Reducing the Stress of Taking Tests

As an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, I am able to participate in monthly webinars lead by education experts across the U.S. This month, I listened to Barb Sapir from Test Prep/San Francisco and Test Prep/NY discuss her program for working with students to help reduce the stress of test taking - focused on the ACT and SAT for college admittance.

While, I don't work with college students, I felt this was of value and many of her tips are helpful for middle school and high school students that have occasional test anxiety and do not qualify for test taking accommodations.  She provided many mindset tools and test taking strategies and also encouraged each student to understand their learning style:  Kinesthetic, Reading/Writing, Auditory or Visual.  

Concerns about not having enough time to complete the test and overall anxiety about taking a test were the two main issues from all the consultants polled for this webinar. One way to help in this area is to develop a Personal Plan that goes beyond basic test taking strategies (go with your first thought...) and encourages the student to commit to a method of study (it could be in a group, with a tutor, on own) and parents can help the student to identify a specific place in the house (or library, local cafe) as their test study location.  

Students also need to understand what material they need to master. Many middle school and high school students spend too much time studying what they already know (or find easy) and save the more challenging material to right before the test or quiz.  Ms. Sapir also stated many of the students that come to her for consultation need help with time management when taking a test and most often this is simply coaching the child on speed reading techniques. Reading speed is the main reason students have difficulty completing a test - it is not reading comprehension or their lack of knowing the material.

Most students polled for her presentation answered they "just hope for the best" when taking a test, even when anxiety has hindered their past performances. Her presentation went beyond "hope for the best" and offered easy tips for students to try including breathing techniques, writing down/journaling their concerns and committing to a positive mindset.

Lastly, she spoke of many mindfulness techniques that students of all ages may practice leading up to a test or even stopping during the exam for a 15 second - 1 minute mindfulness break when they feel their anxiety level rising. Even though I don't sit for exams anymore, I  found many of her points helpful for everyday life stresses or dealing with my own children's anxiety around test taking too. 






Seattle Public Schools - Upcoming Changes - High School - Science, Boundaries and HCC

A lot is happenings with Seattle Public Schools right now and I will focus this blog on high school changes including final decisions on boundary and HCC changes and the recent announcement impacting the high school science curriculum. I have attended several of the district meetings and will continue to follow, as there remains many unanswered questions. All these changes impact current and new families moving to Seattle. Many of these issues have been unresolved and I am glad to be able to finally provide clearer information to families relocating to Seattle.  

As of the January 31st Seattle School Board meeting, there are no high school boundary changes for the 2018-19 school year, but changes are approved for the 2019-20 school year. All 9th graders in fall of 2019 will be assigned to their attendance area high school based on the approved 2019-20 boundaries. All 9th graders attending Ballard or Roosevelt in 2018-19 as their attendance area school and who live in areas that are changing to the Lincoln High School attendance area in the fall of 2019 will be geo-split, meaning they will start 10th grade at Lincoln High School.

The boundary pathways for High School HCC (highly capable) was under review and decisions for the 2018-19 school year were also confirmed at the January 31st Seattle School Board meeting.  Beginning in 2019-20, there will be three HC pathways: a north pathway at Lincoln High School (new to open school in September 2019), a central/southeast pathway at Garfield High School and a southwest pathway at West Seattle High School. The IBX (International Baccalaureate) program at Ingraham High School remains as an optional pathway.

The current high school science changes will be put into place for the current freshman class, Class of 2021. These students will be required to have three credits (three full years) in science instead of the current two year requirement. There is also a new required exam at the end of junior year, the Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science. This exam will now be a graduation requirement. This exam is based on the new Washington State Science Standards which were adopted by the State in 2013.

The sequence of classes is also changing and now looks different vs the sequence offered in the Bellevue, Lake Washington, Issaquah Public School Districts and also most Seattle area independent schools. This is causing a bit of confusion and I will continue to follow. 

I am still trying to understand how this impacts AP offerings and if the Ballard Biotech Program will be impacted for the class of 2021 and later. It also appears that no other district is making such comprehensive changes to meet the state standard and this is continuing to cause confusion for Seattle School District families.  

I am always here to assist your family and do my best to stay on top of all the Seattle area district changes (ncluding Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah and Lake Washington) to help you make the best decision for your family.  





    Meet the Global Families of Puget Sound

    I love this article from ParentMap magazine written by Jiaying Grygiel. A big part of my business is working with new families relocating the Seattle area from other cities in the U.S and several of my client families are relocating to the U.S. as expats with plans to return to their home country.  An interesting and welcoming read.


    Parent Teacher Conference Tips

    Just read this excellent article from the New York Times on parent teacher conferences and how to get the most out of your conference.  Perfect timing with the areas public and independent schools all in first quarter conference mode.


    Seattle School Tour Season

    I just participated on a panel for a group of parents at a local private elementary school looking to learn more about public and independent middle school options for their children.  One parent asked me how many schools had I toured and I was stumped!  The number that came to me was around 40, but to be honest, I had never counted.  So, when I got home, I dug through paper files, computer files, school brochures and my calendar to find an accurate answer – drum roll, please – over the past 3 years, I have toured 53 Seattle area schools including preschools, daycare, public and private elementary, middle and high schools. 

    One school is in a Seattle park and teaches all classes outside, so I toured that one in my rainboots and parka, three other schools have pet chickens and two other schools have on-site therapy dogs and many other schools have professional rehearsal spaces, 3D printers within their Maker Space and others have classes in portable building to accommodate construction and growth. We are very fortunate in this area to have such a broad range of schools with something for every student and family.  I will keep on touring over the next few months and plan to revisit some schools to learn about their program changes and tour a few programs for the first time. 

    I attend either Educator Tours (attended by school administrators, teachers and education consultants) or I join on the public tour along with interested families.  This year I have toured:  *Eastside Prep, The Downtown School by Lakeside that will welcome their first class Fall 2018, Seattle Waldorf High School, Westside School and Explorer West both in West Seattle, *The Overlake High School program, Lake Washington Girls School, The Valley School, University Co-op School, *LEAD Prep and The International Friends School (opens Fall 2018).

    I will also be attending events at many public schools and I am waiting for confirmation for their family nights.  These nights usually take place in the late January – mid-March and are designed for families that currently live in the school district and want to learn more about their child’s next step school – ie: going from elementary to middle school to high school. 

    Now that I looked up my school tour number, I will be better prepared to answer that question and it won’t be long before I can say I have toured close to 70 different Seattle area schools! I look forward to seeing new programs and revisiting programs to see what has changed, stayed the same and touch base with the teachers and administrators. 


    The ISEE and the SSAT - Independent School Admission Tests

    Back to school just got checked off the list and now it is time for families interested in exploring private/independent school for the 2018-19 school year to start thinking ahead to next school year.

    The Fall is the time of year all the Seattle area independent (private) schools host their open houses for prospective families for the 2018-19 school year. 

    Independent school review tends to occur for the main entry years (the year the school starts with a new class) which are: Pre-K, Kindergarten, 5th, 6th, and 9th grade.  Applications are accepted for all grades, but the open house and classroom visits tend to focus on the entry years.  

    Independent school application deadlines vary by school, but most preliminary applications are due by late fall with completed applications including essays and testing submitted by early January.  Decisions are made in late February to early March and waitlists are kept until the new school year. 

    Exceptions may be made for families just moving to area and I remain in contact with admission directors all year.  Some schools “save” a spot for a qualified new to the Seattle area family vs going to their waitlist over the summer months. 

    One part of the application process is admission testing and the Seattle area schools require students to sit for one of the two nationally recognized tests for students in grade 2 and higher:  Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT). Seattle area independent schools seem to be split 50/50 with schools preferring the SSAT and others affiliated with the ISEE.  Some of the schools are flexible and will accept either test, but you must get approval from the admissions director to submit the non-preferred test.  Both tests have testing dates across almost all 50 states and you do not have to sit for the test in the same state as your application school (s).

    The ISEE and SSAT share several similarities, but they are different tests and have different grading systems. Both tests are roughly the same length and feature five comparable sections in verbal skills, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, math achievement and writing. Each verbal section contains out-of-context vocabulary questions; the other half of the ISEE is in-context vocabulary, while the SSAT instead tests analogies.

    The SSAT is known for utilizing unconventional word problems, analogies, and various types of passages from nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. The ISEE is viewed as the straighter forward test, focusing more on the depth of its content (especially in mathematics) than on the creative presentation of its questions and tends to stick to more contemporary language. 

    Another big difference, and one that is very important for your child to understand, is the ISEE has no penalty for an incorrect answer. The SSAT assesses a ¼ point penalty for an incorrect answer verses receiving no penalty for a skipped question. 

    The SSAT and the ISEE also include a non-graded essay section.  The completed essay is provided to the school for evaluation and, at times, comparison to the student’s application essays.  The purpose of the essay allows schools to see the quality of writing in a timed format and without parent/tutor editing that may occur in the student’s application essays.    

    Both tests have three levels depending on the age of the student with an elementary, middle and upper division test.  SSAT scores range from 470-770 for middle school and 500-800 for the high school level exam.  It is my understanding the SSAT Board provides subscribing schools with an applicant student’s rank vs the past 3 years of applicants’ scores.  The ISEE scores use a percentage and a stanine score of 1-9.  For both tests, you will also be provided a percentile based on your child’s score and it is important to keep in mind, this percentage only represents students who take the test – not the entire student population.

    The score is one metric to measure a student, but it is also a metric that can improve with additional study and practice.  Online practice tests are available for both the ISEE and the SSAT and there are many private tutors and tutoring centers to assist with test preparation

    My client families have found that some tutoring paid off when tackling new subjects in math by providing familiarity with the concepts and easing the anxiety of sitting for a standardized test.

    Both tests may be taken numerous times and you do not have to submit the score for each sitting.  SSAT testing is available monthly during admission season and the ISEE may only be taken 1 x during each test period – one time in Fall (Aug-Nov), Winter (Dec-March) and Spring/Summer (April-July) with the parent deciding which score to submit with the application. 

    Accommodations are offered for learning differences and must be requested in advance.  Accommodations include additional time, use of a keyboard vs hand writing for the essay piece and use of a calculator for the math portions of the exam.

    Schools are looking to build a community and a cohesive class.  The application will include student essays, interest surveys, current and former teacher recommendations and several values based questions to be answered by the parents.  It is important to remember; this test is only a part of the admissions process.

    If you have questions about Seattle area independent schools, please reach out and I would be happy to speak with you about the broad range of independent schools available in our area and review the application process in more detail. 


    Housing in Seattle - Seattle Times Price Map

    The Seattle Times just published another article about housing costs in the Seattle market.

    I have attached the link and especially found the interactive pricing map informative. With the average home price in Seattle and the suburbs continuing to grow at a record pace, this article points out neighborhood by neighborhood where the AVERAGE price of a home or in some neighborhoods a building lot is $1 million dollars and more.

    Seattle housing is in the news a lot lately due to having one of the highest increases in housing costs in the country with record yearly growth and limited inventory. In certain areas, a  large number of homes are also sold to foreign investors placing all cash offers to purchase.  Currently, 40% of all homes in the Seattle area are listed for $1 million dollars or more.  The median time a home is on the market is 7 day with 62% of all listed homes exceeding the asking price.

    Housing continues to be the number one concern of my client families especially when pairing with their desired public school district and specific school.  I partner with several realtors to assist their clients with school information to help the family not only find the right fit school, but right fit house within their budget.  Unfortunately, more and more I see families having to give a bit on their desired commute time to meet their school and housing goals.




    Summer = Strawberries

    Nothing says summer is starting in Seattle as fresh, locally grown strawberries.  These are not your ordinary grocery store strawberries. 

    These berries don't even seem to be related to California berries which are bred for size, long truck rides and locked in plastic clamshells containers. The berries of Washington are juicy, fragile, flavor-packed fruit and red all the way through - no white centers.

    Eat them now, freeze them, or make jam out of them. The season is short and lasts only two to four weeks.  They are easy to find with many of the larger grocery stores bringing in fresh berries every morning and you see rows ands rows of them at local farmer's markets.

    U Pick Farms are also within an easy driving distance from Seattle and make for a great outing with your familyI think every parent is grateful that the farms don't charge you for all the berries your kids eat - as they pick!  It is always a bit sad when the strawberry season is done (usually around July 4th) - but up next will be locally grown raspberries, blackberries and blueberries - making every summer a berry good one :) 




    Growing with a Professional Community

    I love meeting new families and providing them information to assist with their school choice for their children.  To ensure I stay up-to-date on area schools, I am constantly visiting schools and investigating school programs year round, which includes attending many formal open house events. For example, this past weekend I visited the Seattle Public School systems newest school – Cedar Park Elementary and met with their Enrollment Policy Analyst for the district. I also learn about schools by going to school performances, book fairs, sporting events and by talking to current PTA members.

    As much as I have enjoyed owning my own business, one thing I missed  was the opportunity to engage with peers and made it a goal this year to reach out to other school professionals both locally (in Seattle) and also across the U.S.  I am one, big step closer in reaching this goal, as I applied and was accepted to be an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association – an independent, nonprofit, professional association for school consultants.  IECA is a national organization with over 1500 members across nearly all U.S. states and 27 nations. They offer peer support and educational opportunities, including conferences, white papers and webinars.  I just recently watched an IECA sponsored webinar on Student Study Skills.  It was filled with great information and will make its way into its own blog soon.

    A second big step will occur later this month when I participate on a panel with several other local Seattle school consultants to discuss education and the family decision process.  I was invited by the Puget Sound Independent Schools to speak at their spring luncheon attended by admission teams from the area’s independent schools. PSIS is an organization that promotes the value of local independent school education, and works collaboratively to make the admission process more accessible for prospective families.  I will speaking with a former colleague from School Choice International, along with several other school consultants with specialties ranging from preschool to high school. 

    The right school will provide academic and extracurricular opportunities for your child and also introduce them to new interests, skills and lasting friendships.  Through my new associations, I hope to be exposed to new opportunities, grow and make new friends as well.



    Charter Schools 101


    I will admit that I do not know a lot about Charter Schools and there are currently only eight charter schools operating across Washington State. With Charter Schools and Vouchers in the news both nationally and locally,  I hope you find this information of value. 

    "Most Americans misunderstand charter schools," was the finding of the 2014 PDK/Gallup poll on public attitudes toward education. The survey found broad support for charters, but also revealed that 48 percent of Americans didn't know charter schools were public. Fifty-seven percent thought they charged tuition. And nearly half thought charters were allowed to teach religion.

    The term "charter" refers to the decision by states to turn public education into a two-sector system. One is a traditional school district, centrally managed. The other, charter schools, are independent, not owned by a central school board. Both are public, but they're organized in very different ways. A local school district does not tell charters what kind of curriculum to use, what company to contract for supplies and they may hire and fire teachers without a contract. It also leaves the charters and their oversight committee responsible to make sure all student's needs are met including ESL and special services.

    There are currently 6.900 charter schools across the U.S. They are publicly-funded, privately-run schools with the first one opening in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992. Today, they enroll about 3.1 million students in 43 states.

    Fifteen percent of the nation's 6,900 charters are for-profit.  Depending on the state laws, a charter school can hire a for-profit company to manage its school. In Michigan, 80 percent are for profit, more than any other state.

    Funding for Charter Schools - I had a hard time finding information on the funding of Charter Schools.  The funding appears to vary by state -  with a potential mix of local, state and federal dollars. Each state has its own laws and regulations for distributing that money to districts and individual schools. A major concern is that charter schools will take money away from the already underfunded public schools. 

    Evaluating Charter Schools - In general, they're evaluated based on test scores, graduation rates, finances — the same as traditional public schools. There is a big inconsistency state-to-state in how well that's done. One of the debates is the need for better oversight of charters. Charter supporters don't want a lot of oversight.. When a charter school is not doing well, the state has to step in with most closures occurring due to financial reasons and poor management.  There are numerous incidents of charter schools closing suddenly and disrupting the student's learning. When this occurs, it requires the public schools to admit an entire school and classrooms of students mid-term.  

    Charter Schools and Washington State:

    The Washington State Supreme Court ruled last year that charter schools were unconstitutional in our State.  In Aprli 2016, the state’s charter schools were allowed to continue by a legislative bill that Gov. Jay Inslee allowed to become law without requiring his signature. 

    Currently, eight charter schools serve 1600 students across the state.  With the opening of three more charter schools planned to open the Fall of 2017 - one in South Seattle, one in West Seattle and one in Walla Walla.   A majority of Washington State charter schools serve students of color with reduced-free breakfast and lunch programs.