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

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The Future of the ACT Essay

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

In our recent communication on the elimination of the SAT essay, we said we would keep you posted on the future of the ACT essay.

What’s the trend with the ACT essay?

We expect to see the ACT essay also retired in time, and the trend in college admissions requirements supports this prediction. At this point, the list of schools that actually require the ACT essay continues to diminish to a smaller and smaller set of schools, most of which are not target schools for our students:

• Elizabeth City State University (NC)
• Hobe Sound Bible College (FL)
• Molloy College (NY)
• Portland State University (OR)
• Soka University of America (CA)
• Southwest School of Arts (TX)
• United States Military Academy (West Point) (NY)
• University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX)
• University of Montana Western (MT)
• VanderCook College of Music (IL)
• Wyoming Catholic College (WY)
• York College of Pennsylvania (PA)

Why has the ACT essay lost relevance?

As an assessment of spontaneous writing, the ACT Essay has always been of debated value. While its grading rubric is intelligent, thoughtful, and useful in helping students cultivate college-ready persuasive essay writing skills, its grading (which happens under incredible time duress) and its placement (40 minutes at the end of a 3-hour exam) raise questions about the reliability of its 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.

So what should you do?

As a result, we are recommending that students do NOT register for the Essay Writing portion of the ACT going forward. Focus instead on the English, Math, Reading, and Science portions of the exam, which offer relevant academic insights into a student’s college readiness in addition to the student’s GPA from the high school classroom. Students should focus on their writing in the classroom as well as work on college application essays to demonstrate their authentic writing skills more effectively.

As always, consult with your college counseling team regarding specific advice on your testing plan, as they are your best advocates for a comprehensive review of your admissions approach.

 

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

MAP Testing, Learning Loss, And Supporting Our Middle School Students

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

As students and families look ahead to the remainder of the school year, many are considering how to make the most of the remaining months of school and best assess ongoing student needs and gaps. We’ve discussed before the importance of assessment as a tool for providing targeted support for students; for our middle schoolers, the NWEA MAP test can provide great insight into individual student gaps and needs that may have emerged or progressed over the last year.

With most students receiving hybrid or remote instruction at this point in the school year, the MAP test may be even more important in increasing visibility into student progress than it has been in the past. We also know the importance of individualized instruction in closing learning gaps and supporting students as they advance. Assessments like the MAP test are only useful to students if they can use the feedback from that test to learn and grow. The best instruction is rooted in understanding and addressing a specific student’s needs.

We can use our diagnostic test to get the information sooner and have more immediate remedies to learning loss. Let us know if we can help.

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

With Subject Tests Out, How Will AP Scores Factor In College Admissions?

Dear Academic Approach Families & Colleagues:

In a January 19 webinar entitled “An Update on Simplifying Our Work,” College Board CEO David Coleman announced the cancellation of SAT Subject Tests.

  • SAT Subject Tests are immediately canceled (in the USA). They’ll be offered in May/June internationally, but American registrations for May/June will be canceled (thereby opening more seats for SAT testers on those dates)

As Subject Tests sunset, many of you have asked us what will this mean for the role of Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

The Past & Future of AP Exams

AP exams have been offered since 1955, and since those modest days of slightly over 2,000 tests administered, the program has grown to over 5M tests administered in 2019-20 and from 130 colleges and universities accepting them to now well over 4,000.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the top criteria for college admissions in 2019 were:

  • Grades in all courses
  • The rigor of curriculum
  • Test scores (ACT/SAT)

AP exams are one of several valuable indices to curriculum rigor, and the trend that 96 of the top 100 schools in the US consider students’ AP scores as a part of the admissions process supports this perspective.

With the elimination of Subject Tests, the AP exams now grow perhaps more relevant as tests to demonstrate student proficiency in academic subjects. For years, they have provided students the opportunity to earn college credits; in addition, colleges and universities like NYU have trended towards accepting AP exams in lieu of SAT or ACT exams for college admissions.

We expect given these trends that we will see AP exams occupy a growing place of relevance in indicating to colleges and universities that 1) students are prepared to perform at a college-ready level of rigor; and 2) that—in schools that offer AP curriculum—students have chosen to take on the most rigorous course work available.

Starting in May, College Board has created several testing timelines to ensure students have multiple ways to access the tests and demonstrate the cumulative efforts of their preparation.

Please feel free to reach out to your director for more information on AP exams, AP Preparation, and/or next steps.

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

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.

Simplifying

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

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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.