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.  





    Lakeside's New Micro School

    Projected to Open Fall 2018

    There has been a lot of talk about Lakeside expanding their school in Seattle. While demand at Lakeside's original campus continues to be high, the school administration is looking at other way to educate students outside of their traditional school and campus.

    I had a very informative phone call with Sue Belcher, Lakeside School's Director of Micro School Research and Development to learn more about this new school model. They refer to their new school as a micro school. Lakeside's micro school will have a different education model, but still keeps to their standards of academic excellence and innovation. 

    The school is slated to open for the 2018-19 school year and will service grades 9-12 with 160 total students = 40 students across each grade.  When the school opens in the Fall of 2018, it will accept only 9th and 10th grade students and (80 students total) grow by a grade each year (adding a new 9th grade class each application year) until reaching capacity and filling out all four grade levels by the 2021-22 school year. 

    They are currently scouting downtown South Seattle locations and access to light rail is a priority. It will not be a campus school, but instead reside in an office building or like structure with a lease secured by winter 2017. The tuition is currently estimated at $17K per year (vs Lakeside's main campus cost of $32K per year).  This cost will make the school more affordable to families looking for a private school and also reflects a no frills school model. They do not anticipate the micro school will pull from the current Lakeside population, but will draw in a new group of students seeking out this style of learning experience at a lower price point.  What is a no frills model? No athletics (students will be able to participate at their local public school), PE classes or art electives.  

    The micro school will integrate the city into the curriculum including required internships. The core curriculum for each grade will be signature to Lakeside and also revolve around a singular learning concept for each grade incorporating history, English and math.  The school will teach wellness and art appreciation with the goal of utilizing the city and neighborhood resources. Spanish language will be the only foreign language option.  They may also utilize the growing online program, Global Online Academy, to add additional course offerings geared toward the independent student.

    I am looking forward to following the development of Lakeside's micro school and will continue to see how other Seattle area schools move forward and introduce new learning models.
    It is already application time for independent schools for the 2017-18 school year and I am in the middle of touring many of them.  I have 12 tours scheduled over the next month and I am always happy to talk to families about the Seattle independent school scene. 


    Racial diversity and Seattle area schools

    Racially diverse schools and communities are top of mind for many of my client families moving from outside of the Seattle area.  Many families are coming from international schools, large metropolitan areas (like Boston, NYC) and have questions about Seattle area public schools with regards to race and family income. 

    I find many families unfamiliar with Seattle view it as a very homogeneous city and are surprised when they see how diverse many of the schools are with regard to race and income.  I also assist families coming from smaller school districts and city suburbs and their children have not been in a racially diverse school and they have questions about how schools in the Seattle area "look and feel" compared to their current district. 

    Seattle no longer buses students outside of their neighborhood schools and schools reflect the population of the neighborhood. The Eastside (Bellevue, Issaquah, Kirkland) never bussed outside of area and their schools racial make up has changed along with the changing population following the tech industry. 

    Recently, The Seattle Times published this very informative article about race and our public schools andincluded an interactive tool to view your school or target school and look up the diversity index score for any school in King or Snohomish County.

    I am available to discuss these statistics and specific schools assisting you in finding the right fit schools for your children. 















    Understanding Standardized Testing

    I am asked on a regular basis by families relocating to Washington State to explain required testing for our public schools to meet the State Common Core standards and also graduation requirements. Part of my service includes putting together informational documents for my clients comparing their current testing schedule with the requirements for Washington State.

    With the recent demise of the No Child Left Behind Law and its replacement with the Every Student Succeed Act (signed into Federal law by President Obama in December 2015), it is not only confusing for current families to understand the requirements, but nearly impossible for families new to the U.S. education system. 

    Standardized testing is a topic that divides teachers, administrators, government agencies and families and one that is hard for me to keep my opinion to myself.  Lucky for me, ParentMap Magazine just published an excellent article about Washington State standardized testing rules.

    From all my time visiting schools and speaking with parents, I know that many students in the lower elementary school grades opted out of testing last year.  It is only in the extreme cases like with Nathan Hale and Garfield High School that the numbers are released.  It is hard to get a clear picture of families opting out in the elementary years, as the students still attend school to avoid being marked absent, but spend the time in the library or a supervised study period. 

    For families moving from within the United States public school system, the amount of testing in Washington State does not differ dramatically from other States. For families coming to the area from outside of the United States, it can be quite perplexing as it differs dramatically from the graduation and leveling testing requirements in countries such as Britain, Singapore, China, Germany and Australia.   

    I'll do my best to answer your specific questions about testing and graduation requirements - whether you are joining the U.S. school system for a few years and returning to your home country to complete your child's education or if you are planning to have your children graduate from an U.S. high school and apply for university.








    Lake Washington School District - Bond Vote

    UPDATE - May 1, 2016

    Fourth time’s a charm: The Lake Washington School District passed a nearly $400 million construction bond last week after three failed attempts. Elsewhere in King and Snohomish counties, school-funding measures in the Issaquah, Vashon Island and Everett school districts also passed, but bonds in Kent and Marysville fell short.


    At the end of April, the families of the Lake Washington School District (LWSD)  will find out if a much needed school bond has passed. The LWSD community has not passed a school bond measure for 4 years - yes, you read that correctly,4 years! The district has passed several school levies (renewals) during that time, but no large bond to fund new construction and upgrade many of the existing schools.

    The district serves the communities of Kirkland, Redmond and part of Sammamish and is home to many well-regarded schools including the U.S. News and World Report number one ranked school in Washington State - International Community School .  The area contains the large Google office complex, is  very commutable to corporate headquarters of Microsoft, Nintendo's campus and downtown Bellevue plus several public transportation hubs to downtown Seattle. This area offers housing across many price points and communities including lakefront to suburban neighborhoods and acreage. 

    In one year, LWSD has grown from the sixth largest district in the state to the fourth largest in the state.  They are anticipating by 2020-21 the district will enroll over 30,000 students. As of September 2016, 14% of classroom space across the district is held in portable buildings equaling 168 portables! 

    The bond measure includes:

    Two new elementary schools, one new middle school, much needed rebuild and enlargement of Juanita high school, rebuild and enlarge Kirkland middle school, rebuild and enlarge the very dated Mead elementary school.  Funds would also be allocated to remodel the Old Redmond School House for a district preschool and replace the portables at Explorer Community school and provide special education space to address Title IX and the Americans with Disability Act.

    The $398 million bond measure would maintain the 2015 tax rate. As past construction levies are paid off, these bonds would replace those items. This measure is part of a long-term plan to meet the district's needs through 2029-30. Three subsequent bond measures will be up for vote in the following years to meet the longer-term needs of the district. As of now, the district is stating the subsequent measures would also maintain the 2015 tax rate.

    Families of school age children are working hard to get the word out on the urgent need for funds to support their schools.  Community support for their schools is just one component to keep in mind when moving to a new area and viewing the history of bonds and levies is the recommended starting point. 


    Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate

    I am asked the question quite often from families with rising high school students - What is the difference between Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) high school program?

    Both AP and IB programs offer very rigorous courses that universities want to see on high school transcripts. Both programs are designed to academically challenge students and help prepare for college.  There is an ongoing debate regarding the emphasis of colleges acceptance rate and standards of rigor based on students acceptance and AP courses taken in high school. 

    The IB Diploma Program (IBDP)

    IB classes follow a curriculum mandated by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Cardiff, Wales. IB courses include papers and IB exams graded by trained teachers and IB external assessors.

    In 1968, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program was founded by a group of progressive teachers from the International School of Geneva, with assistance from several other international schools, in part “to facilitate the international mobility of students.”

    Students can take individual IB classes and earn a certificate of completion for each class or can be IB diploma students, which is the 2-year program for high school juniors and seniors. Students who decide to pursue an IB diploma must complete a specific set of courses including the Theory of Knowledge course, a course on critical thinking and creativity, action and service, which also involves activities outside of the classroom.  Students must also complete a 4,000 word thesis paper. 

    Over 800 schools in the U.S. offer this program.  There is a small number of Seattle area high schools offering the IB program including Rainier Beach, Sealth, and Ingraham within the Seattle School District, Skyline in Issaquah, Interlake in Bellevue, Forest Ridge in Bellevue (independent girl's school), Edmonds Woodway High School in Edmonds and Inglemoor in the Northshore School District. 

    Proponents of the IBDP point to a rigorous two-year program, which puts more emphasis on writing and research, foreign language and global citizenship than on traditional curriculum.

    The Advanced Placement Program (AP)

    AP courses follow a curriculum mandated by the College Board. AP exams prepared by the College Board are given in May, and are graded by the College Board on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest. Scores are reported in mid-July.

    Proponents of Advanced Placement, a U.S. program founded in 1955 and administered by the College Board (the same body responsible for the SAT exam), and it is a well-known, well-established program. Many universities award college credit to students who pass high school AP end-of-course exams allowing students to enter college with completed college course work and credits. 

    AP classes typically begin in junior year and are often preceded by pre-AP classes and in larger high schools it is often used as an honors tracking system, with pre-AP classes beginning in freshman year.  Test are multiple choice and also require written original work.  Students can self-select for AP classes and may choose to take them in only one subject or across many subjects.  They may also choose whether or not to take the exam for college credit.

    Individual high school teachers structure the advanced placement classes, so the course offerings and content will vary by school. The College Board has available some supporting materials, but teachers are not required to use them.  There are also optional training conferences for teachers. 

    One of the benefits of the AP program is that any student may self-select a subject she is interested in and take that for AP credit, without undertaking an entire AP program. This can be true of the IB program. Students may take select IB courses without pursuing the full diploma, if the school decides to allow it. 

    Recognition by Colleges

    Colleges generally recognize AP and IB courses as being on a par, although they are generally more familiar with the AP curriculum. The extent to which colleges will give credit or placement varies among colleges, but generally if they accept AP scores (usually a score of at least 3), then they also accept IB scores (usually a score of at least 5). Some colleges give credit for certain scores on AP or IB exams; others will allow students to place out of lower level classes, but will not give credit.

    AP or IB?

    Whether to take all or some AP courses, be an IB diploma student, be an IB certificate student, or take a mixture of AP and IB courses needs to be a matter of student preference, interest, and learning style. The experience of the IB Theory of Knowledge class and the guided research class for Extended Essay are unduplicated in AP. 

    As a global program, one of the major differences between the IB and AP programs is IB's focus on world history rather than U.S. history.  

    The IB diploma program is comprehensive, but fairly inflexible. The AP program and IB certificate program are more flexible, allowing a student to take AP or IB courses in the subjects which interest them.  It is possible to take an IB course in some subject areas and take the AP exam in the same subject area. However, students who have not taken an IB course may not take an IB exam. Review books for AP exams are commercially available; there are no commercially available IB exam review books.

    The majority of greater Seattle independent (private) high schools do not offer AP or IB courses, but feel that students are prepared to sit for the AP exams, if desired.  The recently released Harvard School of Education report of university admission policy calls for the de-emphasis of AP classes (and I imagine IB will fall into this too - but was not called out in the summary of the report that was released last month.). The recent backlash against excessive AP course load as an indicator of college readiness is highlighted in the report and it is recommended for schools teach fewer topics across a subject, but go into greater depth with emphasis on student interest, creativity and exploration. For more information on this report - listen to the podcast - Slate's Getting In - Researchers call for bold changes in College admissions -- Episode # 4F and available on iTunes

    Most public high schools host an open houses for prospective students and their families in the late winter months (late January - February) and all interested families (unrelated to current district placement) are allowed to attend and hear about the programs.  This is a great way to get to know a school and learn more about their IB and/or AP offerings and teaching philosophy around these advanced courses. 

    Evaluating Schools - Public and Independent

    Families relocating to the Seattle area with school age children are very fortunate, as Seattle is home to a large number of highly regarded and nationally ranked public and private schools.   Many of my clients relocating from outside of the United States have asked me to explain the differences and similarities between the two models - Public and Private (Independent) Schools. 

    PUBLIC SCHOOL- is State and Federally funded and follows all teaching and testing guidelines supervised by the School district and State Education Board. With funding dependent on the government, public school resources are always at risk of being cut and map to general state and federal budget cuts. Budget cuts may affect your child’s class size, the teacher/student ratio, as well as curricular or extra-curricular programs in the arts, music and sports. There is no cost to attend public schools from Grade 1 - 12.  There is a monthly cost for full-day Kindergarten and no cost for 1/2 day Kindergarten (3 hr program). 

    Many schools with an active parent volunteer base (PTA) are able to fundraise and provide additional opportunities for students and teachers.  Fundraising may consist of holding an auction, cash based giving campaign, walk-a-thon and book sales to subsidize the school's budget. 

    Public schools most frequently are neighborhood schools and I am able to work along side your real estate agent to make sure your desired school falls within your housing boundaries. Housing not employment boundaries will determine the public school your child attends. Due to the growth in the Seattle area, many public schools are overcrowded and class sizes range from 22-32 students. 

    Most public schools will have a mix of academic ability. In the United States, schools are required to meet the needs of all students and make the proper accommodations, as needed. Assistance programs offered at no cost to families for qualified students may include speech, occupational and physical therapy and English as a second language training.   

    Seattle area public schools also are required to offer gifted and talented programs.  Students must meet qualifying scores across a series of test for reading, math and cognitive skills. Public schools that serve gifted and talented students are limited to a few schools per district and all testing in managed by the school district. 

    In the United States separation of church and state does not allow public schools to teach religion. As of now, public schools do not require a uniform, most districts provide bus transportation to/from school at no cost and serve a hot lunch daily at a minimal cost.   

    PRIVATE/INDEPENDENT SCHOOL - Most private/independent schools are not-for-profit and receive no funding from the State. These schools rely on tuition and school specific fundraising efforts including an annual auction and giving campaign to cover the cost of education and facilities management. 

    Most private schools will require entrance testing and an extensive application for admittance. The majority of private schools only allow admittance at the beginning of the school year (early September) with a very few exceptions for mid-year enrollment.  The application process begins with tours and admission testing in the Fall prior to the admittance year - i.e.:  Fall 2015 testing and application for Fall 2016 entrance. Acceptance announcement is communicated in the Spring with a nonrefundable deposit to hold your student's spot due within a few week timeframe.    

    Private schools are located across the Puget Sound area and require families to provide their own transportation either by driving, carpool or paid bus service.  Uniforms are not common in the majority of private schools and tend to only be required in a few faith based schools. Private schools may teach religion and have discretion about how to celebrate religious traditions and culture awareness.   Private schools are not required to offer special education support and schools that offer support for learning differences increase the tuition by an average of 40% for that student.   

    Many of your child's extracurricular activities will take place at the school and, unlike your neighborhood public school, friends will come from all over the Seattle area.  Many private schools offer a richer selection of "the extras" including sports, arts, theater, technology/maker spaces and music programs. 

    Student to teacher ratios tend to be significantly smaller than public schools with size ranging from 12-18 students per subject period.  Not all private schools offer AP certified courses in high school, but even without official AP classes, the students have the ability to sit for the AP exams and obtain credit. 

    Tuition will vary from $8000 to over $30,000 per year depending on the school and child's grade level.  Most independent high schools in Seattle area are $30,000 per year -  servinggrades 9-12. Financial aid is available from each school for a limited number of qualified families.  Faith based schools with parish sponsors (i.e. Catholic) tend to have tuition prices at approximately half of non-faith based schools. 

    My services streamline the school search process and help you find the right fit for your family, housing area and budget. 

    Washington State National Merit Semi-Finalists

    Every Fall, high school seniors are notified if they are a semifinalists for the prestigious and financially rewarding National Merit Scholarship program.  More than 1.5 million juniors across the United States entered the 2016 National Merit program by taking the 2014 Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. 

    The nationwide pool of semifinalists, which represents less than 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors, includes the highest scoring entrants in each state. The number of semifinalists in a state is proportional to the state’s percentage of the national total of graduating seniors.

    Approximately 16,000 high school seniors across the United States were named National Merit Scholarship semifinalists for 2016. This year, Washington State seniors tied with New York for #8 in the country with a qualifying score of 219*. All semifinalists are eligible to compete for 7,400 National Merit Scholarship awards worth $32 million, to be awarded in spring 2016.

    For Seattle area schools and a list of all qualified students by high school, please see the Seattle Times link:   Please keep in mind the schools vary in student size from 400+ to 50 seniors with the higher percentage of overall semifinalists attending Seattle area private schools.   

    *The top 7 states by scores for 2015-16 are:  District of Columbia 225, New Jersey 225, California 223,  Massachusetts 223, with Maryland, Virginia at 222. 


    Back to school time advice

    I just sent my children off to their first day of school, after the summer break, and I am now ready to tackle all those projects on my to-do list.  The relaxing summer season is over and it is time to get back to schedules, alarm clocks, homework, earlier bedtimes and packing lunches. The Washington Post article, linked below, is a great reminder of all the things we should and shouldn't do to help everyone in the family have a great school year - students and parents alike.  By helping less and helping smarter, I should be able to have time for all those "to-dos"!