Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What Changes to the SAT Mean for Your Students

The Internet is abuzz this week with talk of the College Board’s announcement that big changes are coming to the SAT in 2016. David Coleman, president of the College Board, presented an overview of the new test at SXSWedu in Austin this week, and more details will be revealed in mid-April.

Key changes to the SAT

According to the College Board, “The redesigned SAT will focus on the knowledge and skills that current research shows are most essential for college and career readiness and success.”
One of the most significant changes to the test is the return to a 400- to 1600-point scale. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections will each be scored on a 200- to 800-point scale, and the essay, which was added in 2005, will be optional and scored separately.
There are an additional eight key changes that students can expect on the revamped SAT:
  • Relevant words in context. The new SAT will focus on what the College Board refers to as “relevant words, the meanings of which depend on how they’re used.” Students will be tested on words that they will use in college and in their future careers—not just on the SAT.
  • Command of evidence. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section will ask students to “demonstrate their ability to interpret, synthesize, and use evidence found in a wide range of sources.” This change is aimed at reflecting the type of work required in college and the workplace.
  • Essay analyzing a source. The Essay section will undergo a significant overhaul, with students now being asked to read a passage, explain how the author builds his or her argument, and back up their assertions with evidence from the passage. The prompt will be shared ahead of time and will be optional, though the College Board notes that some school districts and colleges will require it.
  • Math focused on three key areas. The Math section will focus on Problem Solving and Data Analysis, the Heart of Algebra, and Passport to Advanced Math. According to the College Board, “Current research shows that these areas most contribute to readiness for college andcareer training.”
  • Problems grounded in real-world contexts. The new SAT will be aimed at engaging students with questions grounded in the real world and related to college course work and career demands. This means questions throughout the test will include references to things like the humanities, history, social science, and career scenarios.
  • Analysis in science and social studies. Test takers will be asked to applytheir skills to answer questions relating to history, science, and social studies. “Questions will require them to read and comprehend texts, revise texts to be consistent with data presented in graphs, synthesize information presented through texts and graphics, and solve problems based in science and social science.”
  • Founding Documents and Great Global Conversation. All students taking the SAT will encounter an excerpt from one of America’s founding documents (such as the Declaration of Independence) or a text from the ongoing Great Global Conversation about freedom, justice, and human dignity.
  • No penalty for wrong answers. The new SAT will feature “rights-only scoring,” meaning students will not be penalized for incorrect answers.

Why these changes are being made 

In his SXSWedu speech, David Coleman explained the reasoning behind these sweeping changes. In addition to helping students prepare for the real world, the new test will also attempt to level the playing field for all test takers. Here are a few highlights from his speech:
  • “We need to get rid of the sense of mystery and dismantle the advantages that people perceive in using costly test preparation.”
  • “It is time to admit that the SAT and ACT have become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”
  • “What this country needs is not more tests, but more opportunities. It is time for the College Board to move from measuring to acting.”
Toward that end, the College Board will also be enacting a few changes that may help underprivileged test takers. Students who take the SAT and are below a certain income threshold will get four waivers for their college application fees, and the College Board is also working with Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational website, to create free test prep videos for students.

What these changes mean for your students

The new test won’t be rolled out until the spring of 2016, and until then, it’s difficult to predict exactly how these changes will affect test takers. But, as Coleman stated, one of the main goals of the new test is to help students who don’t have access to test prep resources beyond what is available to them in school. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the test has been “dumbed down” or that it will be easier, per se, but Coleman did suggest that things like flash cards will become irrelevant as the focus of the test becomes more practical and real-world-focused.
How colleges and universities will react to the new test also remains to be seen. The weight placed on the SAT and ACT in the college admission process has always varied from school to school. But, as a recent NPR story reported, at schools where standardized tests are optional, studies have found that there is “virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test ‘submitters’ and ‘nonsubmitters’” and  that “college graduation rates for ‘nonsubmitters’ were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.” Standardized tests are optional at around 800 colleges and universities (about a quarter of the schools in the country). If more begin to follow suit, then who knows? SAT stress may become a thing of the past altogether.
Full details on the new SAT will be released on April 16, 2014.
What do you think of the College Board’s changes to the SAT? What are the pros and cons, and how do you think they will affect your students?
Written by Stephanie Farah
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

College Admissions: What Your PSAT Scores Really Mean

PSAT scores will arrive for anxious high school students this week. These scores mark the time when sophomores and juniors can begin to target colleges that are in range. Realistically, there are only 5

months left for juniors to visit colleges before campuses empty out in the first week of May. In the fall, early action dates begin a few weeks after school opens, and many colleges are filling 30-70% of their seats in that round. So, starting your visits in junior year is critical. If your school is slow about handing out scores, you may want to go online and get them. Then, how do you interpret your PSAT scores and use them to launch your college search?Estimating SAT scores

If you add a zero to end of each PSAT score, that would be your SAT score. Your percentiles indicate how well you did vs. other students in your grade taking the PSAT. You are not measured against 11th graders, if you are in 10th grade. If you scored in the 85th percentile, you did better than 84 out of 100 students in your grade nationally. Because of additional math coursework, you will most likely see your math score increase from your sophomore to junior PSAT. If you elect to do test prep, you will probably see a bigger increase. Most students who prep will go up 60-180 total points (across all 3 sections) from the junior PSAT to the SAT. Many families believe their child will jump 300 points or more with test prep. That kind of an increase is rare, and choosing colleges according to that hope will get you into trouble.

Low scores should NOT be ignored
For students who are getting A's or B's in school, PSAT scores below 40 can often be an indicator of an undiagnosed learning disability (LD) or anxiety during testing. Talk to a neuro-psychologist or college counselor about options for educational testing.  If you are diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD, ADHD or other learning differences, you may qualify for extended time on test day. It is best to do evaluations by 10th grade since the standards for extended SAT time have been getting more stringent. Those with scores in the 40s-50s who are aiming for a competitive college should begin test prep early and be very diligent about studying each week on their own. Students should also consider taking the ACT. It can often be a better test for students who are high achievers in school or who don't do well with vocabulary.

What colleges care about
Colleges DO NOT see your PSAT scores. PSAT scores are intended as practice for the SAT and allow you to determine areas where you may need help. The only situation in which they may affect your admission is if you are a National Merit Semi-Finalist or Winner. Only juniors are considered for this award, and the cutoff varies, but you usually have to have a total score of 210 or better. If you are a finalist, it is viewed as a very prestigious honor by colleges and there may be scholarship money to follow.

Test Prep is a MUST
Most students should begin SAT prep in the fall or winter of their junior year, and spend 10-12 weeks studying before they take the test. However, some students with lower scores or those aiming for highly competitive colleges, may want to begin prep as early as sophomore year. The type of study program you select depends on your budget and needs. Some high school based programs are free, but many are relatively weak. It depends on the curriculum and instructor. The major test prep companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review do a very good job of screening teachers and training them, but the group courses will not usually help you with content review (geometry, algebra, grammar). They typically focus on test taking strategy. A well-trained and qualified private SAT tutor will teach strategy and address individual needs to learn the relevant math, vocabulary and writing skills-but the cost is a bit higher. For families who cannot afford courses or tutors, there are terrific SAT prep books on the market, and some highly motivated students can achieve top scores with disciplined self-study.

SAT Alternatives
If you have tried the SAT and ACT, done test prep, and still can't achieve competitive scores-then it is time to consider "Test Optional" colleges. Today, there are more than 800 in the U.S., and they include prestigious liberal arts colleges like Middlebury, Bowdoin and Bates. Catholic colleges are also jumping on the bandwagon, including Providence College, St. Michael's and De Paul. What you won't find on the list are the primary campuses of state universities or the Ivy League.

Written by Cristiana Quinn
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Online Application Woes Make Students Anxious and Put Colleges Behind Schedule

With early admission deadlines looming for hundreds of thousands of students, the new version of the online Common Application shared by more than 500 colleges and universities has been plagued by numerous malfunctions, alarming students and parents and putting admissions offices weeks behind schedule.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Jason C. Locke, associate vice provost for enrollment at Cornell University. “I’ve been a supporter of the Common App, but in this case, they’ve really fallen down.”
Colleges around the country have posted notices on their admissions Web sites, warning of potential problems in processing applications. Some Minnesota colleges have created an optional partial application. The Georgia Institute of Technology has one of the earliest fall application deadlines, Oct. 15, but it was not able to start reviewing applications on a large scale until last week and has postponed the deadline for some supporting paperwork until Nov. 1/
The problems have sown worry among students like Lily Geiger, a 12th grader at the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan, increasing the stress level in an already stressful experience. When she entered her essays into the application, what appeared on her computer screen was a garbled mess. Some words were mashed together; others were split in two by random spaces; there were swaths of blank space where text should have been; paragraph indentations were missing.
“I was completely freaked out,” she said. “I spent the whole weekend trying to fix it, and I kept thinking, what if I can’t fix everything by the deadline, or what if I missed something?”
For the nonprofit company, also called the Common Application, that creates the form, it has been a summer and fall of frantic repair work, cataloged on its Web site, and frequent mea culpas.
In an interview, Rob Killion, the executive director, readily acknowledged a wide range of failings. But he said that they were being fixed and that the number of applications was up more than 20 percent from last year, indicating that students were successfully navigating the system.
Problems became evident as soon as the application was released in August, including some confusing wording that was later changed. Students who thought they had finished the application found that it was incomplete because questions had been added after its release. As changes were made, some who had started their applications early found themselves locked out of the system.
A function that allows students to preview applications and print them sometimes just shows blank pages — a problem that may be linked to which Web browsers they use. And, as Ms. Geiger discovered, the system often does not properly format essays that are copied and pasted from another program, like Microsoft Word.
When a user pays an application fee with a credit card, the system produces a “signature page,” where the card holder’s name must be typed to confirm the charge. But that page can take a day or more to show up, leading some users to try to pay multiple times. Worse yet, guidance and admissions counselors say that those who do not immediately see the signature page may be unaware of its existence and may never check back — in other words, they may think they have submitted college applications when they have not.
“This software needed beta testing and needed vetting, and it probably needed to wait a year,” said Nancy Griesemer, a college admissions consultant based in Fairfax, Va.
Hundreds of colleges use software from the Common Application that automatically delivers a daily batch of new applications directly to their computers. That software is usually delivered in mid-September, but this year’s version arrived at the start of October. Many colleges are still testing it and have not yet put it to use, and most of those schools have Nov. 1 or Nov. 15 early admission deadlines.
The Common Application also had trouble meshing with software called Naviance, which high schools use to send documents like transcripts, recommendations and early-admission agreements to colleges. Until this month, colleges could not view any of that material on their computers, and some forms are still not accessible to them.
The Common Application, which began in the 1970s, allows a student to fill out a single application for multiple colleges. The number of schools accepting it has more than doubled in the last decade and includes nearly all of the nation’s most prestigious institutions. The company now processes well over one million applications yearly.
This year’s application was an unusually big piece of engineering — the first in six years to be designed and built from scratch, in ways that were supposed to make it simpler to use, with a newly standardized supplemental form that can be adapted to each college.
The recent problems mean that college admission offices will have to work overtime to go through applications, and some plan to take on temporary extra staff. But they say they still intend to send out acceptance and rejection notices on time in mid-December.
With the kinks being worked out, they expect the larger regular round of applications — usually submitted by January deadlines, with replies sent in the spring — to go more smoothly.
“Any time you roll something out, there’s going to be glitches, but this is the worst year by far,” said Katy Murphy, the president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the director of college counseling at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif.
“We’re still in the first half of October, so we’re trying to keep everyone calm,” she said. “I think it will all be fixed by Nov. 1, but if it’s not, we’re in a world of hurt.”
Written by Richard Perez-Pena
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, August 1, 2013

4 Reasons to Start Your College Applications Now

For many rising seniors, college still seems far away—but it isn’t. Deadlines for early action and early decision arrive just a few weeks after students return to school in the fall. That means that summer is the best time to do applications and avoid stress later. Still not convinced? Here are some reasons to think again.

1. Early Action and Early Decision deadlines fall in November at most schools, but some have now moved to October
The reality is that many colleges are filling 25-75% of their freshman class during early admissions. So, the early bird catches the worm. Also, senior year is fraught with AP classes, campus visits, college interviews, sports, extra-curricular activities and social engagements. The last thing you need to do is add applications to that stressful schedule in September/October. A few hours a week this summer will pay off in spades next year.

2. There isn’t just one app to fill out
While the Common Application is accepted at over 400 colleges, there are still supplements and supplemental essays. And remember that many colleges, particularly state universities, are not on the Common App. Don’t underestimate the amount of hours that will be required to fill out documents and write all the essays.

3. Polish makes a difference
The biggest complaint admissions officers have about applications is that they often display signs of being rushed. Students make grammar and spelling mistakes, they fail to choose essay topics that showcase their unique attributes, and they don’t demonstrate why they will be an asset to the college. Great essays require at least 5 revisions, and it is important that you showcase all your activities and awards in a strategic manner on your applications. College applications and essays are some of the most important pieces you will ever author—treat them that way!

4. Supplements should not be generic
When a college asks you to write extra essays just for them, they do it for a reason. They are assessing your critical thinking, your compatibility with the school, and your interest level. Too many admissions officers at Boston University cringe each year when they receive an essay that begins with “The reason I want to go to Boston College is…..”. Writing a supplemental essay is like answering the question “Why did you ask me to the prom?” No one wants to hear that it’s because you have blonde hair, are nice, and were available. You should have very specific points in your supplemental essays that reflect the individuality of that school, why you are a good match, and show that you have done your homework.

Written by Cristiana Quinn
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Do We Need to Ditch High-Stakes Testing to Compete with China?

At a time when international test results—like last year's PISA data—seem to indicate that American students are falling behind their Chinese counterparts, we're feeling the pressure to adopt a stereotypically Chinese method of educating kids: lots of rote memorization of facts and hardcore standardized testing. But in a recent interview with Education News, Minxuan Zhang, the Director-General of the Center for International Education Studies, Ministry of Education, China, and National Project Manager of PISA, says that the Chinese vision of education no longer includes those kinds of rigid practices. Instead, China's moving away from rote learning.

 Zhang acknowledges that there's a long history of high-stakes exams in China's education system. "Old China" had a tradition of selecting the best students depending on test results, and 5,000 years of culture isn't exactly going to disappear overnight. But she calls testing "an oversimplified way to check educational results" and she doesn't believe emphasizing them improves education because tests come at the end of the school experience. She says,
"If we want to build a good system, we cannot only rely on testing at the end of learning. Testing implies that the student has finished the educational system. The most important thing is not just to see the testing results, but to pay close attention to the educational process. The process of education is much more important than the testing."
That's remarkably different from the direction the United States is heading. We're focused on using test results to evaluate students, schools, and teachers alike. And, to do better on tests, we've spent the time since No Child Left Behind was enacted narrowing our educational focus to concentrate on reading and math. But, says Zhang, that's the opposite of China's current thinking since
"Education is not just about knowledge. It is also the process of socialization of the individual. There are other important elements such as social responsibility, personal potential in arts and the fine arts, how a student handles himself in relationships with other people, how students handle their work. Those kinds of skills and capacities are very important, sometimes even more important than subject testing."
Interestingly, Zhang also shared that Chinese education officials are thinking about how they can "lessen the learning burden" on students. In order to counter the emotional stress students feel, they're trying to get schools to send the message that high school shouldn't be the most important time in a student's life. Of course, this doesn't mean that grades aren't important, but instead of burning students out in a high-stakes pressure cooker environment, China's looking for ways to "keep student's interest in learning" throughout their lifetimes.

We want to be economically competitive with the Chinese, but while they're actually pursuing new innovations in education, why are we moving toward the "Old China" methods they're discarding?

Written by Liz Dwyer for Good Education
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

10 Most Historic College Campuses in the World

Although colleges and universities more than understandably evolved over the centuries, all of them owe a debt of gratitude to the medieval institutions who started it all. Since 1088, the world of higher education has expanded magnanimously to all corners of the globe, encompassing a far more diverse range of programs, faculty, staff and students. The following have paid witness to this drastic change more than any others, laying the rocksteady foundation for today's institutions. But even beyond that, they have all played an active role in shaping world history itself, regardless of their contributions' sizes.

  1. University of Bologna: This lauded institution has been in continuous operation since 1088, give or take a few years. For the longest time, they only offered doctoral degrees, though in recent times they expanded their offerings. Today, around 100,000 students spread across 23 different faculties at 8 different branches and schools — including an international location in Buenos Aires. Considering its Catholic roots, it probably comes as little surprise that University of Bologna receives accolades for its civil and canon law programs. Throughout its incredible history, the school has graduated such diverse cultural luminaries as Dante Alighieri, Nicolaus Copernicus, Albrecht D–rer and Umberto Eco.
  2. University of Oxford: As with many medieval universities, the exact date of founding remains largely unknown, though it's well known that teaching was going on in 1096. Although the oldest English-speaking school in the world (pictured), much of University of Oxford's wealthy intellectual legacy stems from massive influxes of Continental students and ideologies. Catholic orders, Renaissance beliefs and figures and scholars fleeing Nazism and Communism have all, at one time or another, flocked to this academic safe haven and eventually left their permanent mark. The year 1878 saw the landmark addition of the first women's college, with a second following a year later — and three more came shortly thereafter. Even today, it remains one of the world's most eclectic, prestigious and influential universities thanks to this diverse heritage.
  3. University of Salamanca: Spain's oldest university started offering classes around 1130, but never received a papal charter until 1218 and a royal charter from King Alfonso X until 1254. By 1255, it was able to refer to itself as a university thanks to the confirmation of Pope Alexander IV. Because of its age, this institution participated in its fair share of notable historical events, both amazing and absolutely terrible. For one, many of its graduates and faculty assisted the government in its unjust expulsion and torturing of innocent Jews. Geographers at the University of Salamanca also played an integral role in assisting Christoffa Corombo on his historic voyage attempting to discover a quicker trade route towards the West Indies. After his accidental landing in the Americas, the very same school that backed his journey would go on to debate the ethical and economic impact of interacting with its indigenous peoples.
  4. University of Modena: University of Modena actually spreads itself across the eponymous city as well as Reggio Emilia, with eight faculties comprising the former and four in the latter. The original campus was founded in 1175 by former University of Bologna educator Pillio of Medicina, but its original medieval structure fizzled out entirely by 1338. At that point, it ceased offering degrees and focused more on holding classes until funding forced the 1590 suspension. However, it revived itself in Modena around 1680 and eventually picked up its charter five years later. Today, both campuses host a total of around 20,000 students. Anyone visiting Modena needs to head over to the school and explore the Orto Botanico dell'Universit– di Modena e Reggio Emilia. This free botanical garden began as a small plot for medicinal plants, grew into an herbarium and subsequently expanded to its lush form locals and tourists currently enjoy.
  5. University of Vicenza: Many academics, unfortunately, consider the University of Vicenza one of the least significant surviving medieval schools. In spite of this mindset, however, it still deserves recognition for its age and endurance. It was founded in 1204 and received recognition as a stadium generale at some point in the 13th Century.
  6. University of Cambridge: The second-oldest stadium generale in the English-speaking world sprouted thanks to the first. Because of myriad disputes with faculty and townspeople alike, a small throng of Oxford intellectuals went on to found the competing university in 1209. Today, it is considered amongst the best institutes of higher learning on the planet, but it certainly took an interesting historical path to get here. On the orders of King Henry XIII, Cambridge disbanded its canon law program and dissolved any and all associations with Catholicism. As a result, classes shifted towards math, science, the classics and Bible — offerings which eventually inspired some of the most influential politicians, scientists, mathematicians, writers and thinkers of all time. Without Cambridge, there would be no laws of motion, atom splitting, unified electromagnetism, theory of evolution and natural selection, Turing machines or quantum mechanics. Nor would the electron, hydrogen or structure of DNA been discovered. Among a staggering heap of other accomplishments, of course.
  7. University of Padua: A 1222 split from the University of Bologna resulted in the creation of University of Padua, whose new students and faculty desired more flexibility and freedom. At first, it only focused on providing degrees in law and theology, though it expanded its offerings to include astronomy, rhetoric, medicine, dialectic, philosophy, rhetoric, grammar and philosophy by 1399. During and shortly after the Renaissance, University of Padua enjoyed recognition as one of the world's intellectual and research powerhouses, likely due to its closer affiliation with the Venetian government than the Catholic Church. Even now, the 65,000-student institution is oftentimes considered amongst the greatest institutes of higher learning in Italy.
  8. University of Naples Federico II: Unlike the other historical universities listed here, this one never affiliated itself with any religious institution. Rather, it received its initial patronage from Emperor Frederico II in 1224, making it the oldest state school in the world. Curiously enough, however, its most famous alum made a name for himself as one of the foremost Catholic theologians. St. Thomas Aquinas likely formed many of his influential religious theories based on his exposure to classical philosophy, letters and political science at University of Naples Federico II.
  9. University of Siena: Established in 1240, University of Siena funded itself on taxes levied upon individuals and families renting living quarters to citizens. By 1252, Pope Innocent IV was declaring that teachers and students alike would be exempt from taxes, forced labor, night watchman duty and military service — particularly those involved with Latin, medicine and the natural sciences. Following a giant influx of University of Bologna faculty and students angered with a young man's death sentence, the institution in Siena swelled significantly, even enjoying stadium generale status. While it may not have played a huge role in Italian history, the school did witness major power switches in the region and hosted many extremely vocal demonstrations against Risorgimento.
  10. University of Coimbra: Portugal's oldest university is a public school founded in 1290 following the approval of King Dinis. It actually started out in Lisbon before the 1308 move to Coimbra — a result of tensions with Pope Nicholas IV, the citizenry and the students. The core curriculum originally offered classes in the arts, canon law, law and medicine, which remained intact during the transition. In 1338, King Alfonso IV brought the school back to Lisbon, where it stayed until 1537 when King Jo–o III sent it to Coimbra permanently.

From OnlineCollege.org
Posted by Lindy Kahn, M.A., CEP for Kahn Educational Group, LLC


I am an educational consultant in private practice advising families on day/boarding schools, college admissions, schools for teens and young adults who have emotional/behavioral problems, learning issues, neurological and psychiatric problems.

This blog is dedicated to the wonderful students and families who come to me for advice on school placement. I will try to post information that is related to Texas and national college admissions, as well as information related to topics of interest in the field of education. We will address a variety of issues and trends in college admissions, boarding schools or programs who serve students with special needs.

We hope to provide you with answers to frequently asked questions and current trends in the industry. For more information on the Kahn Educational Group, LLC, please visit my website. Thank you for your interest. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

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