and (typically) untimed. The adaptive part means that the first items the student answers can be determinative, branching the student on to easier or more difficult items and, as a result, a level of scoring that at a certain point is difficult to significantly change. In short, you want to do well in the beginning, but here’s the rub: students tend to race through assessments, as if they’re sprinters and the first one across the finish line wins. Encourage students to slow down and earn the early ones. Recall, MAP is untimed or provided with generous timing!

In addition, MAP is online; however, the best problem-solving derives from careful pencil work and visualization. Discourage mental math; encourage students to use scrap paper to work out step-by-step solutions. They should also get comfortable with using the on-screen calculator from Desmos in their work; students can get practice with the tool here. Students may also want to warm up by getting comfortable with the MAP testing platform–there’s practice available from NWEA here by logging in with username and password “grow”.

Let us know if we can help, and best of luck!

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

College Board Eliminates SAT Subject Tests & SAT Essay

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

In a webinar today entitled “An Update on Simplifying Our Work,” College Board CEO David Coleman announced two important changes impacting graduating classes of 2022 and beyond:

  1. SAT Subject Tests are immediately canceled (in the USA). They’ll be offered in May/June internationally, but American registrations for all future subject test dates (May and June 2021) will be canceled and refunded (thereby opening more seats for SAT testers on those dates).
  2. The SAT Essay is also canceled after June 2021 for national test dates (though it may still be available through statewide and district testing for accountability in the SAT School Day program). Students wishing to cancel their existing registrations this spring for the essay portion can do so at no cost.

Subject Tests

There has always been a redundancy between AP exams and Subject Tests: Subject Tests essentially feature the multiple-choice portions of the AP exams. They tend to be administered around the same time of the year (spring, at the end of a full year’s course work), causing a glut of testing at a high-stress time for students as well as more administrative burden for schools as test centers.

For these reasons, then, the move away from the SAT Subject Tests has long been anticipated and will be welcome. College Board is also highlighting the end of subject tests as a move for equity with an expanded focus on increasing the availability of AP tests for low-income students and students of color.

If students have already taken Subject Tests, College Board will still continue to release those scores to colleges.

SAT Essay

As assessments of spontaneous writing, the SAT Essay and ACT essay have always been of questionable value. While both grading rubrics are intelligent, thoughtful, and useful in helping students cultivate college-ready persuasive essay writing skills, their grading (which happens under incredible time duress) and their placement (40 or 50 minutes at the end of a 3-hour exam) raise questions about the reliability of their results. By contrast, several years of essay writing grades in high school serve admissions officers as a far better index to a student’s writing ability. Again, this elimination will be welcome.


At a time when the scrutiny on standardized assessment reaches a crescendo, College Board is clearly attempting to trim fat—eliminating unnecessary assessments that either lack clear relevance for admissions considerations and add unnecessarily to administrative burdens.

What we’re watching?

  • We’ll monitor the role that AP exams play in college admissions and report any changes
  • We’ll follow ACT closely to see if ACT takes the same approach to the ACT essay
  • We’ll continue took look for how both SAT and ACT continue to focus on simplicity, which will likely include rapid investment in online administrations of SAT and ACT to offer safe, reliable access for more students

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

ACT & SAT Test Dates And Q&A Services

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

We’re sharing some updates on ACT & SAT test dates and Q&A services:

ACT Dates

The February ACT is scheduled earlier than usual: February 6th. ACT has extended the registration deadline to January 15th and waived any late registration fees. Here’s the link to ACT National Test Dates this spring.

ACT’s Test Information Release (TIR)

ACT’s Test Information Release is a valuable service that we like to incorporate into our instruction. Through the Test Information Release (TIR), you receive a copy of the multiple-choice test questions used to determine your score, a list of your answers, and the answer key. Analyzing a student’s test form, correcting the student’s specific mistakes, and identifying particular patterns of error will generate important instructional insights that lead to further targeted improvement in performance.

Here’s a link to the TIR, which is available for the December 2020 and April and June 2021 administrations.

SAT Dates

The March SAT National Testing Date is scheduled for March 13th, with a registration deadline of February 12th. College Board has arranged for 3 SAT testing dates for 11th graders in Illinois: April 13th is the main date, and April 27th and May 18th are make-up dates, allowing students to test in smaller groups. Here’s the link to SAT National Test Dates this spring.

SAT’s Question & Answer Service (QAS)

SAT’s Question & Answer Service is a valuable service that we like to incorporate into our instruction. Through the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS), you receive a copy of the multiple-choice test questions used to determine your score, a list of your answers, and the answer key. For students with a College Board account, these services will be available online with your score report. If you’re eligible for an SAT fee waiver, you can get the QAS for free. Analyzing a student’s test form, correcting the student’s specific mistakes, and identifying particular patterns of error will generate important instructional insights that lead to further targeted improvement in performance.

Here’s the link to the QAS, which is available for the March and May 2021 administrations.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Lessons on Learning from 2020

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

As students settle into their winter breaks, we’re reflecting on lessons learned from remote learning.

Remote Learning: Costs

As schools consider what changes to instruction the spring may bring, around half of American students leave for winter break following a remote fall. We’ve shared with you various estimates of what this shift in instruction has cost students academically. Most concerning are the thousands of students who haven’t returned to school at all this year. Students, parents, and teachers have reported disengagement and challenges in reaching students during instruction and outside of virtual class.

Personalized Learning: Opportunities

We know one thing to be true: students can learn, virtually and in person, even in these challenging circumstances. We’ve seen it in our work with students throughout 2020, and the research has shown what we know to be true: personalized, high-quality, frequent instruction can close even the most significant learning gaps. One-on-one instruction is “remarkably effective at helping students learn,” as studies have proven time and again.

We’re looking forward to the most productive and successful 2021 for our students, families, and colleagues. The Academic Approach Team would like to wish you and your loved ones Happy Holidays.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Key Learning Insights For Winter Break

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

As many students finish their last week of school for this semester, we’re sharing lessons gleaned on important aspects of remote learning, highlighting two topics, in particular, for families to reflect on as they prepare for the break:

Relationships & Engagement

There are aspects of effective in-person instruction that are perhaps even more essential in remote instruction; high-quality relationships are key to academic growth for students regardless of format. These relationships, in combination with targeted, personalized instruction, are why tutoring is so effective in-person or online.

To help promote positive relationships and engagement, families can consider the following:

Are we asking teachers the right questions?

  • What specific skills does my child need to work on over break?
  • 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?

Is our student asking 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 specific ways I can practice building my skills over break?

Student Data & Behaviors

As you assess this semester’s test results and student performance, consider: 

  • Are grades and test scores trending consistently or is there evidence of a downward trend?
  • Is our student attending class consistently and seriously?
  • Is our student working rigorously during school and completing homework after school?

Track closely early warning signs of underperformance in order to react, correct, and help students maintain academic progress and avoid learning loss, using the semester break as a time to reflect, adjust, and make improvements.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

Announcing Academic Tutoring Packages

We’re excited to unveil our new Academic Tutoring Packages, a special discount offer for families. This is a limited time offer.*

Our friendly and highly-qualified team is ready to help you. You’ll get effective instruction that is personalized, engaging, and rigorous with high-level instructors to keep your student on track for long-term success.


Start the next semester strong!


*Terms & Conditions: This offer only applies to academic tutoring. It does not apply to any test prep programs. Payment is due in full upon confirmation of your tutor selection prior to the start of tutoring. Hourly rates vary based on tutor. Availability of a specific tutor is not guaranteed. This offer is available for a limited time and must be purchased prior to 02/19/2021 to qualify. The Academic Tutoring Package must be utilized prior to 6/30/2021. There are no refunds for tutoring hours that are not used prior to 6/30/2021.

How Is Academic Math Measuring Up?

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

You’ll recall some of the grim forecasts from the spring about the impact of remote learning on student learning. NWEA forecasted that students would return to the classroom with less than 50% of the gains in math compared with a typical school year.

What does this mean? This means students who scored in the 50th percentile on the fall 2019 test in math would score between the 40th and 30th percentile in fall 2020.

Instead, NWEA has recently shared data from those students who were able to take fall 2020 testing that shows math performance down about half what was projected: a drop of 5 to 10 percentile points, putting those students between the 45th and 40th percentile.

However, with 25% of students—some of the most underserved students—not testing (because of lack of access and opportunity), these numbers do not capture the complete potential loss sustained.

We’re working with families and our school partners to offer academic support to help close gaps in learning—large or small—as we continue to help navigate this challenging school year and maintain academic progress. This Thursday we’ll release information about a new package we’ll be offering to promote academic success.

Be well,
Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., Founder & CEO

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Every Student is Different

We know our students; each one is unique, and each one requires a different approach, especially during these unprecedented times. That is why our ACT, SAT, and Middle School test prep is customized to each student and school partner.

We improve your students’ standardized testing by tailoring our research-based, expert instruction and curriculum to your needs, and we can get started with you right away.

Our offices are now open, but in a limited capacity. We are still offering online tutoring and all practice tests will remain virtual.

Reach out to us at 773-348-8914 with any questions.