Category Archives: Academics

I’ve been happily immersed in ACT Certified Educator training over the last week. This is a great program with terrific trainers. Jason Derby, for example, is a true educational triple-threat, teaching high school classes, ACE courses, and private test prep. No wonder so many of his insights resonated with my own experience of testing. For example, who could argue with this analogy? The ACT is like a rock wall: there are usually multiple ways to climb to the top. Jason hits the nail on the head here. Great climbing walls are designed to challenge a wide range of complementary skills and strategies along a spectrum of successful outcomes. Great tests do the same. Neither trial is necessarily designed to allow every competitor to attain the summit but still permits numerous paths to the highest levels of success. The comparison doesn’t end there. Solving a tough test question is a lot…

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Every time I see this e-card, I have to laugh. Most of our students would smile too, since we always call out “for all intensive purposes” as a classic word usage error. The grammarians at the College Board and ACT, Inc. have been known to torment kids with, among other things, eggcorns and malapropisms: An eggcorn is an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase for a word or words that sound similar or identical in the speaker’s dialect. The new phrase introduces a meaning that is different from the original, but plausible in the same context, e.g. take it for granite instead of take it for granted. We create eggcorns all the time when we try to decode the lyrics to our favorite songs. A malapropism, on the other time, occurs when the substitution creates a nonsensical phrase. Classical malapropisms generally derive their comic effect from the fault of…

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Aeschylus, the renowned playwright of ancient Greece, is remembered as the father of tragedy. His works often visited themes such as disaster, downfall, and divine justice, which provided ample opportunity to connect suffering to learning: “Suffering brings experience.” “Wisdom comes through suffering.” “The reward of suffering is experience.” “Only through suffering do we learn.” “Nothing forces us to know what we do not want to know except pain.” Aeschylus was not the only philosopher to opine about how excruciating experience and knowledge can be to come by: “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” — Confucius “Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson “Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for.” — Marian Wright Edelman…

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The current paradigm of SAT and ACT testing in the state of New York generally sees high schoolers testing at high schools, with the vast majority of students engaged in Saturday testing. Students in many other states benefit from free school day administrations, but the SAT and/or ACT take the place of traditional state assessment tests in those states. While NYC has piloted the use of standardized admissions tests for assessment purposes, we do not seem to be anywhere close to replacing the Regents. This does not, however, eliminate the opportunity for a high school to administer the SAT or ACT in its own classrooms during the school day. In fact, both College Board and ACT have created paths that allow schools to serve as school day test centers for their own students. The question, of course, is, “Why bother?” Who exactly benefits from SAT and ACT school day testing?…

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Financial aid awards from colleges have always, for better or worse, possessed an air of finality about them. Once applicants submitted all their paperwork, they basically had to accept whatever thin gruel of grants, loans, and work study a school deigned to offer, need be damned. Only rarely did applicants appeal their financial aid, and more rarely still did those appeals elicit further funding. At least, that’s how college financial aid used to work… The year 2020, if you haven’t noticed, ushered in what can be fairly described as a higher ed apocalypse. In February, The College Stress Test was published, wherein the authors constructed a stress test for estimating the market viability of more than 2,800 undergraduate institutions and concluded that 10 percent or so of the nation’s colleges and universities faced substantial market risk. Around the same time, I interviewed past president of NACAC Patrick O’Connor about the…

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Recently, I taught some classes on the changes to the spring 2020 Advanced Placement (AP) exams. Aside from learning about the specific changes for those tests, I had the opportunity to review good online teaching and testing. In general, the issues for students are similar to those they always face: what needs to be done to learn effectively and test well? Similarly, instructors still need to be able to have clear objectives, provide an effective teaching environment, and build confidence. The challenge for instructors is working in a novel teaching environment. What issues are impacted by learning online? First, more and more students will look for information online. While this is nothing new, I believe a lack of guidance can lead students to unreliable sources. As instructors, we need to teach students good practices, such as determining what makes a good source. For example, the dependence on Google searches has…

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