Notice regarding SAT Grammar books sold on Amazon (3/22/19)

Notice regarding SAT Grammar books sold on Amazon (3/22/19)

Update (3/28/19): The Critical Reader received the books purchased from third-party sellers and confirmed that they were in fact counterfeits. A complaint was filed with Amazon, and the offending sellers now appear to have been removed. 

3/22/19: If you are planning to purchase The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar, 4th Edition, from Amazon, please be aware that the main listing is being periodically given to third-party sellers who may be exploiting the Fulfilled by Amazon option to sell illegally printed copies of the book.

As a result of changes in 2017 to Amazon’s selling policy, The Critical Reader no longer supplies to most wholesalers or third-party Amazon resellers. As a result, there is no legal way for Amazon resellers to obtain our books in large quantities. (To read about my ongoing battle with Amazon over the Buy Box, click here.)

My colleague Michael Cerro, author of For the Love of ACT Science, recently had his Amazon account hijacked this way; the books sold were clearly reproduced from scans. I am waiting to see to see whether this is the case for my books as well, but in the meantime, if you want to guarantee receipt of an authentic book that contains the most up-to-date content, please make sure that the seller is listed as Amazon or The Critical Reader.  

At this time, only the main grammar guide seems to be affected; Amazon is still listed as the main seller for the grammar workbook and the reading book.

In the meantime, if you plan to purchase this item from Amazon, please take the extra 30 seconds to check that Amazon is listed as the main seller. If it isn’t, go to”More buying choices,” click on the “New” link and select either Amazon or The Critical Reader. You can also purchase directly from The Critical Reader via the Books page.

 

On the college admissions scandal

On the college admissions scandal

Since the whole rest of the world has by now weighed in the college admissions-bribery scandal involving, among others, the children of Felicity Huffman and former Full House star Lori Loughlin (aka Aunt Becky), I’m going to throw in my two cents as well. Actually, it’s more like a dollar, but you get the point.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, a number of extremely wealthy parents have been implicated in a scandal involving passing their children off as athletic recruits to a variety of prestigious colleges (including USC, Yale, NYU, Stanford, and Georgetown) in order to guarantee their admission. The scam also involved procuring extra time for standardized tests and then falsifying test results (either paying a third party to sit for the exam or enlisting a proctor who changed incorrect answers).

At the center of the scandal is William Singer, a college consultant in Newport Beach, CA, who bribed athletic department members in order to place students—who in many cases did not even play the sport they were supposedly being recruited for—onto the coach’s list, an act of fakery that at its most absurd involved photoshopping students’ heads onto pictures of athletes’ bodies. The various admissions offices subjected the applicants to no real scrutiny, and the ploy was only uncovered by chance, as part of an unrelated investigation. (If you’d like a complete rundown of the players involved, The Daily Intelligencer has compiled a very helpful list.)

Now, for anyone who has even a passing familiarity with how cutthroat the elite college admissions process has become, none of this should come as any surprise. Any loophole, no matter how small, will eventually be exploited by those savvy and rich enough. But aside from that, permit me some additional thoughts. (more…)

Interview with a tutor: Richard McManus (The Fluency Factory)

Interview with a tutor: Richard McManus (The Fluency Factory)

Bio

Richard McManus is a committed behavioral executive who has designed and delivered training programs for executives, managers and teachers. His mission is to increase the ability of USA schools and teachers to teach reading to all students.

Richard  founded The Fluency Factory after 20 years of dreaming, thinking and planning. He is and always will be committed to serving all students — both struggling students and high achieving students. He created a system of fluency charts to measure skills and build the love of learning. The charts provide a direct measurement that can be communicated immediately to the student. They can see their learning from minute to minute, day to day, week to week, in clear, graphic terms. Seeing this progress gives the student the confidence that he or she can do more, and that learning does not have to stop, or be bound by present skill deficits (more…)

The politics of conjunctions

The politics of conjunctions

Back around 2013, when I was writing the original edition of The Critical Reader, I happened across research showing that one of the primary differences between teenagers’ writing and that of adults lies in the use of concessions—words like however and nevertheless and until, which are used to signal the introduction of an objection or a conflicting point. The adult writers used these types of words consistently, but they were largely absent from the students’ papers. I’ve thought about the implications of that fact in a general way before, but as I’ve recently come to realize, I’ve never really thought them through. This post is my attempt to do so. (more…)

The dyslexia distraction

The dyslexia distraction

In discussions about reading instruction, a commonly raised point is that students with reading disabilities—particularly dyslexia—suffer disproportionately when deprived of systematic instruction in phonics. In fact, this is virtually impossible to dispute—whereas many students in whole language classrooms do manage to figure out enough of the rules to become reasonably proficient readers, students who cannot make sense out of word/sound relationships have no way of keeping up. And if their difficulties are not noticed in time, or they lack access to competent reading specialists, either through their schools or privately, the consequences can indeed be extremely dire. (The percent of prison inmates with reading disabilities is, for example, astronomical.)

I’m saying this upfront because I do not want in any way to minimize the difficulties faced by these students and their parents. But what I’m interested in examining here is how some of the rhetoric surrounding reading pedagogy operates—how concepts like “normal” and “abnormal” are defined and how, in some cases, the recognition of the importance of phonics for students with reading disabilities like dyslexia can become a tool for reinforcing naturalistic ideas about reading. (more…)

Statement on ed-tech

Statement on ed-tech

I’ve been stunned by the reaction my previous post, “Unbalanced Literacy,” has generated (a couple of people have informed that I’m all over Twitter, a platform from which I remain willfully absent—let’s just say that pithy isn’t really my thing); had I known that the debate over phonics was still capable of generating such passion, I would have written something about it a long time ago! The piece took me hours and hours to write, and I’m gratified that it’s gotten such a great response.

That said, in light of some of the queries/interview requests I’ve received, I’d like to follow up on one of the points I made in the original piece, namely the fact that some teachers are suspicious of the push for increased phonics because they believe it represents an attempt by the ed-tech industry to exploit students for financial gain—essentially, that phonics will be marketed as the One Great Solution to magically boost reading scores, and that it will be used as an excuse to create all sorts of highly profitable apps and programs that can be marketed to school districts. (more…)

Unbalanced literacy

Unbalanced literacy

Over the last year or so, an education reporter named Emily Hanford has published a series of exceedingly important articles about the state of phonics instruction (or rather the lack thereof) in American schools. The most in-depth piece appeared on the American Public Media project website, but what are effectively condensed versions of it have also run on NPR and the NY Times op-ed page.

If you have any interest in how reading gets taught, I highly recommend taking the time for the full-length piece in APM: it’s eye-opening and fairly disquieting. While it reiterates a number of important findings regarding the importance of phonics, its originality lies in the fact that Hanford takes on the uneasy truce between phonics and whole language that supposedly put an end to the reading wars of the 1980s and ‘90s, and points out that so-called “balanced literacy” programs often exist in name only.

In principle, this approach recognizes that both development of sound-letter relationships and consistent exposure to high-quality literature are necessary ingredients in helping students become proficient readers. What Hanford does, however, is expose just how vast a chasm exists between theory and reality. In many schools, phonics is largely neglected, or even ignored entirely, while discredited and ineffective whole-language approaches continue to dominate. (more…)

Interview with a tutor: Andrea Kay McFarland (Kay Tutoring)

Interview with a tutor: Andrea Kay McFarland (Kay Tutoring)

Bio

Andrea Kay McFarland is the president and founder of Kay Tutoring. She attended Yale for her B.A. in History and graduated in 2005. A Minnesota native, she also has a Master’s in Education from the University of Minnesota. Starting out as a volunteer, Andrea discovered her passion for education and tutoring in 2000. Her professional tutoring career began in 2006, when she began providing formal academic and test prep services.

While she is incredibly invested in helping her students achieve academic success, Andrea and her tutors strive to make personal connections with all of their students via their interests, realizing that each one is more than just a letter grade or a test score.As an interviewer for Yale University, Andrea has also seen the other side of the college application process and is able to bring her wealth of experience to helping students prepare for interviews and write standout admissions essays.

Andrea lives with her husband, daughter and dog in Plymouth, Minnesota. She named Kay Tutoring after her maiden name, “Kay.”

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The College Board is a non-profit; it’s also a hedge fund

The College Board is a non-profit; it’s also a hedge fund

On her blog, Diane Ravitch recently published a link to a very important article (“Does College Board Deserve Public Subsidies?”) by Richard Phelps of Nonpartisan Education Review.

The article, which takes as its starting point the question of what role taxpayer funds should play in supporting a nominally non-profit private organization, goes far beyond what its rather dry, technocratic title would seem to imply. In fact, the implications are so head-spinning that I actually had to read the piece several times to absorb it in full. It pulls together a lot of the threads I’ve been attempting to trace over the last couple of years, and provides a plausible answer to the question of how the College Board has continued to bounce back from scandal after scandal in a way that most other organizations in its position could not. (more…)

Interview with a tutor: Jennifer Palumbo

Interview with a tutor: Jennifer Palumbo

Bio

Jennifer graduated from Emory University with a BA in English and MAT in Secondary Language Arts Teaching. She began her career as a high school English teacher in 2001. After three years, she pursued an MBA from the University of Georgia, concentrating in finance and entrepreneurship. She then worked as a financial analyst for CSX Transportation.

In 2010 she returned to the education field, which is her true passion. After relocating to California in 2011, Jennifer began her career as an educator in the private sector. Since then, she has worked as an English tutor, college counselor, and SAT instructor for various companies, culminating in a position as the director of a large tutoring center in the East Bay. These experiences prepared and inspired her to open a tutoring center of her own. (more…)

Yes, you can use “SAT words” in your college essay

Yes, you can use “SAT words” in your college essay

image © Antonio Guillem, Shutterstock

 

Let’s start this post with a short pop quiz.

Which of the following options would have been most likely to appear on the vocabulary section of the old SAT?

A. lateritious
B. petrichor
C. ultracrepidarian
D. discreet
E. absquatulate

If your only experience is with the new test, or if you’ve encountered articles discussing the SAT redesign, it’s probably safe to assume you’ve heard a thing or two about all those “obscure” words that were removed from the exam in order to make it more “relevant” and aligned with “what students are doing in school” (which is… what exactly?) (more…)

Interview with a tutor: Vince Kotchian

Interview with a tutor: Vince Kotchian

Vince Kotchian grew up in small-town Connecticut and completed the honors program at Boston College, graduating with a B.A. in English Literature. Though he loved the intellectual climate of Boston, it eventually dawned on him that life would be much better without Boston’s physical climate (long, gray winters and muggy summers)! He moved to San Diego in 2007, and he’s been working full-time as a test-prep tutor and author ever since. When a student texts him that she aced the test or got into her reach school, he still literally jumps up and down and grins.

In his spare time, he likes traveling using miles and points (next trips are Spain and Japan), reading fiction (favorite authors too numerous to list but include Haruki Murakami, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Philip Pullman), watching The Great British Bake-Off (and sometimes actually baking things), hiking and camping, and rooting for the Red Sox and Patriots. He lives in the Kensington neighborhood with his hilarious wife and their crazy cat.

Vince tutors the SAT, ACT, and GRE (and teaches classes). 

He meets with students in his Sorrento Valley office or online.

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Why is the rSAT verbal benchmark so much lower than the math?

Why is the rSAT verbal benchmark so much lower than the math?

Image credit: Essayontime.com.au

The SAT and ACT have released their scores for the class of 2018, accompanied by the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth about persistently low levels of STEM achievement.

As Nick Anderson of the Washington Post reports:

Forty-nine percent of students in this year’s graduating class who took the SAT received a math score indicating they had a strong chance [75%] of earning at least a C in a college-level math class, according to data made public Thursday. That was significantly lower than on the reading and writing portion of the tests: 70 percent of SAT-takers reached a similar benchmark in that area.

What the article quite remarkably fails to mention is that the benchmark verbal score, 480, is a full 50 points lower than that for math. Given the discrepancy, it is entirely unsurprising that fewer students met the benchmark in math.

Let’s try some basic — and I do mean basic — critical thinking with statistics, shall we?

To understand what a 480 verbal score on the redesigned SAT actually means, consider that it translates into about 430 on the pre-2016 exam, which in turn translates into about a 350 (!) on the pre-1995 SAT.

This is not “college ready” in any meaningful sense of the term. In my experience, students scoring in this range typically struggle to do things such as identify when a statement is a sentence, or grasp the concept that texts are making arguments as opposed to “just saying stuff.” But to reiterate one of my favorite points, this is in part why the SAT was changed: the decline in reading/writing scores was becoming embarrassing. And if you can’t change the students, the only other option is to change the test, and the scoring system along with it. (more…)

Should you discuss mental health issues in your college essay?

Should you discuss mental health issues in your college essay?

Image ©Nickshot, Adobe Stock

 

As regular readers of my blog may know, I periodically trawl the forums over at College Confidential to see what’s trending. Recently, I’ve noticed a concerning uptick in the number of students asking whether it’s appropriate for them to write about mental health issues, most frequently ADD and/or anxiety, in their college applications.

So the short answer: don’t do it.

The slightly longer version:

If you’re concerned about a drop in grades or an inconsistent transcript, talk to your guidance counselor. If these types of issues are addressed, the GC’s letter is the most appropriate place for them. If, for any reason, the GC is unable/unwilling to discuss them and the issues had a significant impact on your performance in school that unequivocally requires explanation, you can put a brief, matter of fact note in the “is there any additional information you’d like us to know?” section, but think very carefully about how you present it. Do not write your main essay about the issue. (more…)

The ACT is not a “curriculum-based” test (and colleges aren’t biased against it)

The ACT is not a “curriculum-based” test (and colleges aren’t biased against it)

Image © Antonioguillem, Adobe Stock

 

The notion that the ACT is a curriculum-based test is one of those hoary old ideas that, like so-called “obscure words” or the “guessing penalty” on the old SAT, has apparently now achieved zombie status. In fact, I confess I thought it had more or less disappeared into the ether until I encountered it on Instagram (yes, Instagram!) of all places. And by a test-prep company no less. That made me realize it wasn’t nearly as gone as I thought. Hence this post.

The confusion stems in large part from the fact that way back, the ACT was originally designed to be aligned with a generic high school curriculum—“originally” meaning “in the 1950s.” At that point, the exam did actually test some pieces of specific factual knowledge. In the late 1980s, however, the original Social Studies and Science tests were replaced with the current Reading and Scientific Reasoning tests and, presumably recognizing that students’ exposure to specific topics varied dramatically as well as wanting to compete with the SAT, the ACT moved towards testing more general reasoning abilities. (more…)

Interview with a tutor: Valerie Erde of Veridian Prep

Interview with a tutor: Valerie Erde of Veridian Prep

I’m happy to introduce a new series for this blog: each month, I’ll be posting a short interview with a different tutor. While I no longer tutor myself, I still get asked for recommendations of tutors who use Critical Reader books/methods, and so I’ve decided to introduce readers to these people directly. The first installment, below, is with reading and writing specialist Valerie Erde. Valerie student-taught with me for several months, and her students have consistently achieved outstanding results on both the SAT and the ACT. She recently founded her own company, Veridian Prep

 

Tell us about Veridian Prep

VeridianPrep is a Greenwich, CT and NYC-based test prep, tutoring, and college advisory company that prides itself on a small, but highly experienced, team of subject experts that provides personalized, evidence-based, and structured instruction and guidance to get measurable results for our students and families. We believe that excellent diagnostics, high-quality instruction and materials, and individualized attention have been the keys to our students’ successes.

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How soon is too soon to be done with standardized testing?

How soon is too soon to be done with standardized testing?

Summer SAT prep has become a rite of passage of sorts for rising juniors, but once school starts again, the timeline can get a little fuzzy. What if that first set of scores, from a test in September or October, seems pretty solid? Is it ok to walk away, or is a retake called for, and if so, when?

Much of the time, I suspect, students’ instinct is to think, I spent all that time prepping over the summer… I have lots of stuff to do now, and I don’t want to have to think about this anymore — can’t I just stop? I want to address this because I think it’s a common question, and the answer isn’t necessarily what people want to hear. Obviously, the desire to get the standardized testing process over with as quickly as possible is understandable; however, prepping early does not and in many cases should not automatically translate into being done early. (more…)

Update on the August SAT scandal

Update on the August SAT scandal

The last couple of weeks have seen some new developments in the most recent SAT scandal. Initial reports stated that some questions from the August 2018 test administered in the U.S. had been leaked in Asia before the exam. Mercedes Schneider did a little bit of digging, however, and discovered that wasn’t exactly the case. In reality, the problem goes a lot deeper—and in this case, the problem doesn’t lie with Asian testing centers or students: (more…)