The Coronavirus might cause more schools to go test-optional (but you should take the SAT or ACT anyway)

The Coronavirus might cause more schools to go test-optional (but you should take the SAT or ACT anyway)

A couple of weeks ago, as soon as it became clear that there was no way the spring SAT and ACT testing schedule could proceed as normal, I started wondering how the Coronavirus pandemic would affect the trend toward test-optional admissions policies.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than an Instagram announcement popped up stating that Case Western had decided to go test-optional for students applying in the fall of 2021. At Case, the policy currently applies to those applicants only; policies for future classes will be determined next winter. Tufts has also announced a similar policy involving a three-year trial period.

From what I understand, it seems likely that the pandemic will consist of multiple, overlapping waves of outbreaks in different regions over a fairly extended period, rather than occurring in one single massive wave, and so it would not be at all surprising if these policies were ultimately extended. (more…)

Giveaway: AP English Lang/Comp guide, 2018 edition (usable for 2020 online exam)

Giveaway: AP English Lang/Comp guide, 2018 edition (usable for 2020 online exam)

I just found out that we have an extra 22 copies of the 2018 version of the AP English guide. If anyone wants one, we’re happy to give them away; we just ask that you cover the $6.99 shipping fee. First-come, first-served.

Because the main 2020 changes to the exam involve the multiple-choice section, which is not being included in the online version, the 2018 edition remains aligned with the test. The only difference involves the switch from a 9-point to a 6-point essay scale, but all the tips, examples, etc. are still directly relevant (and are unchanged in the 2020 edition).

Click here to contact us, or send us your info to thecriticalreader1@gmail.com.

We’ll post an update when all the copies are taken.

Covid-19 impact on book delivery

3/24 update: International shipping is not available. I’ve just been notified that Amazon, which prints our books, is not currently shipping orders outside the United States. Because international orders must go through Amazon rather than from our regular warehouse, we unfortunately unable to ship abroad.

As of today (3/23/20), delivery times for *most* Critical Reader books remain unaffected by the novel Coronavirus. Our storage and shipping facility is still open and operating normally, and orders should continue to arrive in approximately 5-7 days.

The only exception is the recently released updated AP English Language and Composition Guide. This item must still be sent from the printer, which is currently experiencing delays. Please allow 10 days for shipping.

We will post an update if there are any changes.

To everyone: please take care and stay safe.

The grammar of fake news

The grammar of fake news

A number of years ago, an acquaintance enlisted me to help her search Craigslist for a sublet in New York City. This is a daunting task under the best of circumstances, but in this case the difficulty was compounded by the fact that my acquaintance was not a native English speaker—in fact, she did not speak much English at all—nor was she particularly internet savvy.

As someone who had spent a fair amount of time on Craigslist looking for apartments herself, I was well-versed in the various scams that flood the site and adept at the spotting the markers for them: TOO MUCH CAPITALIZATION or too much lower case. Word salad, word soup… Or wording that just somehow seemed “off,” in some vague, undefined way.

My acquaintance, on the other hand, was entirely at sea: she would call the numbers listed and be told that the original rental no longer existed but that she could be shown other, pricier options; or that she would have to hand over exorbitant amounts of money for a deposit, and so on.

I eventually got very frustrated trying to help her. She was oblivious to clear warning signs, and she went running to look at apartment after apartment that just obviously wasn’t going to pan out. (more…)

Updated AP® English Language and Composition guide now available

The updated version of The Critical Reader: AP® English Language and Composition Edition is now available

The guide provides a comprehensive review of all the reading and writing skills tested on the revised 2020 version of the exam. It includes a complete chapter dedicated to each type of multiple-choice reading question; a new multiple-choice writing section; and a section devoted to the three essays, with real student samples and detailed scoring analyses based on the new College Board rubric. 

Click here to read a preview.

Please note: The primary changes involve the elimination of vocabulary-based, multiple-answer (I, II, III), and rhetoric questions  from the reading section; the addition of a multiple-choice writing section; and a switch from a 9- to a 6-point essay-scoring rubric (essays themselves remain the same).

If you already have the 2018/2019 version of this book, we recommend supplementing it with rhetoric questions from SAT Writing and Language passages, ACT English passages, or the Fixing Paragraphs section of the pre-2016. Click here for examples of real essays scored according to the new rubric. 

 

Does Lucy Calkins understand what phonics is?

Does Lucy Calkins understand what phonics is?

As I alluded to my previous post, the U. Wisconsin-Madison cognitive psychologist and reading specialist Mark Seidenberg has posted a rebuttal to Lucy Calkins’s manifesto “No One Gets to Own the Term ‘Science of Reading’” on his blog. For anyone interested in understanding the most recent front in the reading wars, I strongly recommend both pieces.

What I’d like to focus on here, however, are the ways in which Calkins’s discussion of phonics reveal a startlingly compromised understanding of the subject for someone of her influence and stature.

In recent years, and largely—as Seidenberg explains—in response to threats to her personal reading-instruction empire, Calkins has insisted that she really believes in the importance of systematic phonics, a claim that comes off as somewhat dubious given the obvious emphasis she places on alternate decoding methods, e.g., covering up letters, using context clues, etc. (Claude Goldenberg, the emeritus Stanford Ed School professor who helped author the recent report on Units of Study, also does a good job of showing how Calkins attempts to play to both sides of the reading debate while clearly holding tight to three-cueing methods.)

That’s obviously a problem, but I think the real question is even more fundamental: not just whether Calkins truly supports the teaching of phonics, but whether she understands what phonics is. (more…)