The Right Time to Take the SAT

By Deborah Williams

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Traditionally, high school juniors take the SAT for the first time at the beginning of the second semester.  A major reason for this is because they have had enough math instruction to tackle that part of the test.  Many will take the test at least one more time, and they typically see an increase in their scores.  There is some disagreement, however, about the best time to take the SAT.  Writing for the Education Life column of The New York Times, Laura Pappano reports that the recommendations are varied and inconclusive.

Some advise that to be competitive, students should take the test in middle school.  some schools like those in one Long Island, New York school district have SAT words and their definitions “at all elementary and middle schools.  Even kindergarteners draw the meanings of the “word of the week” in their journals.  Administrators believe that early instruction in SAT vocabulary should make students so comfortable that their anxiety about taking the test should diminish.  The school officials believe that this early intervention makes their students more competitive.

Most advisers seem to discourage taking the SAT early.  Even the Long Island officials do not advocate that their students take the test in middle school.  Others acknowledge that it is not easy to do well that early because students have not had enough math instruction.  Even though scores for tests taken before high school are taken out of student records, officials fear that a poor performance might make students even more anxious when they take the real test—or, worse yet, they might not take the test at all.

So, how should students prepare for  this test?  With the new SAT redesign coming in 2016, one adviser suggests that current tenth graders should think about taking the old test this spring and in the fall since there are no prep materials available for the new SAT.  Current ninth graders might consider taking the ACT, which will change as well—though not as drastically as the SAT redesign.  The PAT is another option.  One adviser suggests that freshmen take it and then take it again in their sophomore year.

View this video for suggestions about when to take this test: :

Topics: College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Snow Days and the Disadvantaged

By Deborah Williams

Many students in parts of the United States are missing many days of school due to snow.  While this is a welcome interruption for most of those students (and their teachers), an article by Matt Collette on The Hechinger Report website reports that it has serious ramifications for some students.  Too many snow days “are most harmful to low-income students and their families, who education experts say are already more likely to be behind academically and rely more on the social services public school provide.”

The following services or outcomes are affected when low-income students miss too many days from school due to snow:

  1. Widening of academic achievement gaps
  2. Elimination of two meals per day
  3. Lack of adequate heat
  4. Supervised childcare during and after school hours

School districts across the country are doing what they can to help these students to keep up—or not lose more ground:  virtual snow makeup days, texting students, etc.

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

College Graduates Guaranteed Minimum Salaries

By Deborah Williams

Almost everyone agrees that the rising cost of college  tuition is of great concern for most American families.  Well, a new program in Michigan is creating quite a buzz  as a way for students to handle their student loans.  An article in the USA Today reports that this program guarantees “every graduate would make more than $37,000 or get some or all student loans reimbursed.”  The program is not new.  It has been used for years at Yale Law School and for seminary and social work degrees.

Made possible by the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, the program is made available when colleges take out policies on a certain number of students.  Repayment at Adrian College in Michigan would be based on the following income levels:

Topics: College Preparation and Advice, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Personality vs. Intellect

By Deborah Williams

The results of a new study shed light on the reason that people who are of average intellect become successful.  An article on the Science Daily website reports on the findings of Dr. Arthur Poropat from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology.  Dr. Poropat reviewed the fundamental personality factors—Conscientiousness,   Openness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Extraversion—along with academic performance.   Dr. Poropat’s review showed that “Conscientiousness and Openness have the biggest influence on academic success.”

Because of this outcome, Dr. Poropat advises educational institutions to shift their focus from students’ intellect and to focus on their personalities.  He explains, “In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.  And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard.”

This is a departure from the previous notion that if you are smart, you will do well in school.  Poropat found that students with certain personality traits are the most successful.  Parents and educators can improve students’ capacity to learn by teaching certain aspects of Conscientiousness and Openness.

Topics: Lifelong Learning | No Comments »

Getting Kids to Read on Their Own

By Deborah Williams

One of the more troubling truths for educators—and parents—is that most children do not read a book just for fun.  Motoko Rich, writer for The New York Times, explains, “In a 2014 survey of just over 1,000 children ages 6 to 17, only 31 percent said they read a book for fun almost daily, down from 37 percent four years ago.”

So, what factors contribute to more leisure reading?  Researchers found some interesting patterns among the students who do read on their own:

When students begin to read by themselves, many parents stop reading aloud to their children.  However, “reading aloud through elementary school seemed to be connected to a love of reading generally.  According to the report, 41 percent of frequent readers ages 6 to 10 were read aloud to at home, while only 13 percent of infrequent readers were being read to.”

Parents can help foster a love of reading by reading aloud to their children through elementary school. a recent report published by YouGov, a market research firm, looked at factors that predict future interest in leisure reading.  “Kristen Harmeling, a partner at YouGov who worked on the report, said that children in the survey frequently cited reading aloud as a special bonding time with their parents.”

Adolescent students are more likely to read on their own if they have time at school for reading a book that they chose.

Topics: Education Policies and News, Motivation and Self Improvement | No Comments »

Master Civics to Graduate

By Deborah Williams

Many stakeholders have pushed for more civics education, and the state of Arizona has responded to the call by becoming “the first state in the nation…to enact a law requiring high school students to pass the U. S. citizenship test on civics before graduation.”  Bob Christie, writer for The Huffington Post, reports that students must  correctly answer 60 out of 100 questions that are the same as those on the civics portion of the test that new citizens have to pass.  The Joe Foss Institute of Arizona is leading the effort to have all 50 states adopt this test by 2017.

This measure inspires both criticism and acceptance.  Some critics believe that it relies on memorization, and that does not engage students in civics.  Proponents believe that this is a good way to ensure that students have a basic knowledge of government.

What kind of questions are on the Civics (History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test?  Try a few of these questions from the test (Answers appear at the end.):

  1. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  2. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
  3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
  4. How many U.S. Senators are there?
  5. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Computer Science, The Next Job Wave

By Deborah Williams

Alison DeNisco, writer for District Administration, reports that even though there will be 1.4 million computing jobs in the United States in 2020, there are only 400,000 students studying computer science.  The 2013 AP computer science exam results show the following:

Remarkably, outreach manager for, Jake Baskin explains that there are fewer students in computer science now than 15 years ago.  A K12 decline in the computer science field—programming, website development, software engineering, and binary coding—is partly due to a decline in qualified teachers in several areas of the country.  Additionally, the instructional focus has been on standards in math and English, but Baskin asserts, “…the critical thinking and problem-solving skills learned through computer science can boost student performance in other subjects.”

School officials are implementing changes to help meet this imminent need.  Some states counts computer science as a credit toward graduation.   Charles County Public Schools in Maryland has partnered with to include computer science curriculum in K12 classes.  This includes principles such as “critical thinking, working in groups, and breaking problems down into smaller parts.”

Since most jobs will fall into this category over the next 10 to 20 years, more school officials across the country will probably take similar actions.

Topics: Building a Career, College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Improving Learning With Rest

By Deborah Williams

The results of a new study suggests that students can improve their learning by allowing their minds to rest and reflecting on things they’ve learned before.  An article on the Science Daily website reports that in addition to the previously-established finding that resting the mind—as in daydreaming–, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin found “that the right kind of mental rest, which strengthens and consolidates memories from recent learning tasks, helps boost future learning.”

The study’s participants were given two learning tasks.  Participants rested between the tasks and were allowed to think about whatever they wished.  Brain scans showed that participants who had used the resting time to reflect on the two learning tasks did better on tests of what they learned later.  It seems that this is enhanced when participants were able to connect small threads of information between the two tasks overlapped.  “Participants seemed to be making connections that helped them absorb information later on, even if it was only loosely related to something they learned before.”

Researcher Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, explains, “When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that new information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge.”

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Study Smarter

By Deborah Williams

In a recent post on The New York Times’ Well Column blog, Tara Parker-Pope reviewed tips gleaned from the new book, How We Learn:  The Surprising Truth About, When, Where, and Why It Happens, by The New York Times science reporter, Benedict Carey.  Carey’s tips are based on brain science, memory tests, and learning studies, and they disregard the traditional notions for effective study sessions.

Carey provides the following suggestions for better studying:

Hear more from Benedict Carey by viewing this video:

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Changing a Bullying Culture

By Deborah Williams

The Internet has proven to be an infinite wellspring of knowledge and global access, but its use in social media also has enhanced the long-standing problem of bullying.  Websites and apps are being used to bully other students.  One such app, After School, was used to bully students at Montpelier, Vermont’s Rutland High School, but a group of students took a stand to turn things around.

Writing for The Huffington Post, Dave Gram reports that Rutland students were supposed to use Apple’s After School app to make announcements that would be of interest to Rutland students; however, some students used the app to post negative comments about some other students.

A few other students decided to change things:  First, they asked the After School app creators to take the message board down.  Then, they launched a new campaign, Positive Post-it.  This campaign encouraged students to post on bulletin boards and windows around the school small notes of praise and encouragement.  Finally, the students asked Apple to remove After School from its App Store, and Apple agreed.  The proactive actions of these students was praised by Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin and present a wonderful example to encourage anti-bullying behavior among other students.

See how this works in one high school:

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

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