Thursday, October 8, 2009

Starting the School Year off Right - Part #6

After a very busy September, I am happy to finally have a few minutes to get back to posting to the blog. I will continue with our list of tips for starting the school year off right.

Exhibit teacher-pleasing behaviors!

We have a self assessment quiz that we have students take in our study skills class to help make them aware of the kinds of behaviors that teachers do and do not like from their students. Students often find this assessment to be very enlightening. They may be aware on some level that they are exhibiting behaviors that are not pleasing to their teachers, but often they do not realize how detrimental these behaviors can be to their academic careers. Some of the behaviors that should be avoided include: not looking at the teacher, showing up unprepared for class, turning in assignments late, coming to class late, socializing in class, asking irrelevant questions in class, demanding an inordinate amount of a teacher’s time and attention in class, being rude to the teacher or other students, or doodling or daydreaming when they should be paying attention. All of these behaviors annoy teachers and make them less inclined to look favorably on the student. Students need to understand that the teacher is the boss of the classroom, and much like in the real world, when you please your boss you will go far, when you displease your boss you are doomed to failure. Try to help your child identify which behavior(s) they are exhibiting in class that are negative, and work with them to figure out how they can be more aware of when they are doing these things, and most importantly, how they can try to avoid them altogether.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Starting the School Year off Right - Part #5

Know yourself!

We have found it very useful for students to have an understanding of how they best learn information. There are three main types of learning styles: visual, auditory and kinestetic. Visual learners learn best by seeing. Visual learners may need to draw pictures to help them remember data. Auditory learners learn best by hearing. Auditory learners may need to repeat information aloud when studying to help them retain data. Kinestetic learners learn best by doing. A kinestetic learner many need to write out information to help them remember. Many of us are also combo learners – we learn best by using a combination of the three styles. When we know how we best learn, then we can devise techniques (drawing pictures, reciting information out loud or writing things down) to help us remember data. Some of our auditory learners have found it helpful to create songs to help them remember grammar rules, math facts or historical events. There is no right or wrong way to learn, there is no one best way, the best way is the one that works best for you.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Starting the School Year off Right - Part #4

Make use of the resources offered at school!

Many schools offer peer-tutoring programs before or after school. While these programs can be hit-or-miss, it is worth taking the time to see if your child can connect with a good peer tutor. If the first tutor does not click with your child, encourage them to seek out another tutor and try again. Schools often recruit students who have done well in a subject to tutor their peers. Just because a student is skilled at a particular subject, does not mean they have the skill, maturity and ability to teach it to someone else. Again, if the first tutor does not work, try a few more to see if they might be a better fit. One of the most underutilized resources a student has for getting help is their teacher. Many teachers complain that they offer time both before and after school for students to come to get help, and very few students take advantage of this resource. Many teachers will go out of their way to help a student when they know the student is putting in extra effort. Encourage your child to take advantage of the help offered by their teacher. If they are nervous about approaching the teacher then offer to role-play with them how they might go about asking the teacher for help. We have found that role playing with students can help ease some of the trepidation they have about approaching a teacher for help, and can get them over that first hurdle and on the way to getting the assistance they need.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Starting the School Year off Right - Part #3

Manage time effectively!

We tell our students to set up a weekly schedule for themselves. They should plug in all their extra curricular activities and commitments on a daily basis (for all 7 days of the week) and then schedule time (in half hour blocks) to work on their homework. They should also make sure they build in time to eat and take care of personal hygiene and some down time to relax every day. Often when students go through this exercise they realize they have more free time than they think. If they are diligent about sticking to their schedule then they will avoid procrastination and time wasting activities that lead them to feel stressed and overwhelmed. One tool that many of our students find to be valuable is a timer. An inexpensive timer can be purchased at any supermarket or drug store. We tell the student to set their timer to 30 minutes and then get to work on their homework (one subject at a time – tackling the hardest one first). When the time goes off they can take a break and spend 30 minutes doing something they want to do. They key is that they must be disciplined enough to go back to their homework after the 30 minutes are up for another 30 minute homework block. Many students find that by splitting up their homework into 30-minute blocks and interspersing it with free time they are able to be more focused and productive. Homework becomes less of drudgery when it is not tackled for hours at a time with no break. They key is to be disciplined enough to stick to the 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off cycles.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Starting the School Year off Right - Part #2

Set goals!

We work with students in our study skills classes on setting goals for themselves at the beginning of every semester for what grades they would like to get that term in each subject. We tell them to be realistic. If the best they think they can get in math is a B, then so be it. Students should create a chart of all their academic subjects and what their grade goal is for each subject. On a weekly basis they should take this chart out and record their test, quiz, homework and project grades and see how they are measuring up against their goal. If they are not on track to attain their goal, then they need to analyze what is not working and make adjustments. If a student uses this system there should be no surprises at the end of the semester. This chart is a powerful tool in helping students monitor their progress and make corrections early on so that little problems do not snowball and become big problems.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Starting the School Year off Right - Part #1

Get organized!

Make sure your student has a space where they can work that is free from distractions and has all the supplies they need for school (pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, ruler, calculator, index cards, etc.). Buy them a planner (if their school does not provide them with one) so they can keep track of tests, quizzes and due dates for projects and reports. An investment in a plastic filing system with hanging folders is a great way to help them get organized. We advise students to set up a filing system for each academic subject. Create a folder for each subject and set aside a time each week to file papers, including: handouts, tests, quizzes, etc. Students should never throw out tests and quizzes; these are valuable tools to help them study for mid terms and finals. Very often when a student is doing poorly and they come to us for help, we ask to see past tests and quizzes so we can see where they are having difficulty. Many students do not have these materials, as they threw them away. Valuable information has been lost. Having a filing system will also help them easily locate important papers and keep them from having to lug everything around in those heavy backpacks. Being well organized is the first step towards getting good grades.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Summer Learning - Final Thoughts

Summer should be a time for trips to the beach, family vacations, lazy days spent in the pool, visits to amusements parks, and nights under the stars. Summer should also be a time to develop, strengthen and advance academic skills, so that the upcoming school year starts off on the right foot.

Next week we will start a series on how to get the school year off to a great start!

Enjoy these last few weeks of summer, but use the time wisely to lay the foundation for a successful and stress free school year!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 6

Standardized tests like the ISEE, SSAT, ACT and SAT are very challenging for many students.

Summer is a great time to start preparing for fall and winter tests. Without the added burden of homework and after school activities, students have more time to focus on mastering test material and understanding the tricks and trials of the tests. It is much harder to get students to focus on test preparation in the fall, especially when they are worrying about the upcoming math test, or the big football game. Use the summer months to get a jump start on the big stakes fall tests, and fall will be a whole lot less stressful for you and your child.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 5

Summer reading is another area that often presents a challenge.

Students frequently struggle to comprehend the themes in classic literature, and write clear and concise summaries of their summer reading assignments. The best advice I can give is not to leave the summer reading until the week before school starts. Make sure students have picked their summer reading books, and they have the books in hand by early July. Encourage students to begin their summer reading early, and to work on it a little bit each week. Leaving summer reading to the last minute creates undo stress, and almost guarantees that the finished product will not be a quality one.

Helping a child learn the difference between just reading the books and really analyzing the literature is key to aiding them in developing the critical thinking skills needed to excel in school. Tutors can work with students to guide them through their summer reading, and help them develop the skills needed to tackle advanced literature such as Shakespeare, Dickens and Hemingway.

Summer reading does not have to be a chore!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 4

Solid study skills are critical for students looking to succeed in challenging academic environments.

Students transitioning from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school often struggle with raised expectations and more demanding coursework, especially if they do not have tools and techniques in place to support these increased demands.

Note taking, time management, project management, test taking strategies, reading comprehension skills, the ability to write well, and organization are all critical skills needed to insure success in a challenging academic environment. An investment in a study skills class can reap big rewards down the road when students are better organized, feel less stressed, and earn better grades.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 3

Writing is iterative, and is as much an art as a science.

Students need to practice writing in order to improve their writing skills and “find their voices” as writers. Many students have great ideas, but lack the mechanics required to make their writing cohesive. Student often struggle with how to express their ideas, spell correctly, use proper grammar, write using correct sentence structure, create transition sentences, craft solid introductions and conclusions, and avoid repetition and cliques. Colleges had been seeing so many students that could not write a solid paper, that they pressured the College Board to add a writing section to the SAT. Ignoring poor writing skills will limit choices as students progress in their academic careers. Summer is a great time to practice honing those writing skills.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 2

Foreign Language Learning is Cumulative

Many schools require a set number of years of foreign languages; some require both classical languages (Latin and Greek) and modern foreign language (Spanish, French, etc.). Language learning is also cumulative. If first year Latin is a challenge, then second year Latin is going to be even more of a challenge. Spanish II builds on Spanish I, if students did not master the basics of vocabulary and grammar in their introductory languages course, then they are going to continue to struggle for the duration of their time learning the language. Summer is a great time to review the vocabulary and grammar from the prior year and fill in the gaps, and get a jump start on next year so that it will not continue to be a struggle.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Peer Tutors Versus Professional Tutors

This past week there has been some debate about the effectiveness of peer tutoring versus professional tutoring on some message boards that I belong to. I will weigh in on my opinion on this matter.

When it comes to tutoring, as with many things in this world - you get what you pay for. There is no substitute for a professional, trained, adult tutor who has been screened (both for their knowledge and to be sure they have no criminal record) and is supervised by an administrator.

It often amazes me how willing some people are to open their homes to a stranger, and expose that stranger to their child. When you hire a tutor on your own you often have no way to verify that they know the subject matter they are teaching, that they have experience teaching, and that they do not have a criminal record that could put you and your family in danger.

While a peer tutor may be good at a certain subject, this does not mean that they have the ability to teach this subject to others. Teaching is a skill that is learned over time and requires a great deal of planning, patience and ability. Not everyone can connect with a student and motivate them to want to do well.

I have had parents tell me horror stories about tutors they have hired on their own who did not show up at the agreed upon time, were late, did not know the subject matter as well as they claimed, were not good teachers, and were unprofessional.

One parents recently shared with me a story of how the peer tutor she had hired to work with her daughter had been hitting on her daughter when he was supposed to be teaching her.

Sometimes parents feel that they can get a peer tutor for much less money than a professional tutor. Again, I need to remind parents: "you get what you pay for". If the peer tutor takes more time to teach the subject because they are not skilled in teaching, then you end up paying the same amount as if you had gone to the professional in the first place. You also run the risk of wasting your time and your money on an approach that is not getting results.

There is a reason that I do not attempt to plumb my own pipes, wire my own home, represent myself in legal matters, or perform my own dental work. When I want good results and I want the job done right, I hire a professional.

I suggest when your child needs help in school, or is preparing for a high stakes test, you also look to the professionals.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Summer Learning - Part 1

Knowledge and skills in most subject areas are cumulative.

Math is one of the most pronounced examples of the critical need for a continual progression of strong and steady skill development. If students have not mastered their times tables, then they will continue to struggle as they advance to more complex math subjects, and encounter more challenging standardized tests. Having to stop and think about basic math facts slows students down, frustrates them, and diminishes their performance. Students that struggle with pre-Algebra will continue to face difficulty as they encounter Algebra I and Algebra II. It is important that students with a weakness in math use the summer months to strengthen their math skills so that they do not fall further behind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summertime and the Learning is Easy

Now that the lazy, hazy days of summer are upon us, it does not mean that the learning has to stop. Studies have shown that students given a 2-3 month break for the summer lose a great deal of the gains they made in class the prior school year.

Researchers have found that summer learning loss equals at least one month of instruction, as measured by grade level equivalents on standardized test scores. On average, students tests scores were at least one month lower when they returned to school in the fall than scores were when students left in the spring. Summer knowledge loss was more pronounced for math facts and spelling than for other tested skill areas.

Given what we know about the challenges students have in retaining material over the summer, what can parents do to stem this brain drain? There are several areas you may want to focus on when looking at how to structure summer learning time for your child.

Over the next week I will share with you some things you can do to stem the summer brain drain.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lessons Learned #8

There is no substitute for a caring and committed parent.

Parents are a child’s best teachers. Even when our little darlings reach those teen years, and we think they do not listen to us, they do. They may not always agree with us, but they do listen. They listen to what we say, they watch what we do, and they make observations about what we value. Parents send children powerful messages by both their words and their actions. We in turn know our children better than anyone, and we have to trust out instincts when it comes to what is best for our children. We also have to hang in there with them, even when it seems like our efforts are in vain. There is a light at the end the tunnel.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lessons Learned #7

Being a good athlete is not a guaranteed ticket to college scholarships.

I have said it before, and I will say it again – the chances of a student receiving a college scholarship for athletics are very low. When parents push students to excel at a sport to the point that it takes time away from the student’s academic career, they are only doing their child a disservice. Parents cannot tell their children that academics are important, and then schedule them for three teams a season, so that the student has little to no time to do homework, and then expect that the student is going to excel in school. Something has to give, and usually it is a student’s grades.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lessons Learned #6

We all learn differently, and at a different pace.

Sometimes a student is perfectly capable of grasping a concept, but they are in a class that is too big, and they can’t get the attention they need from a teacher. Students may learn better visually, but the teacher uses an auditory teaching style. The student may learn best by doing, but the structure of the class demands that they sit in a seat for 30 or 45 minutes at a time, with no opportunity for experiential learning. Sometimes the pace of the class is too fast, and leaves the student behind. Other times the pace of the class is too slow, and the student tunes out. Despite a teacher’s best efforts to give each of his or her students what they need, it is virtually impossible to do so in a class of 25-30 students. Many teachers are forced to “teach to the middle”, and hope for the best.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lessons Learned #5

Negative thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

When a student struggles with subjects like math, languages or science (especially when these subjects may have come easily to them before now) they can often descend into a spiral of poor performance that becomes somewhat self-perpetuating. Often what is needed to break this cycle is some “wins”. Having someone show them how to master a previously difficult concept instills confidence, and allows the student to feel that they can solve that difficult equation, learn those tricky tenses, or understand that complicated concept.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lessons Learned #4

Effort goes a long way.

Many students, particularly those at key transition points in their educational careers are stymied when they are required to expend more effort for things that used to take them a lot less time to accomplish in another grade, or another school. Complaints of: “I always spend about 20 minutes on math homework.” are common, and reflect not only a student’s frustration, but also a lack of understanding about what is required for success. Developing new habits is key to success when expectations are changing.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Summer Brain Drain

Now that school is (almost) out for everyone, it does not mean that learning has to end. I recently received a newsletter from BPS that contained a very interesting statistic - the average child loses about a month of academic progress made during the school year. The school year in America is on average 180 days long. In South Korea the school year is 220 days long, in Japan the school year is 243 days long. On a recent test to measure math ability in students in industrialized nations, students were asked how many of the algebra, calculus and geometry questions on the test had the students learned in school. Japanese 12th graders had learned 92% of the material in school, American 12th graders had only learned 52% of the material in school. No wonder America is falling behind other industrialized countries in math and science. Summer does not have to be a time of brain drain. Keep your child engaged in reading and math over the summer so they have a competitive advantage once school starts in the fall. Some of the highest paid careers (medicine, law, finance, engineering, etc.) require excellent math and verbal skills.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lesson Learned - #3

A lack of good study skills is the downfall of many a bright student.

No matter how bright the student, if they do not have solid study skills, they are bound to run into trouble as elementary school leads into middle school, middle school leads into high school, and high school leads into college. Students at these key transition points in their education are often expected to “step it up”. Without the proper tools: organizational skills, time management, project management, etc., they are often at a loss as to how to meet these increased expectations. We work with students to teach a very comprehensive study skills curriculum that works on organization, time management, project management, and a number of other very important study skills that will enable them to succeed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lessons Learned - #2

This is the second in a series of lessons learned as we review the past school year.

The problem is usually not going to go away, or solve itself.

Most times if students are struggling with a subject (especially cumulative subjects like math and languages) if they fall behind at the beginning of the school year, it is only going to get worse. Waiting for the 2nd and 3rd report card to see if there is improvement is often a recipe for failure. Address problems early on, and you can expect better results. It is almost impossible to try to teach a student a whole year of math or language in an hour a week, during the last two months of the school year. Seek help for your child as soon as the problem becomes apparent. Again, use the summer to get caught up on subjects where students are behind, so that they start the school year off on solid footing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

BLS Class of 2009 College Matriculation

Below is a list of the colleges and universities BLS students will attend in the fall. A lot of local favorites! It is interesting to note that almost 25% of the graduates are going to a state school. This may be because 97% of the class are Adams Scholars, and are eligible for free tuition at in-state schools.

Boston University 50 13.74%
U Mass Amherst 44 12.09%
Harvard 17 4.67%
Boston College 16 4.40%
Northeastern 12 3.30%
Bridgewater State 9 2.47%
MCPHS 8 2.20%
Tufts 8 2.20%
McGill 6 1.65%
MIT 6 1.65%
U Mass Boston 6 1.65%
U Mass Lowell 6 1.65%
UNH 6 1.65%
Bentley 5 1.37%
Suffolk 5 1.37%
Curry College 4 1.10%
Drexel 4 1.10%
Fitchburg State 4 1.10%
Providence College 4 1.10%
Simmons College 4 1.10%
St. John's University 4 1.10%
Stonehill 4 1.10%
University of Vermont 4 1.10%
Wentworth 4 1.10%
Brandeis 3 0.82%
Bucknell 3 0.82%
George Washington 3 0.82%
U Mass Dartmouth 3 0.82%
Westfield State 3 0.82%
American International 2 0.55%
Amherst College 2 0.55%
Arizona State 2 0.55%
Brigham Young 2 0.55%
Centre College 2 0.55%
Clark University 2 0.55%
Fairfield University 2 0.55%
Framingham State 2 0.55%
Goucher 2 0.55%
Lasell College 2 0.55%
Mass Maritime Academy 2 0.55%
MCLA 2 0.55%
Salem State 2 0.55%
St. Michael's College 2 0.55%
University of Hartford 2 0.55%
University of Maine 2 0.55%
Ursinus College 2 0.55%
Warren Wilson 2 0.55%
American University 1 0.27%
American U of Beirut 1 0.27%
Anna Maria 1 0.27%
Babson 1 0.27%
Bard College 1 0.27%
Barnard 1 0.27%
Bates 1 0.27%
Bryn Mawr 1 0.27%
Carnegie Mellon 1 0.27%
Catholic University 1 0.27%
Chapman 1 0.27%
Coastal Carolina 1 0.27%
Colgate University 1 0.27%
Columbia University 1 0.27%
Concordia 1 0.27%
Cornell 1 0.27%
Denison University 1 0.27%
Emerson 1 0.27%
Georgetown 1 0.27%
Hampshire College 1 0.27%
Hampton University 1 0.27%
Hartwick College 1 0.27%
Hawaii Pacific U 1 0.27%
Hofstra 1 0.27%
Holy Cross 1 0.27%
Iona College 1 0.27%
Johnson & Wales 1 0.27%
Kalamazoo College 1 0.27%
Macalester 1 0.27%
Manhattanville College 1 0.27%
Marines 1 0.27%
Middlebury 1 0.27%
Montserrat 1 0.27%
Nazareth College 1 0.27%
Norwich 1 0.27%
NYU 1 0.27%
Pace University 1 0.27%
Pratt Institute 1 0.27%
Princeton 1 0.27%
Reed College 1 0.27%
Rensselaer Polytechnic 1 0.27%
RISD 1 0.27%
Rochester Institute 1 0.27%
Roger Williams 1 0.27%
Santa Clara University 1 0.27%
School of Art Inst. 1 0.27%
Siena College 1 0.27%
Skidmore College 1 0.27%
Spelman 1 0.27%
St. Anselm College 1 0.27%
St. Olaf College 1 0.27%
St. Xavier University 1 0.27%
Stanford University 1 0.27%
Syracuse 1 0.27%
Trinity College 1 0.27%
Trinity University 1 0.27%
Tulane 1 0.27%
U San Diego 1 0.27%
Union College 1 0.27%
U Conn 1 0.27%
University of Edinburgh 1 0.27%
University of Hawaii 1 0.27%
University of Maryland 1 0.27%
U of Southern Cal 1 0.27%
U of St. Andrews 1 0.27%
University of Tampa 1 0.27%
University of Toronto 1 0.27%
Vassar 1 0.27%
Washington College 1 0.27%
Wellesley 1 0.27%
Wheaton 1 0.27%
Wheelock College 1 0.27%
Yale 1 0.27%

Total 364 100.00%

Saturday, June 13, 2009

BPS Students Offered 70 hours of free ISEE Prep

The Boston Latin School Alumni Association has long funded a program called the Exam Schools Initiative. The program is by invitation only to 1,000 Boston Public School 5th graders only, based on scores on the MCAS and Advanced Work tests.

This year they will be offering 70 hours of free ISEE test prep at Boston Latin School starting in July and ending just before the test in November.

Of the 1,000 students invited, they will have seats for approximately 350 students. These are some of Boston Public Schools best and brightest students, many from the highly regarded Advanced Work Program.

These 350 students will have a huge advantage over other ISEE test takers this year.

If Latin School feels that the best and brightest students from BPS need almost 70 hours of ISEE prep in order to get into the exam schools, then clearly we have been onto something for a while!

We have found that hands down the BPS Advanced Work students are the best prepared students we see coming for ISEE prep. The curriculum these students are taught is more advanced than any other program we have seen in the area (public, private or parochial).

Boston Latin School invited 463 students in 2009.

We expect that next spring there will be a big change in the composition of who is admitted to the exam schools.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lessons Learned - #1

As the school year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on some lessons that ring true time and time again in our work with parents and students. This is the first in a series of observations on lessons learned.

Lesson #1

Time is on your side, but only up to a certain point. When students are preparing for a high stakes test such as SATs or the ISEE, the more preparation they have in advance the better. Waiting until a few weeks before the test is nothing more than cramming, and usually does not produce good results. Waiting until the last minute only leads to stress and anxiety, and it does not have to be this way. Summer is a great time to prepare for tests given in the fall and early winter.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Some students will be taking the SSAT this weekend as practice for the ISEE. We do not recommend students go through this exercise. We have seen instances where students were so shell shocked by how difficult the SSAT was that they were completely discouraged and afraid of the ISEE. Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote a few years ago comparing the two tests. This should give you the facts you need to decide if it makes sense for your child to take the SSAT as practice for the ISEE.

There is a school of thought that suggests that students preparing for the ISEE (Independent Schools Entrance Exam) or the Latin School test take the SSAT in the spring, prior to taking the ISEE in the fall. It is helpful to understand some basic information about the two tests before you compare the differences in the tests, and determine whether or not it makes sense to take the SSAT as practice for the ISEE.

Students are only allowed to take the ISEE once every six months. The ISEE is typically administered in the fall. The ISEE also has three different levels: Lower, Middle and Upper. Lower Level test takers are in grades 4 and 5 at the time they take the test, and are applying for admission to grades 5 and 6. Middle Level test takers are in grades 6 and 7 at the time they take the test, and are applying for admission to grades 7 and 8. Upper Level test takers are in grades 8 and above at the time they take the test, and are applying for admission to grades 9 and above.

If a student takes the ISEE in the fall or spring of 5th grade, they are taking the Lower Level test. If that same student takes the test in the fall of 6th grade, they are taking the Middle level test. The Middle level test is more challenging than the Lower Level test. Test takers taking the Middle Level test can expect less time per section, more challenging questions, and a math section that contains much more Algebra and Geometry, as well as a Quantitative Comparison section (an analytical and reasoning section of math that is very different than they type of math most students have encountered in school). Many students struggle with Quantitative Comparisons in particular, because they are not used to solving math problems in this way. The Upper Level ISEE has a more challenging reading comprehension section, more advanced vocabulary than the Middle Level test, and more advanced math problems (particularly in Algebra).

Given the way the ISEE is structured, with Lower, Middle and Upper Level editions, and the six month testing restriction, there really is no way to take the test for practice. The Educational Records Bureau (ERB), the company that administers the ISEE, does not allow students to take the test for practice, and states in their registration material that students must be taking the test in concert with applying to a member school (a private school or an exam school). In fact, the ERB strongly recommends against “cramming” for the test – preparing for the test a few weeks before it is administered. For most students this type of last minute preparation does not work, and it is a waste of time. All that is accomplished is that the student is now very stressed about taking the test.

The ISEE is primarily used by private schools admitting students in grades 5-8. The ISEE is also used by the Boston Exam schools for admission to grades 7, 9 and 10 (O’Bryant School in the only exam school that admits students for grade 10). Most private schools require a different test for admission to the 9th grade and above. Catholic schools generally require the Catholic Schools Entrance Exam for admission to 9th grade and above. Private schools typically require the SSAT for high school admission (even if they require the ISEE for middle school admission). Some schools have their own test that they administer. It is wise to check with the school(s) to which you are planning to apply, to see what their specific requirements are for the grade level you will be applying for admission.

Now that we have learned a bit about the ISEE, let’s look at the SSAT. The SSAT is the Secondary School Admission Test. The SSAT has an Upper Level and a Lower Level section, no Middle Level. The Lower Level test is taken by students in the 5th, 6th and 7th grade at the time they take the test. The Upper Level test is taken by students in grades 8 and above. The SSAT is considered a harder test than the ISEE in many ways. Let’s look at some of the key differences.

  • The SSAT has a writing section that is timed for 25 minutes. The ISEE has a writing section that is timed for 30 minutes. There is no writing section on the Latin School Exam.
  • The SSAT has 5 multiple-choice answers for each questions, the ISEE has only 4 answers. So it is easier to guess on the ISEE.
  • The SSAT has a guessing penalty. For every wrong answer on the SSAT students lose one quarter of a point. There is no guessing penalty on the ISEE.
  • The SSAT has a section of Analogies. The ISEE has no Analogies.
  • The ISEE has a large Sentence Completion section; the SSAT has no Sentence Completions.
  • There are no Quantitative Comparison questions in the math section of the SSAT. The ISEE has a large Quantitative Comparison section, and it is very challenging for the majority of students (even for those who are normally strong in math). Quantitative comparisons are not math concepts that are generally taught in school.
  • The ISEE is also a longer test than the SSAT. The ISEE typically takes about 3 hours to complete. The SSAT is administered in about 2.5 hours. Many students suffer from “test fatigue” during longer tests.

There is no real value for students in taking the SSAT in the spring of the year they are going to take the ISEE, or the Latin School Test.

The two tests are vastly different: they test different material, the timing and the pace of the tests is different, the SSAT is harder than the ISEE in many ways, grading is different for the two test (guessing penalty vs. no guessing penalty) and the length of the tests is different (the ISEE is about 15% longer than the SSAT).

You are not comparing apples to apples when you use the SSAT as a proxy for how students might do on the ISEE. It is more like you are comparing apples to kumquats! Why test a student on analogies when they are not going to be on the ISEE? Why test on an essay that is not on the Exam School version of the ISEE? Why test on math that excludes one of the hardest sections of the ISEE (Quantitative Comparisons)? Why test on a verbal section on the SSAT that omits Sentence Completions (a key part of the ISEE verbal section)?

Most importantly, why put a student through the stress of taking a test that has no real value in determining how they will do on another test (the ISEE or Exam Schools test) that will be administered almost 6 months later?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Inspiring Stories

The Boston Sunday Globe on 6/6/09 had an article about class Valedictorians in Boston. One kid who really left an impression on me was Edner Paul. Edner came to the US from Haiti at age 12 not speaking any English. Within a few months he was proficient in English. He took the ISEE (Latin School Test) to gain admission to the John D. O'Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, and he will be graduating on Friday with a full scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This young man has achieved quite a bit in a very short period of time. His dedication and perseverance has paid off. It just goes to show you what effort and attitude can accomplish! Congratulations to Edner and all the graduates of the class of 2009 (including my son Justin - Boston Latin School class of 2009)!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Adding a 6th grade to the Boston Exam Schools?

After a very nice night at BLS graduation last night I wake up this morning to this article in the Globe:

This has to be one of the worst ideas I have heard in a long time. Where is the space at BLS for this? Budgets are being cut and teachers laid off. Where is the faculty going to come from? The 7th graders have a hard enough time transitioning to BLS, never mind asking a 6th grader to do it. Many kids at this age are just not developmentally ready for a place like BLS.
This plan also suggests that in order to accommodate the addition of a 6th grade the number of incoming students be reduced. That will not help with space issues for the 5 years it will take to transition the existing larger classes out of the building.
Also, the ISEE is a hard enough test for a 6th grader to take to get into 7th grade with Algebra and vocabulary words like recalcitrant. Now they want a 5th grader to take the test for 6th grade?
I am hoping BPS is really not serious about this. The focus should be on creating more K-6 schools with Advanced Work for grades 4-6 in one school. If you want to send your child to Advanced Work and then an exam school, they may have to attend up to 4 schools in 8 years (K-3) for elementary, 4th and 5th grade for Advanced Work in an elementary school, 6th grade for Advanced Work in a middle school and then finally 7th grade at an exam school. This is just nuts!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


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