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Breaking Bad Habits: The Right ACT Attitude

Hawk Educational Solutions, ACT, college, tutoring, college counseling, college admissions, test prep, SAT

Developing Bad Habits

As students gain academic experience, they cannot help but develop coping mechanisms or “bad habits,” which they wholly believe will enable their survival under the competitive pressure of college admissions. These behavioral patterns often serve them well…until they don’t.

For better or worse, we mimic the behavior of others, mistakenly accept bad advice as truth and obstinately cling to our ways and means of achievement even if these methods imperil our future goals. Consequently, “undoing” erroneous habits and rigid ways of thinking is essential for students to make genuine progress toward college acceptance.

It only stands to reason then that students, parents and educators alike must adopt a more adaptable and flexible attitude when approaching college entrance to ensure eventual student success.

Without Pretense or Euphemism, the ACT is a Beast of a Test

  • Many tout it as “knowledge based,” when in fact the ACT requires nuanced reasoning, particularly in the Reading and English sections.
  • Time is of the essence; in other words, you rarely have enough of it. In fact, students have only 35 minutes to complete 40 questions in both the Reading and Science sections, which boils down to 48 seconds per question! This barely accounts for time to read and truly comprehend the text.
  • Lastly, the ACT is deceiving; in other words, it is not an honest, straightforward exam. Specifically, questions supply answer choices that contain misleading details from the passage that may be true in one context, but don’t actually answer the question at hand.
  • Eliminate wrong answers before taking a stab at choosing the correct one.

Given Its Rigorous Timing and Trickery, Might the ACT Be One of Many “Bad Habits?”

  • There is an abundance of costly SAT/ACT diagnostic tests, abbreviated exams that tout accurate predictions of which one is the more appropriate. 
  • The long and short of these magical shortcuts; they are not magic and rarely reveal an accurate picture.
  • Rather, students can print a free online ACT and SAT, and complete each full length exam on their own or with a parent. Don’t forget to set the stop watch- timing is everything!

Be Willing to Confront and Accept the Frustrating Facts: The ACT is Not Your Friend

  • Some college counselors and for-profit testing companies are often the perpetrators of bad advice that steer impressionable teens in the wrong direction.
  • At ages as young as fourteen, some students are convinced that there’s only one way to succeed even when their testing data suggests alternative methods are necessary.
  • For example, a young scholar may believe the ACT is the only route to college admittance even when he’s scoring a 16 out of 36with guided instruction– which is an unacceptable score for any undergraduate institution.
  • In actuality, the new “overhauled” SAT is usually the better test generally for one reason: more time per question.
  • It’s imperative to switch gears if the ACT isn’t working and try something different!

Success Involves Many Avenues; When One Dead Ends, Follow Another

  • Take both the SAT and ACT to start.
  • Prep for the test with the higher score- See the Study Point Score Conversion Chart here
  • If you’re scoring comparably or at roughly the same level on both, analyze which areas you’re scoring better or worse in; if the science section of the ACT is dragging you down, the ACT may not be your test.
  • If you are a slower reader, the ACT is definitely not your test!
  • If you’re scoring poorly on both, even with test prep, consider other options:
  1. Retake certain high school courses that you didn’t pass the first time around to fortify your basic English and math skills.
  2. Consider community college; if you perform well in your classes, you can save a boatload of cash and skip both ACT and SAT to transfer to a four-year.
  3. Don’t get stuck! Attempting the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is one definition of insanity! When it’s time, move on.

To achieve college acceptance, you must first accept yourself. Unless you’re a gifted test-taker to begin with, the ACT will assuredly be a brutal, if not impossible journey.

If the ACT isn’t working, there are better choices that will reveal themselves to you if you’re mind is open and you adapt your behavior. Break some “bad habits;” turn left instead of right this time- try the SAT or junior college- or reverse course altogether and shore up basic skills before moving forward.

You will arrive at the gates of the university you were meant to attend when you finally step foot on the right path!

Online Education or Not to Online Education

online learning, university, traditional classroom, in person learning, special needs, education, higher education

Online Education’s Perks 

Is online education an effective learning tool or a duplicitous marketing scam for sub par college courses? Dodging an overwhelming number of conflicting studies, interpretations and opinions, many parents and students feel that it’s nearly impossible to be “on the ball” and make heads or tails of the truth. Therefore, it’s essential to evaluate the two sides of this proverbial online educational coin: the virtues of online education versus its challenges.

On the one hand, many studies suggest that online college courses cost less and provide equal opportunity for less mobile students who are often inundated with work woes and other time constraints. According to Open Education’s “10 Advantages to Taking Online Courses,” the world of online ed is replete with:

  • A broader range of course variety and selection
  • Lower costs for students and the institution
  • Less (if any) commute time
  • Convenience for working students with computer access
  • Course flexibility and “work at your own pace” options

Similarly, Wired Magazine’s Op Ed, “Why Online Learning Is More Valuable Than Traditional College,” asserts that since the dawn of video conferencing, through Skype, Wimba or Google Hangouts, online education possesses almost everything a traditional tutoring or teaching environment includes, but every task can be accomplished without wasted resources and time on traveling, parking, fuel,books, etc. Online visual learning not only provides accountability for both teacher and student, but many contend that the optics also support student-teacher rapport.

Furthermore, The Best Colleges’ “2017 Online Education Trends Report” suggests that online classes may be best suited for “Industry Switchers” or mature adults seeking a career change and “Career Accelerators,” older industry professionals who enroll in additional courses to earn a credits, certificates and/or degrees that yield higher salaries

Online Education’s Challenges

Despite the benefits for working adults, in person or face-to-face education may be the superior option.

For one, a recent 2017 study explored in Inside Higher Ed’s “Online Education Costs More, Not Less,” contends online education is not necessarily more affordable.

21 components of an online course, such as faculty development, instructional   design and student assessment, and how the cost of those components compares to a similar face-to-face course. The respondents — administrators in charge of distance education at 197 colleges — said nine of the components cost more in an online course than in a face-to-face course, while 12 cost about the same.

In other words, students will pay a higher tuition in order to offset the more expensive aspects of online learning even though students may save on time and travel.

Furthermore, Issues in Science and Technology’s article, “The Online Challenge to Higher Education,” highlights the multitude of online academia’s barriers, such as the:

  • predatory nature of for-profit online universities that charge exorbitant fees for a mediocre curriculum
  • lag in updating educational technology and analyzing its trends
  • inability to accommodate the necessary discourse in humanities disciplines
  • absence of “developing expertise through oral expression and presentations”
  • abandonment of lab sciences
  • lack of community to facilitate research and peer learning

Online learning may be convenient for financially astute working adults pursuing vocational training or extension courses, but may not suit the novice university student. Issues in Science and Technology clearly indicates, “Although computer simulations and modeling can capture elements of how to perform research, in many fields the student ultimately needs to be at a lab bench or in the field, interacting with a research team for project-based learning.”

The deficits of online learning for college students with ADHD, Executive Functioning Disorder and other special needs are more pronounced than its advantages in Understood’s study, “Online Colleges: Pros and Cons for Students with Learning and Attention Issues.” For instance, while students are permitted to arrange their own class schedule for online institutions, what if they are not able to manage their time, prioritize and make critical scheduling decisions? The predetermined schedule of in person or traditional classroom education is preferable.

Additional concerns for university students who need more support include a lack of:

  • in person guidance and connection to professors and peers
  • discovery of new interests and skills through social interactions
  • opportunity to make professional connections and build new friendships
  • support services such as individual tutoring
  • social and emotional learning among a group

In sum, online courses are tailored toward motivated and knowledgeable adults who are computer adept and experienced. Online education can bridge a vocational or financial gap for mature learners who are already professionally connected, intrinsically driven and crunched for time.

However, for the beginning university scholar or one who is in need of structure and community, the university classroom may be the more apt environment. Simply put, the convenience of online learning is no substitute for the dynamism of a classroom in which a plurality of ideas, human interaction and campus support coexist for the betterment of every participant.

What about Summer? 5 Benefits of the New Summer SAT

Summer SAT, SAT prep, college readiness, college planning, tutoring, teaching, higher education

What about Summer?

Thinking about a blissful summer sojourn, not the summer SAT? Perhaps a six week program with Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the Young Writer’s Camp at UCSD, playing some Park and Rec club soccer or tennis, jet setting around the globe, or just gaming with friends next door?

Perhaps, we should reconsider the summer plan, or at the very least, make some room in the schedule; the College Board is finally offering the golden ticket- an opportunity to tackle the SAT over the summer for the first time!

First, let’s put it on the calendar, August 26th, 2017! More importantly, let’s list why summer preparation is better than the alternative, cramming it into an already inundated and stressful school year.

5 Benefits of the Summer SAT and Test Prep

  1. Minimize Test Prep’s Competition, with..
  • Sports and athletics
  • AP courses and exams
  • Rigorous academics
  • Clubs and extracurricular activities
  1. Increase Preparation, Decrease Stress
  • Schedule routine practice 3-4 times per week
  • Meet with a qualified Test Prep instructor as needed
  • Simulate the exam and take full practice tests
  • Take some time out- meditate, hike or nap. It is summer after all!
  1. Focus on College Preparation as a Whole
  • Target your “match” and “reach” college prospects
  • Align your target exam score with your target universities
  • Think scholarships: Higher SAT scores and GPA’s = more funding!
  • Create or research college planning checklists, which include testing
  1. Use the SAT Essay as a College Writing Resource, because it requires
  • reading comprehension and analysis
  • citing evidence and providing relevant commentary
  • effective grammar usage and word choice
  • classic essay organization and structure
  • quality revision and editing
  1. Time- There’s so much more of it!
  • Drag your books to the beach or pack em’ in your suitcase
  • Haul them out on work breaks or while riding the bus
  • If you have no other homework, summer is the time to focus!

Spare just some of that precious summer time; chances are, it’ll be harder to master the SAT during the school year with one more high stakes ball to juggle, especially as an 11th grader. Avoid amplifying the school year’s nail biting pressure by attempting a summer test prep program. Whether it’s self-study, light weight tutoring or a comprehensive curriculum, you’ll likely be better off for it!

College Planning 2017; It Just Got Real

University, College Planning, academics, College Campus, College Planning,

The College Planning Saga

How do we know the college planning season is upon us? When the phone starts ringing off the hook! Concerned parents on the other end are desperately seeking a strategy, any strategic means by which to navigate the university application maelstrom.

“My son’s a junior. He’s a 4.2 GPA student, and such a good kid, but he struggled to perform on the SAT. He finally did alright, but he’s not sure what he wants to study or what colleges will take him. I just don’t know, but I know he doesn’t want someone making his decisions for him. What should I do?” As college planning season quickly ensnares panicked parents, high school juniors and seniors struggle to access the college admissions guidance they need.

Even in affluent public school districts, many high school administrators hope students will just “figure it out” on their own. Unfortunately, lack of funding is the frequent culprit. As a result, high school college counselors across the US are overburdened with an average of 436 students per individual counselor according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and a 2013-2014 U.S. Department of Education survey, which is nearly double the recommended 250 students per one counselor ratio. Most public high school counselors do their best to meet with students once or twice in a semester, leaving parents who haven’t attended university in decades terrified for their students who are unprepared to dodge the treacherous landmines of college admissions.

Daunting issues include soaring tuition and living expenses, selecting the right school and major of study, completing scholarship and FASFA applications, and the lengthy college essay process. Despite its difficulties, college acceptance within reach!

The Right College Planning

Not every student requires a personal college counselor. As long as your student possess a combination of the following characteristics and resources, enlisting additional help may not be necessary.

The Checklist

Your student:

___ Is intrinsically motivated

___ Has access to consistent, quality college counseling at school

___ Has an available parent, guardian or caretaker who is willing and able to research current college planning metrics

___ Has a good working rapport with his or her parent or primary caretaker

Some students will need personal college guidance. If your student requires or lacks the following, hiring a reputable and qualified college planner who is an experienced educator is a plus. (In many cases, credentialed teachers make the best college planners; they are not only professionally trained, but they also interact with high school students far more than administrators and keep up to date on college requirements and processes.)

The Checklist

Your student:

___ Requires hands on assistance and step by step guidance

___ Has limited college counseling opportunities at school

___ Does not have access to sufficient college planning resources at home

___ Experiences difficulty communicating or working with parents to achieve goals

Although many teens continue to respond to their parents advice and guidance, others are often at odds with their caretakers in the waning days of their high school careers; a combination of hormones and the youthful yearning to be free from parental restrictions can strain the college scouting partnership. According to the Kid’s Health’s article, “Butting Heads,” “The primary goal of the teen years is to achieve independence. To do this, teens must start pulling away from their parents — especially the parent whom they’re the closest to.” Without an interdependent and respectful relationship between parent and teen, such a duo is likely to accomplish little progress, which is not an option when its crunch time; deadlines are non-negotiable and quality applications must meet if not exceed standards for the competitive edge.

Effective parental college guidance is a viable option if a parent can navigate the current college application maze, doesn’t work grueling hours outside of the home, and possesses a working rapport with his or her young scholar. Otherwise, there are other viable options; seeking the support of a professional educator and college planner to lighten the load and secure success is just one!

In It to Win It: Long-term Test Prep

test prep, tutoring, college, higher education, college admissionsClearly, parents want the best for their children. Unfortunately, many hope for “quick fixes” and short term solutions to catapult their student into test taking stardom. As the college admission season quickly closes in on our high school juniors, many parents still wait to the last minute to plan for crucial college entrance exams. According to Top Universities, “While some students do thrive on last-minute ‘cramming,’ its widely accepted for most of us, this not the best way to approach an exam.” As a test prep provider, I frequently receive requests from parents whose students “just need to score high enough for an athletics scholarship” or reach eligibility for their “dream” engineering college like Harvey Mudd; “Can you get my kid to a perfect score over a weekend? How about in a month?” Unfortunately, unless your student is already nearing his or her ideal score, the answer is a blunt “no.” The reality is that genuine progress requires patience, time and hard work.

In most cases, students are not natural born standardized test takers. In fact, many who need additional help require prolonged investment in personalized instruction, resources, and practice. The SAT and ACT, for instance, are not straightforward exams; they are designed to trick, fool and “weed out” university hopefuls from the competitive pool of potential applicants. College entrance exams are brutal, cruel, and purposefully deceitful, so if students are not already academically strong, they will not meet the necessary score unless they have access to substantial test preparation.

Six Successful Test Prep Tips

1.Avoid large classes through major test prep companies and universities. These are expensive and ineffective, particularly since they only offer  “cookie cutter,” “one size fits all” approaches. The vast majority of attendees walk away with more questions and fewer answers.

2. Go with one-on-one instruction. Find your local highly rated entrepreneurial instructor; they generally offer better service and results at a lower cost. Google, Thumbtack and Yelp are all good places to start!

3. Invest in two to six months of exam preparation in advance of the target test. Meet with an experienced instructor or tutor, ideally a credentialed teacher who can actually teach, once or twice per week for one to two hours. Lessons should be consistent or students won’t retain new content and strategy.

4. Prioritize exam preparation. Its high stakes, so lets act like it. Too often, other interests get in the way. Sports, homework, part-time jobs or even travel often supersede test prep. If these don’t allow for regular practice and meetings with your instructor, something has to change or the score won’t!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice. In addition to instruction, students must take the initiative. Ideally, practice should happen daily, but three times a week is sufficient in most cases. Check out Kaplan’s 8 Practice Tests for the SAT 2017: 1,200+ SAT Practice Questions for independent practice

6. Kindly, but firmly hold your students accountable. “No pain, no gain!” Having worked with teens for over 18 years, excuses arise. Although some are legitimate of course, others are deployed to merely “get out” of doing the work, which is imperative for improvement!

For most students, getting results is far from easy. Dedication on the part of students, parents and teachers must be present to ensure exam day success.

 Stay tuned for the next installment of free college admissions tips!

An Educator’s Perspective on Discrimination and Bullying

An Interview on Discrimination and Bullyingbullying, discrimination, education, teacher, parents

LOTR (Love on the Regular): We know that discrimination, bias and bullying is on the rise in school-age children, especially with increasing use of social media and the internet. Recent reports show that in 2016 as many as 4400 school aged children committed suicide, many as a direct result of bullying. This is a national crisis. What are some of the effective strategies you have seen employed in schools to reverse this trend?

Juliet: Well for one, ignoring an act of bullying is never acceptable. Time and time again I’ve witnessed teachers “ignore” the behavior, whether it’s name calling, pushing and shoving or backpack stealing. Some adhere to this belief because they believe that failing to acknowledge cruelty will somehow discredit it. This is false; by ignoring, we permit, and permissive educators and parents mistakenly create the proverbial “monster.” Cessation of the behavior must happen immediately and directly, whether in the classroom, on the playground or in the home. As an educator, I respond by immediately walking over to the student performing the bullying and calmly ask for his or her help with anything I can think of: passing out or collecting papers, writing homework on the board, moving books, etc., in order to diffuse the situation. I quickly check in with the harassed student quietly to avoid further humiliation, restate directions to the class as a whole to maintain on-task behavior, and then I briefly chat with my new helper, “So what’s going on? How are you feeling today? Everything alright?” Shockingly, simply asking a student how he is enables him” to drop his guard” and feel compassion from a caring and concerned adult, which he likely doesn’t receive often. I then clearly state that we must discuss “the problem” and we  “make an appointment” to continue the conversation at the appointed time. The discussion usually includes me asking a series of questions, such as “what happened,” “what if it had been you,” “did I miss something,” “what can we do next time.” and so on. Eventually, we discuss solutions and alternatives. With most students, this strategy is effective, but with others, parents and other school officials need to craft and implement a behavioral support plant or BSP to facilitate desired interactions and behaviors. Overall, I’ve learned over the years that those who bully are usually in tremendous pain; they have suffered bullying, abuse or negligence in one or many forms, generally from primary care givers. As an educator, if I can build rapport with my “troubled” students, I can demonstrate, thereby teaching them, how to give and receive the compassion they so desperately seek.

LOTR: What is your advice to parents if they suspect their child is being discriminated or bullied?

Juliet: Parents should approach their children delicately, but directly, perhaps by asking how things are going in school in general to start, and as the conversation develops, hone in on specifics. Of course, listening well and paying attention to their child’s body language is always advisable; a defensive or frightened posture, hunched shoulders and failure to make eye contact may indicate much more than words. Whether or not enough information is gathered in this context, contact the appropriate school officials and discuss your suspicions and the school’s policy. If necessary, teachers will assist with feedback, observations and any documentation of the suspected incidents. In many cases, bullying is undetected, and as previously stated, ignored. Parents should make school officials aware and encourage paying closer attention to their student and any interactions with the potential bully. A one time offense may be handled between teacher ad student. However, if systematic bullying persists, teachers should immediately intervene, carefully document the event in an incident report or referral, and notify the right school officials who should then notify parents to conduct a Behavior Support Plan meeting. Of course, continuing to show much needed “TLC” to the affected child is a must during the process. In short, get involved and be proactive. Further, rather than wait for the first instance of bullying, initiate the discussion with school officials prior to the start of school about policies and procedures, and discuss these with your child at home. Hold school personnel accountable with a simple phone call, routine conferences or recommending a Behavioral Support Plan for the student who is engaging in the bullying, and of course, do whatever is necessary and ethical to protect your child from physical harm.

LOTR: What is your advice to parents who suspect that their child is the one doing the discriminating or bullying?

Juliet:  As I mentioned earlier, youth who engage in discrimination and/or bullying have often been bullied, neglected or witnessed this behavior, generally more than once from primary caregivers. Teens who bully often act out of insecurity because parents are less involved in their student’s life, or too permissive in allowing students their too much decision making freedom and not enough corrective feedback about treating others justly and fairly. On the other hand, in extreme, but tragically common circumstances, some parents are excessively punitive if not abusive. In either case, older students are likely to “act out” because they have received or observed similar treatment. Younger students may experience similar adversity, or they may just merely imitate what they’ve seen adults, older peers or classmates and friends do and say. As a solution, parents may want to examine their own behavior around their younger children, and how, as parents, they respond to difficult situations, and their students needs and behavior. Parents may also do well to observe the actions of older siblings or friends that directly impact their child. Cliche as it may sound, toddlers and elementary school children are the most easily influenced; therefore, their primary caretakers, educators and friends should be “good influencers” or positive role models. In sum, parents should take time out every day to speak with their kids, hang out and enjoy everything from the fun family day at the park to handling the mundane humdrum of preparing and cleaning up after meals. As any good teacher, parents should model desired do’s and don’ts, and point out considerate and kind behavior like holding doors for the elderly, throwing trash or recycling into to the correct bins, or simply smiling and greeting acquaintances. Finally, in recognizing that youth who bully are often our most at-risk, in-need children, adults should pay particular attention to the antecedents or “triggers,” as well as their child’s emotional state prior to overly aggressive or cruel behavior toward others. If parents and teachers can know what “sets off” a student who is easily triggered, appropriate preventative measures can be strategically implemented: a front row seat in the classroom or a special classroom role that only that student has “the honor” and responsibility to fulfill. At home, simply redirecting while expressing understanding of an increasingly frustrated or hostile child to choose from two or three options can often defuse or prevent a confrontation, “I know you’re frustrated that Johnny’s reading your book. You can play with Legos, blocks or puzzle pieces while your brother reads your book. Then you can swap.” Finally, checking in as many times a day as is appropriate and letting your child know that you love them, unequivocally and unconditionally, are two of the simplest, and yet, most powerful acts of love that resist bullying I have ever experienced.

LOTR: What can we do as parents to teach young children about acceptance and diversity? And at what age do you feel it is appropriate for parents to start having these types or conversations or employing these tools?

Juliet: All of the above and the younger the better. Obviously, a discussion about kindness and acceptance, and ultimately, appreciation of our differences, with a pre-schooler will be notably different from that of a rebellious teen, but the message is the same; diversity makes us the beautiful cultural mosaic of our colorful democracy, and yet, for all our striking uniqueness of shade and shine, we are all remarkably similar; we are all human beings worthy of the dignity and respect we expect from others. Continuing the daily conversation, visiting diverse libraries like the downtown San Diego branch, attending cultural fairs and festivals such as December Nights, feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen or volunteering at the Salvation Army, and attending a school of students who descend from various ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds are all beneficial as long as attentive and compassionate parents and educators lead the charge!

LOTR: In addition to your many accomplishments, you are a musician and song-writer. The benefits in music education are expansive. Children who listen to and learn music have higher test scores, enhanced language development, Increased IQ and even finer-tuned motor skills. What other benefits have you seen and how would you recommend parents incorporate more music into their child’s lives?  

Juliet: The benefits of music are infinite: the enhancement of creativity, self-expression, positive “venting” or channeling frustrations and the pure expression of joy to name a few. Music and a variety of it is a must- I recommend classical, world music, “censored” or PG hip hop, reggae, oldies, blues, jazz, gospel, Motown, singer-songwriter and folk, some choice rock and roll, and electronic down-tempo, and of course, joyful joyful House music! Listening and playing music for the purposes of creation, enjoyment, dance, concentration, contemplation or just “feeling” feelings provides a vital wellspring of nutrients for the soul, for both our children and ourselves. Exploring diversity in music also lends itself to the discovery and appreciation of its diverse creators’ backgrounds, personal experiences, talents and passions. Music provides an invaluable teaching tool that validates and showcases our many unique backgrounds and yet highlights our essential “sameness;” we are all human beings who appreciate beauty, feel emotions, desire to be heard and seek love and acceptance. Through an eclectic selection of music, diversity remains relevant, teachable and profound. Parents should play music and play it often, discuss it, dance to it with their kids, or simply relax and enjoy.

LOTR: Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom with us today. We sincerely appreciate your time.

Love on the Regular is a San Diego blog created to inspire parents who have a desire to raise their children to grow up to be good humans. “We explore the virtues of Empathy, Compassion, Kindness, Bravery, Courage and Love.” Please visit Love on the Regular at http://loveontheregular.com/ for more about the organization and its mission.

3 Reasons: Why Rapid Educational Changes Are Unlikely

Educational, K-12, Betsy DeVos, Every Student Succeeds Act, Common Core, SAT, Tutoring, Test Prep, College AdmissionsWhile many Americans vocalize optimism for the advancement of voucher programs and Charter Schools under the potential Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, or express fear of her lack of educational experience and diminished advocacy of public schools, the ultimate authority of public education will continue to reside with local control agencies and school districts themselves. According to FindLaw, “The city or district level school board, or “Local Education Agencies” (LEA), usually has the greatest authority to create, implement, and enforce educational policy.” Additionally, the 2015 bipartisan supported bill, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ensures “a significant transfer of power over education policy away from the federal government to states and school districts” according to US News’ analysis, “Education Shifts to the States.”

So whether parents are elated with or dismayed by DeVos’ cabinet candidacy, expectations that the nation will experience a sudden massive overhaul in K-12 education are unlikely.

Here’s why:

  1. Teacher’s Unions: Love em’ or hate em’, they exist throughout the nation, particularly in California, and they are mighty. According journalist Mario Koran’s November 2016 article, “Teachers’ Unions Maintain Grip on County, San Diego Unified School Boards” in the independent publication Voice of San Diego, “Despite unprecedented spending from a group backing charters schools, the two major education boards in San Diego County will remain filled overwhelmingly with union-backed politicians.”
  1. Common Core: While the implementation of Common Core standards has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on older students, the standards themselves and corresponding teaching methods are arguably preferable to the “teaching to the test” motto of the former No Child Left Behind policy, a test that inadequately prepared students for university entrance and attrition. Additionally, Common Core skills have already been readily adopted by the nation’s top college entrance testing service, the College Board’s SAT as well as strongly supported by universities as many colleges have voiced concern about the ill-preparedness of many freshmen college applicants.
  1. Universities: “Colleges report receiving record numbers of applications that push up their selectivity numbers and their rankings on lists of top colleges — and increase the anxiety for students.” Competition is fierce, and while many Charter Schools and Private Schools are successful in helping students achieve university success, so are many public schools. For example, the top 10 ranking high schools in California are a mixture of public district and charter schools according to US News; no private schools make the cut. In fact, San Diego’s own Canyon Crest Academy, a public district school, ranks at an outstanding number five. Additionally, public schools offer more options in terms of athletics, the arts, electives and specialized programs than do Charter and Private Schools. On the other hand, charters boast of higher test scores and privates maintain smaller student populations, and in certain, but increasingly rare circumstances, smaller class sizes.

Most importantly, regardless of school type, top-tier colleges will select undergraduate candidates from more competitive, higher ranking high schools, be they public, charter or private. Perhaps there are many issues of concern in 2017, but an immediate educational upheaval may not be one of them. The debate about which schools will receive greater educational funding or the effectiveness of a voucher system will rage on, and may or may not play out depending upon state and local education agency decisions. 

One objective is certain- providing the most comprehensive, college and career readiness education possible for the greatest number of students as well as protecting our effective teachers who work strenuously long hours in the service of their students are tantamount.

DeVos or no DeVos, educators, schools, districts, parents and students can band together to make the best choices for themselves at the local level, at least for now.

Insight into the 2016 UC Personal Insight Questions

UC Berkeley, University of California, Personal Insight QuestionsPersonal Insight Questions

Many of my recent college admissions seniors have shuddered at the new University of California (UC) Application Personal Insight Questions. “Really, another change?” Granted, over the past three years, public high school students have been riddled with change: Common Core, the major reconstruction of the new 2016 SAT, and now university applications.

Although these changes may ultimately better prepare students for university and professional opportunities, this rapid educational evolution has overwhelmed many of our older, college-bound students. Specific to the UC application, rather than constructing a personal statement in response to two questions totaling no more than 1,000 words, students are now tasked with selecting and addressing four of eight questions, each requiring a maximum of 350 word response. As a consequence, many students will feel compelled to write 1400 words, adding to their already “overworked” academic life.

I’ve heard my students groans and grievances countless times, “But my English teacher says he’s a UC reader and he ‘hates’ it when students do this or that and everything else I do.” Often times, one student’s account has dramatically disputed another’s. The truth is, it doesn’t matter what just one English teacher prefers.

Realistically, grading or calibrating the open-ended Personal Insight Questions and responses (not “essays” according to the UC Admissions Office) is subjective to some extent; however, every reader, in some cases, multiple readers, must assess applications according to concrete UC Admissions Requirements. Additionally, these responses are not deconstructed separately, but considered as part of the whole application.

So what do these new questions actually mean for UC candidates? Did everything change? Are the expectations and standards higher?

Some Insight

Take a deep, meditative breathe; even though appearances have been altered, much remains the same. Let’s have a look at the first “Freshmen Personal Insight Question.”

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.  

I. This 2016 insight question does not significantly differ from the 2015 UC application’s second personal statement prompt:

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

Since “leadership” is an accomplishment, the same experience would satisfy both questions. In fact all of the “new” eight Personal Insight Questions are not really new, but simply variations of the 2015 prompts.

II. Students should continue to reference previously released UC personal statements, such as earlier UC Berkeley Admissions Essays, as models of content until updated examples are officially released.

It’s better to have something to see and visualize than nothing at all. While the UC provided directions are helpful, models or outlines are instrumental. Additionally, a relevant, on-topic combination of “showing” (description, dialogue, quotes, etc), telling (directly stated realizations or statements of purpose) and detail will keep readers awake and interested.

III. There are resources!

While we’ll never really know exactly what the UC readers expect until successful examples are released, the UC Admissions Office has issued some student friendly tools and tips, such as “Personal Insight Questions: Guide for Freshmen Applicants.” This particular worksheet provides organized brainstorming questions for applicants to carefully and truthfully work through in order to begin composing responses.

IV. Responses to the Insight Questions are not evaluated “in a vacuum” or in isolation from the rest of the application.

According to the UC Counselor Conference September 2016’s, “The New Personal Insight Questions,” in the “How can you help your students?” section, the readers will be looking for content that reinforces what the students has already included in his or her application, not grammar and style.

On the other hand, frustrating your reader with poor grammar usage and lulling him or her to sleep is ill-advised. Responses should still be well written and engaging regardless of the extent to which UC counselors currently seem to downplay quality writing and conventions. A freshmen UC applicant is just one of many qualified interviewees who are all vigorously competing for a limited number of prestigious positions. As a result, only 15-25% will survive selection and receive the much coveted spring acceptance letter. So, with subtlety and skill, “dress to impress” and respond well in every part of the application, including on the Personal Insight Questions.

V. The importance of the UC application insight responses (or essays) may always remain a mystery- UC’s are notoriously “numbers first” in their admissions process.

An exceptional combination of a weighted GPA of a 4.0+ and standardized tests scores, an SAT score of 1400+ or ACT 30+, remain the priority of a candidate’s acceptance success.

Without the numbers, the responses aren’t worth the internet connection needed to submit them.

Get those numbers up, particularly during 10th and 11th grade, and don’t fret about the Personal Insight Questions as “life or death;” students will have many opportunities to refine, revise and edit applications and essays with the help of an experienced educator or privy parent, but once grades are in and test scores submitted, the data is inscribed in stone.

The significance of a striking GPA and college entrance exam score isn’t likely to change any time soon, so keep your eye on the prize of UC Admission Requirements in general, and the answers to the Personal Insight Questions will arrive naturally!

College Admissions- Aiming for the Big Leagues

school, college preparation, test prep, academics, university, hawk educational solutions, tutor“I’m so sorry, but it’s too late. She simply doesn’t have the numbers.” The vacant stares and suppressed tears are almost as devastating for me as a college counselor and educator as the genuine despair of the family that arrives on my doorstep during their teen’s senior year. Sadly, by this point in their student’s academic journey, little can be done to realize the “dream school,” particularly if their student applies to the Ivy Leagues and the UC Schools.

For example, upon closer analysis of Stanford University, the 2016 admit rate is a whopping 4.8%. Out of 43,997 applicants, 2,114 were accepted. The vast majority of those admitted have a GPA that hugged a 5.0, a 1550+ SAT score or a 34+ ACT, and a marathon-long resume of internships and extracurricular involvements, not to mention “connections” to some key personnel.

On the other hand, University of California institutions may appear to be more forgiving, but the rate of competition is accelerating, and rapidly. While UCLA admitted roughly 26% of its 2016 Fall applicants, let’s consider the “shark tank” of your student’s prospective rivals. The UCLA Freshman Profile clearly indicates that 87% of all admits earned a 4.0+, and the sky’s the limit, keeping in mind that the UC’s solely focus on a combined GPA of the 10th and 11th grades. Course rigor is also incredibly significant; honors and AP classes are a must. “Rack em’ and stack em’!” To boot,  64% of all accepted candidates earned between a 700-800 on the SAT Evidence-Based Reading Section, and completed at least one if not two SAT subject tests that earned a 700 out of 800 or higher.

In summary, crossing the threshold of the nation’s top tier universities immediately out of high school is a numbers game that requires five essentials:

Many families plead, “but what about application essays? Don’t those help?” The long and short- yes, if your student has the numbers. Idiomatically, the essay is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the gravy to your biscuits. The numbers are the bread, the essays the butter; without a hearty foundation rooted in competitive numbers, the butter just doesn’t cut it.

Showing up for assistance without the numbers post 11th grade is akin to popping a tire, driving for 50 wobbly miles, and hoping the tire wall has somehow miraculously remained in tact.

In a nutshell, get a jump on your student’s skill building, academic course selection and college preparation as early as elementary school, and the veritable tire wall, more than likely, may not pop at all.

Stay tuned for my next College Admissions installment, which will focus on alternative colleges and broadening out students’ university prospects!

Vocabulary Proficiency for Younger Learners: Conversation and Engagement

#vocabulary #words #parenting #childdevelopment

“Just read!”

“Memorize 100 words by Friday!”

Even though most high school students miserably stare at one another just thinking about these daunting expectations in addition to every other demand of their academic work week, such dictates often reign supreme as the default vocabulary strategies of many educators and parents. Inundating teens with new rapid-fire academic and complex, content-specific words to cram for a multiple choice test may in fact work for some students in the short term. However, genuine comprehension and long term vocabulary retention will remain unattainable if these are the sole methods of vocabulary instruction. According to, “Students Must Learn More Words, Say Studies,” an article written by Education Week’s Sarah D. Sparks, vocabulary knowledge is haphazardly enforced in classrooms and homes, and therefore, largely ineffective.

That informal style led to major discrepancies in both the number and difficulty of vocabulary words, with some teachers discussing only two words a day and others as many as 20. Moreover, because most words were chosen from the stories, they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time and were rarely words that students would need to understand instructions or academic content in later grades.

In fact, “prior studies have shown that students learn words better when they are grouped with related words.” Furthermore, All About Adolescent Literacy’s article, “Developing ‘Student-owned Vocabulary,” clarifies that students must interact with just one word up to 30 times before it becomes second nature. If language acquisition is such a challenge, what can parents and educators do to teach and reinforce basic, academic and discipline specific language that and professions demand?

Start earlier. Playing the procrastination game until 9th grade or high stakes college admissions testing is a catastrophic oversight. Forge environments rich with nuanced vocabulary as soon as your child can say “Dada.” Susan Canizares’ article, “For the Love of Words” in Parent’s Magazine featured on Scholastic.com observes that language acquisition or vocabulary competency begins when children begin walking. “Between the ages of 18 and 36 months, language growth occurs very quickly: babbling becomes more deliberate in tone, and children literally learn new words every day.” At this tender, but monumental age of developmental growth, children have the capacity to interact with thousands of words through listening, speaking, and creative activity. Reading comprehension and written skills tend to develop in kindergarten to second grade. As a result, parents and preschool educators should purposefully model and reinforce “adult” language through conversation, recreation and work with youngsters. Many effective instructional methods are available to boost your younger student’s vocabulary savvy at home, in a preschool Headstart classroom, or at an outdoor 6th grade camp.

  • Read a classic fairy tale or fable, such as Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
  • Ask your child active listening questions; “Why do you think the tortoise won?”
  • Repeat your child’s answer with correct grammar and academic vocabulary: “So you mean since the hare or rabbit was too proud or arrogant and the tortoise persevered, the rabbit napped while the tortoise finished the race.”
  • Paraphrase the first half of the tale and ask your child to summarize the ending.
  1. Use drawings, pictures or everyday objects as conversation starters to supplement vocabulary knowledge.
  • Board games like Monopoly Junior Board Game are wonderful ways to bond with your child and simultaneously combine conversation, visual illustrations and tangible symbols as students move their pieces around the board.
  • Household items, landscapes and infrastructure, walks in the park, a day at the beach, running errands and a number of other places and activities can be leveraged to support everyday and academic language acquisition.
  • Parents model- “Wow, those colorful chrysanthemums or flowers are really eye-catching!”
  • Ask questions- “What’s your favorite chrysanthemum? Why?”
  • Wait for your student’s response- ”I like the orange one because it’s big.”
  • Repeat their child’s answers with corrections- “Oh, so you like the tangerine colored chrysanthemum because it’s larger than the rest. What color is it? What kind of flower is it?”
  • Continue with this line of questioning and engagement until your child demonstrates the desired response.
  1. Encourage your student, particularly as they near kindergarten, to paraphrase your modeled responses in complete sentences!

While “just reading” and memorization will eventually play their roles to some extent, active engagement through listening, speaking, visual supports and kinesthetic or tactile activities are fundamental techniques that will assuredly foster your student’s lifelong pursuit of everyday and academic vocabulary achievement. And the younger parents and educators begin, the better!

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