A Student’s Best New Year’s Resolution: A Steady Rise in Grades Tells the Right Story

We know that a student’s Grade Point Average (GPA) is the most influential driver in the college admissions process. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) State of College Admission 2019 report, the top 3 most important factors in admissions decisions all relate to academic performance in school: However, we also know that GPA is not standardized, and various methodologies are used to calculate it, so admissions officers like University of Virginia admissions dean Jeannine Lalonde, aka DeanJ, make it clear that important context is required to truly understand and interpret GPA. So, what context matters most? For one, rigor.  Admissions officers want to see that—regardless of the school’s curricular or grading system—the student has taken the most challenging courses available. But there’s another factor too, a lesson obvious--but very important--one: growth over time. As parents and/or educators of adolescents, we accept one truth universally acknowledged: adolescents are imperfect beings rapidly developing skills—both academic & social-emotional. Admissions officers realize this too, and it’s even reflected in admissions policy, like University of California schools policy of omitting freshmen year grades when calculating high school GPA. The value of a student’s GPA is that it demonstrates academic performance over time (not just in one isolated moment), so you look for a trend, a positive trajectory of growth & improvement in performance. In particular, you want to see where the student is trending recently, as the student approaches college readiness and entrance. In a recent interview, Jeffrey Selingo, who spent a year in three different colleges' admissions offices when reporting for his book  Who Gets In and Why, explains the importance of performance trend: "Admissions officers are looking for grades that are either consistently good throughout high school or on a steady rise from the start. What concerns them is a downward trend or where grades are all over the place." As college admissions policies increasingly shift towards a “holistic” review, that is, one which seeks to be less reductive and more inclusive of context, admissions officers are reading for a narrative of the student’s development.  It’s an Aristotelian exercise of sorts: reading for potential, imagining the completed sculpture already present in the marble block. In all of this, there is one important message for students, especially as they enter a new year and a new academic term: grades tell a story, and the student is the author of that academic narrative. Make it one of steady rise, of consistent growth predictive of something wonderful developing rapidly—and recently—out of that marble block, something that others become eager to see.

By |2022-01-15T02:58:24+00:00January 7, 2022|News|0 Comments

Test-Prepping – Supplemental Education – And Now Learning Pods (During the Time of COVID)

Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D, founded Academic Approach in 2001 and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer.  After teaching in Columbia University’s Core Curriculum and preparing New York City high school students for college entrance exams, Matthew worked to define a model of test preparation based less on strategy and more on skills-development.  Academic Approach empowers students and educators from all backgrounds to succeed on and beyond college admissions tests. By boosting skills — not teaching tips and tricks — students are more prepared for higher-level learning and better positioned to achieve excellence on the SAT and ACT, throughout college, and in future endeavors.  Whether working with lead trainers to provide high-quality support to their tutors or collaborating with educators to deliver instructional support that drives higher student achievement, Matthew is committed to improving the quality of Academic Approach’s instructional practices and services.

By |2020-10-08T08:58:09+00:00October 8, 2020|News|Comments Off on Test-Prepping – Supplemental Education – And Now Learning Pods (During the Time of COVID)

Understanding & Navigating Test-Optional Policies

The Basics Impact on Admissions Impact on Students Our Stance School-Specific Policies The Basics The impact of COVID-19 on education continues to be immense. With rapid school closures, a fast and sometimes rocky transition to e-learning, and even greater questions around access to education and resources, many colleges and universities have transitioned to being "test optional". What is "test optional"? Test optional means students are not required to provide any standardized testing scores when applying to a college or university, though they are still accepted, reviewed, and considered as part of the application. At test-optional schools, admissions officers will perform a holistic analysis of the students’ grades, rigor of the classes they’ve taken, and their other distinguishing accomplishments.  Test optional does not mean test blind. If students submit standardized testing scores as part of their application, those scores will be incorporated into the holistic analysis of the application and used to evaluate applicant fit. Some counselors have made the case that test scores are especially relevant now as grading policies and GPAs are being adjusted this spring and potentially this fall.  Policies shift for the Class of 2021. Many colleges have shifted to be test optional for the Class of 2021 in an effort to review applications in the most fair and flexible way. Considering the experiences of thousands upon thousands of low-income and low-access students, medically compromised students, and students with learning accommodations that cannot be fairly met because of school closures, testing access isn’t an even playing field. Each policy is different. Test-optional policies vary from school to school. Some schools actively encourage students to submit them, while others require alternative documents if not submitting a test score. Some programs within a university may have different policies than others at that same institution. It's important to research the revised policies at all schools of interest as their policies will likely differ. What is the goal? Increasing diversity on college campuses is a primary goal of test-optional policies. Advocates argue that de-emphasizing test scores and focusing primarily on high school class rank and GPA would allow great numbers of qualified minority, low-income, first generation, and other students to apply. Research behind this idea is inconclusive with both affirming and contradicting studies. The Impact on Admissions Multiple studies have been done to evaluate the impact of test-optional policies on college admissions through the lens of diversity, rankings, and student performance. The impact on diversity is uncertain. A study by the American Educational Research Association evaluated 180 selective liberal arts colleges in the US over the last 30 year period. Schools that implemented test-optional policies enrolled a lower proportion of underrepresented minorities than did test-requiring schools. At these schools, implementing test-optional policies did not decrease the diversity gap.Conversely, a smaller study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling gathered data from 28 colleges and universities that had test-optional policies. The found a similar increase in applicants, but also saw gains in the number of Black and Latino students applying and admitted. [...]

By |2020-06-08T16:55:04+00:00June 8, 2020|Academic Approach, News|Comments Off on Understanding & Navigating Test-Optional Policies

Academic Approach: Beginnings

Academic Approach: Beginnings I founded Academic Approach in Chicago in 2001, but the story begins in 1996 in New York City when I was earning a Ph.D. in English at Columbia University. While I was teaching freshmen in Columbia’s core curriculum—classes on logic, rhetoric, grammar, and strategies of essay composition—I was also working as a test-prep tutor, coaching NYC high school students preparing for the SAT and ACT. In doing both simultaneously, I realized that I was teaching the same underlying skills to both college freshmen and high school students... Gregg's Landing - September 2019View Complete Article

By |2019-09-30T10:47:00+00:00September 30, 2019|News, Press|Comments Off on Academic Approach: Beginnings

Better Magazine’s 2019 Faces of Chicago

Every spring, every year, high school juniors — like Shakespeare’s Hamlet — face an existential moment: to ACT or to SAT? That is the question. For 18 years, Matthew Pietrafetta, Ph.D., and his test prep team at Academic Approach have helped students answer this question. In fact, Matthew approaches this often-dreaded rite of passage as an exciting learning opportunity. In helping a student navigate the journey, Academic Approach counsels the family, customizes a personalized one-on-one tutoring program to raise both test scores and academic skills, and mentors the student to become a more confident, empowered test taker. With one-on-one tutoring offices in Winnetka, Highland Park, Lincolnshire, Clarendon Hills, and Lincoln Park, Academic Approach is engaged in Chicagoland’s local communities, providing personalized service. With a School Programs division serving thousands of public-school students, Academic Approach is also committed to promoting equity and access to high-impact test prep. Read the complete article: https://better.net/chicago/life/education/faces-of-chicago-2019-academic-approach/

By |2019-09-17T14:23:59+00:00September 17, 2019|News, Press|Comments Off on Better Magazine’s 2019 Faces of Chicago

Test Prep Strategies for Dyslexic Students – Dyslexia.com

https://blog.dyslexia.com/test-prep-strategies-for-dyslexic-students/ Making the academic leap from high school to higher education can be challenging for any student. For students with dyslexia, this transition can seem even more intimidating as it requires more time and preparation for them than it does for their peers. Dyslexic students process and comprehend language differently, less intuitively, and less efficiently than students without dyslexia. Therefore, there is a specific purpose for any instructor working with a student with dyslexia: to teach the student learning strategies that help process and comprehend language as accurately and as efficiently as possible.  Find the right tutor and know your student’s specific needs Finding the right tutor begins with understanding your child’s specific needs. Dyslexia is associated with a spectrum of language processing issues and those specific issues need to be identified as narrowly as possible. The student’s IEP (Individual Educational Program), 504 Plan, or reports from psychological educational testing may provide helpful information.  For example, many dyslexic students are easily confused by verbal explanations. They will not thrive in a lecture-driven format and cannot rely on auditory processing as their primary means of learning. For those students, the right tutor will provide learning through hands-on experience: observation, experimentation, and the use of methods and models that help the student visualize information and meaning. In addition, dyslexic students can be eligible for testing accommodations, because they require extended time to demonstrate what they know. Their dyslexia is a functional limitation on their ability to perform up to potential under time duress. This presents a great opportunity for high-quality instruction and deep learning. Tutors can work with these students on building skills and strategies to help them more fully understand and engage test material within the additional time they are granted, rather than merely teaching “tips and tricks” to answer some of the content quickly.  Work with the tutor to learn how to process and re-process reading passages  The ACT and SAT are, first and foremost, intensive reading tests. Students with dyslexia are challenged by complex reading passages and grammar, making tests like the ACT and SAT important opportunities to support and teach them. A tutor can help by teaching specific learning strategies:  Active reading: reading for main idea and author’s purpose by analyzing specific portions of expository essays Annotating: developing techniques to annotate different types of information and classify that information visually, e.g., underlining main idea sentences in introductions and conclusions and circling supporting details in the body paragraphs Summarizing the meaning of a passage or paragraph reductively in simple sentences or phrases written in their own words Let’s flesh these strategies out a bit more.  Picture a reading passage on the ACT or SAT. It can span 500-850 words in length, including  unfamiliar content, new vocabulary, and even scientific data. This presentation is daunting to anyone, but can seem overwhelming for someone who has difficulty navigating grade-level reading passages.  Students with dyslexia need to be coached through a process of transforming the unfamiliar into something more familiar, something they can process and make meaningful. They need to [...]

By |2017-05-24T15:22:40+00:00May 24, 2017|News, Press|Comments Off on Test Prep Strategies for Dyslexic Students – Dyslexia.com

How to Help Your Child Prepare for the SAT – Modern Homeschool Family

High school juniors across the country are preparing to take the SAT in the next few weeks. At this point, you may be wondering what you could possibly do to improve your score. How to Help Your Child Prepare for the SAT Here are some steps to follow in the next few weeks to make the most of the remaining time. 14 Days Out — Get a current snapshot of your skills If you haven’t already, take an SAT practice test. Your score and skills analysis will give you a clear starting point for planning. Organize a study plan with these steps: Identify your good areas that you want to make great. Every student has a strong suit; figure that out and optimize it.Identify the areas that need the greatest improvement, and, here’s the key: find the few highest-impact skills in those areas that will produce the biggest impact. Focus on those high-impact skills.Prepare a detailed study schedule that charts your expected personal growth over the next two weeks, including specific goals for your areas of focus. A well-trained tutor can help use the practice test data to focus your efforts so you can improve during the time that remains. 10 Days Out — Work on time management Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the test construct and high-impact skills, you need to start to think about time management. How are you breaking up your time for the reading passages and questions? How much time are you spending on the easy and medium math questions versus the hard questions? These nuanced time-management decisions can have a big impact on performance. 7 Days Out — Take another practice test and assess progress At this point, take another practice test. Assess your growth in your scores and skills. What has grown? What hasn’t? Now, target the skills that need the most attention and focus there for the remaining days. 1 Day Out – Summarize & Review With the end in sight, it’s time to consolidate your lessons learned onto one sheet. What high-impact skills are most important for you? What grammar rules, math formulae, reading strategies are the most helpful? And what time management approaches optimize your performance best? Write these down for review and bring them along in the car ride on test day morning. And be confident! The key is that you have insight into your own personal performance and you know how to personalize your own test-taking approach to meet your specific needs. That’s the key to success. Read the original article: https://modernhomeschoolfamily.com/2017/03/28/how-to-help-your-child-prepare-for-the-sat/

By |2017-03-28T15:30:28+00:00March 28, 2017|News, Press|Comments Off on How to Help Your Child Prepare for the SAT – Modern Homeschool Family

What parents can do to help teens prepare for the SAT & ACT – ChicagoNow’s Between Us Parents Blog

Standardized tests take on a whole new meaning in high school, with the SAT and/or ACT being huge components in the college application process. With the SAT coming up on April 5, I talked with Matthew Pietrafetta of Academic Approach, a test preparation and tutoring company with locations in Chicago, New York, and Boston. He offered his expert advice on what parents can do to get teens ready for the SAT and ACT. His wisdom is applicable to both those taking the test next week and those who are still a few years off. Between Us Parents: In an ideal world, what does the parent role for a child preparing for the SAT look like to you? Matthew Pietrafetta: Parents play a tremendous role in trying to build purpose. Teenagers can get a little cynical and not see the purpose.  If purpose is built through compliance or authoritarian rule, there isn’t intrinsic motivation. Most successful students are intrinsically motivated. Those are character traits developed way before 16 and 17, so building purpose around learning and performance and having that be very positive is the principle role that the parent is involved in. Parents are involved in the psychology of our children and how they approach achievement. Parents need to be positive as they encourage their kids to be their best. For 20 years I've been meeting with families to go over practice test scores and have seen a lot of different tones set by parents. My favorite is when parents ask their kid, “What do you make of that?” It empowers the child and makes it a constructive conversation about the learning process and not just looking at the test as an anxiety-producing right of passage that's part of getting into a certain college. BUP: Speaking of anxiety, what can parents do to manage their high schooler’s stress level about standardized testing? MP: There are several basic things parents can do that have a big impact in keeping their kids stress level down. Don’t project yourself on your child. Parents may feel that they themselves were stressed out when they were taking the test, but don't put your anxiety on your kid.Know the process. You can take the test multiple times, and often schools will suppress the lower scores. Don’t approach test day like it’s doomsday if the process allows the child to take the test multiple times without penalty. It's important to know that a test taker can cancel their score if they had a horrible day, whether they were sick, had a bad break-up the night before, whatever. Parents need to know that to talk the student down a bit.Cultivate growth mindset. It’s age old stuff but it is so, so helpful when preparing for standardized tests, which are complex and covering a lot of material. A mistake is an opportunity to learn. The process is prolonged and requires deferring immediate gratification which is hard for kids, but most goals weren't achieved without a lot of hard work, and many take a long time. Teach kids that slow and steady wins the race, and [...]

By |2017-03-27T15:28:18+00:00March 27, 2017|News, Press|Comments Off on What parents can do to help teens prepare for the SAT & ACT – ChicagoNow’s Between Us Parents Blog

Always A Lesson: Matthew Pietrafetta, Founder of Academic Approach, joins host Gretchen Schultek to discuss the benefits of aligning high-impact test preparation with curriculum and instruction.

Matthew is the founder of Academic Approach, an organization that helps schools in underserved communities prepare students for the SAT and ACT, the tests they need to succeed on to gain admission to college. He’s also a former New York City teacher. He says “aligning high-impact test preparation with curriculum and instruction is not easy work, but it’s valuable and necessary. Often this work is approached as an “either-or:” either I focus on test prep or I focus on my curriculum.  If you can approach the challenge as a “both-and” instead, you can find some efficient, creative solutions: I can both teach my curriculum and integrate in skills-based test preparation that teaches my students the high-impact skills they need for success both in my class and on the test.  With the right assessment, reporting, and professional development system in place, we can achieve that all-important “both-and” in teaching and learning.” Quotables “Teach beyond the test”“With the proper mentorship, students can fail forward… a lesson in resilience”“The way [students] experience failure can be positive and productive or paralyzing”“If you do take a student centered view of teaching, you never are done because there’s always a new student and each student is different” Buzz Words Locus of controlGrowth mindsetGritRigorous academic approachSelf Conception Matthew’s Stamp of Approval Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins (“backwards design” and “teaching for transfer”) http://alwaysalesson.com/90-bonus-edition-interview-matthew-pietrafetta/

By |2017-03-06T15:56:53+00:00March 6, 2017|News, Press|Comments Off on Always A Lesson: Matthew Pietrafetta, Founder of Academic Approach, joins host Gretchen Schultek to discuss the benefits of aligning high-impact test preparation with curriculum and instruction.
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