February 26, 2008
After being sued by College Board, the makers of the SAT, Karen Dillard’s College Prep LP, a student test-prep company, announced its intent to file a countersuit. Last week, College Board filed charges against the Texas-based company accusing it of illegally obtaining, circulating and selling their PSAT and SAT materials.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the company was said to have acquired the unreleased PSAT tests from a high school principal whose brother worked for Karen Dillard, the owner of the test-prep company After conducting a four-month investigation, College Board decided to take the case to court. In addition to filing charges, College Board threatened to cancel the scores of students who had access to official test material prior to the SAT test day.
Soon after the College Board lawsuit was filed, Karen Dillard, the owner of the test-prep company, filed a suit of her own. She claimed that College Board had unlawfully obtained private information from a previous, disgruntled employee and that such information could not be legally used against her. She also complained that College Board was trying to drive her company out of business.
In past years, College Board had sold previously used SAT exam material to private companies, and Ms. Dillard stated that she had paid for such material. College Board eventually stopped this practice and began to offer tutoring services. According to Ms. Dillard, the lawsuit was an attempt by the company to monopolize the tutoring market and to eliminate small companies such as her own.
Though Ms. Dillard did not deny having acquired some test material without College Board’s authorization, she maintained that the information was obtained after tests had been taken.
March 4, 2008
In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, students across the nation celebrated the eleventh annual Read Across America day on March 3rd. Though most festivities were aimed at the elementary and middle school crowd, plenty of high school students joined in to encourage the young and old to read on a regular basis.
Their support was both appreciated and needed. In 2005, a report published by the National Education Association (NEA) revealed that reading frequency dropped significantly for people of all ages. Those who struggled the most, individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, experienced a reading drop of 28 percent. To stop this trend from continuing, students are being taught that reading can be fun--really.
A list compiled by the NEA offers a few interesting examples of things students and educators have tried in an effort to encourage reading. They include:
o High school cheerleaders and athletes from Hamler, Ohio who challenged students to become active readers by leading them in reading spirit cheers.
o A Dr. Seuss Party thrown by the Central Lafourche High School Performing Arts Club. The event included a Dr. Seuss show, an appearance by the cat and a cake.
o The school-wide Braxton County High reading celebration in which all students, faculty and staff had to drop everything to read during first period.
o A Washington County event in which all elementary, middle and high school students read every day for a week. In addition to a skit performed by students from a high school drama class, prizes were awarded to the 100th person who entered the library.
o The foreign language event in which students from Edmond Santa Fe High School translated and read “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham” in three different languages—English, Spanish and Latin.
But the award for the most interesting (and least appetizing) example goes to the Washington Elementary district which served its students a breakfast of—yuck—green eggs and ham.
March 19, 2008
After years of attacking the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), elementary and high school educators have received some promising news. The Bush administration has finally admitted to certain No Child Left Behind deficiencies and chosen to make some adjustments, in select areas.
Rather than branding all underperforming schools as failing—even those with improved test scores—the administration has proposed distinguishing between schools with serious scholastic troubles and those with slightly sub par scores. To date, one of the biggest issues critics have had with the No Child Left Behind was the program’s lack of flexibility. Because all student groups, regardless of English fluency, have had to meet state proficiency requirements, numerous schools, especially ones in low-income areas, have encountered problems. After a few failed attempts to meet state testing standards, schools were faced with funding losses and possible closings.
Those that were successful in meeting most requirements but found it difficult to raise the scores of a select student group were treated the same as all other “failing” schools. According to The New York Times, 10 percent of the nation’s schools were subsequently identified as “in need of improvement”, a percentage large enough to make additional result evaluation critical.
Under the proposed NCLB plan, up to ten states will have the option to focus their efforts on schools with the greatest scholastic needs rather than on ones with mild testing setbacks. However, only ten schools will have this opportunity, and only those with near perfect records of having abided by the NCLB law will be eligible.
Program evaluation methods are just a few of the many controversial aspects of the NCLB. For better or for worse, the law has had a dramatic affect on teachers and school administrators across the nation. More importantly, it has had a great impact on many elementary and high school students.
To promote student awareness and challenge students to proactively respond to controversial issues, Scholarships.com has created the Resolve to Evolve essay contest. This year, one of our two topics addresses the effectiveness of the No Child Left Behind Act. A total of $10,000 will be awarded to winning applicants who submit their essays.
For additional information about eligibility, requirements and other response options, students and teachers may visit our Resolve to Evolve page. For information about scholarships, grants and other financial aid opportunities, students should complete a free college scholarship search.
March 26, 2008
The recipe for the No Child Left Behind Act seems simple: identify ineffective schools, and improve their student performance. Sprinkle in a dash of funds, a threatening environment for underperforming teachers, and melt away problems at 365°.
Unfortunately, most successful plans call for more than a dash of funds. And as was demonstrated by a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the No Child Left Behind progress, funding problems have been leaving states struggling to comply with the program’s requirements. Of particular concern were two NCLB provisions responsible for regulating the allocation of federal education funds.
As mandated by the No Child Left Behind, states are required to set aside 4 percent of the federal assistance they receive to help low-income students and use that money to improve schools that have failed to meet state academic expectations. No problem there. Because most poorly-scoring schools are low income, the 4 percent used to improve schools would indirectly help the low-income students.
The problem arises when another provision comes into the picture. According to the “hold-harmless” rule, states are not allowed to set aside more money for a poorly-performing school if it means having to cut back on other school district grants, reports the Washington Post. Because of this stipulation, numerous states have been finding it difficult to come up with sufficient money to help poorly performing schools while maintaining previous assistance levels to other school districts.
According to the GAO report, the “hold-harmless” provision has prevented 22 states from setting aside the required NCLB funds. Some states have made up differences by taking advantage of other federal and state funds, but not all have been able to do so successfully.
Insufficient funding is just one of many concerns cited by NCLB critics. Others have included a diminished focus on untested material and a decrease in attention paid to advanced students. High school seniors interested in voicing their opinions on the NCLB, both positive and negative, may do so by applying for the Scholarships.com 2008 Resolve to Evolve Scholarship. Seven applicants who submit the most thought-out and well-crafted responses will be awarded with scholarships ranging between $1,000 and $3,000. For additional information about this and other college scholarship and grants, students may conduct a free scholarship search.
April 2, 2008
If you’re a suburbanite used to friends graduating left and right, you’re in the minority. A report released today by America’s Promise Alliance has shown that graduation rates for high school students residing in the suburbs are concerning—until one looks at those of urban students.
According to the findings, only 52 percent of students attending principal high schools in the 50 largest cities receive their diploma before leaving. At 70 percent, the nation’s overall graduation rate is much higher but still in need of improvement.
The largest discrepancy between urban and suburban districts was found in Baltimore, Maryland and Columbus, Ohio. Of the students residing in the suburbs of Baltimore, 81.5 percent were able to graduate. Only 34.6 percent of those living in urban districts of the city were able to do the same. The respective graduation percentages for students living in Columbus were 82.9 and 40.9. As one might expect, New York City was not far behind, ranking fourth on the list of cities with the largest gaps in urban and suburban graduation rates.
The results were based on school data retrieved from the 2003-2004 school year leading some to wonder whether the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act was in part to blame. Many educators feel that the main goals of the NCLB Act---to minimize student achievement gaps and increase overall scholastic performance--- have not been fulfilled. Both the effectiveness and the steps taken to achieve NCLB aims have been subject to much criticism in past years.
During this year's Scholarships.com scholarship competition, high school seniors from around the country wrote to Scholarships.com to voice their opinions on the NCLB. In doing so, these students were given the opportunity to win $10,000 in scholarship money.
Check back in a few weeks to read the essays of this year's Resolve to Evolve Scholarship winners. If you missed the deadline, don't despair. You may still be eligible for next year's scholarships. For information about currently available awards, try conducting a free college scholarship search.
April 3, 2008
The credit crunch and its negative impact on student borrowers is no longer news. Both FFEL and private lenders have been responsible for financial tensions, and now there’s more to gripe about. Numerous colleges have been complaining that they are not receiving sufficient funding to cover their students' Perkins Loan needs.
Perkins Loans are awarded to students by colleges and universities, but the government provides much of the funding. Because these loans are restricted to students who show particular financial need, shortages will affect students whose families have the lowest incomes most. Perkins Loans have the cheapest interest rates and the most lenient payment options as far as government loans go, as far as most student loans go. Students are asked to pay a 5 percent interest rate on Perkins Loans as opposed to 6.8-7.22 percent on federal Stafford Loans and 7.9-8.5 percent on federal PLUS Loans. Those who turn to private lenders can expect even higher rates.
Due to a poor loan market and a lack of government subsidies, many schools have been forced to cut back on both the number and the size of their Perkins Loans. According to U.S. News & World Report estimates, about 50,000 students who would have qualified for Perkins Loans last year will not qualify for them this year. Those who do qualify may still see their loan limits diminish. Technically, students can borrow up to $4,000 in Perkins Loans (though the number may be lower for those deemed less needy), but certain colleges will be decreasing the maximum funds available to students.
This has left families worried that they may be forced to rely on private student loans after reaching their federal loan limits. After dealing with increasing default rates, both Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) lenders and private lenders have been forced to make loans more difficult to receive and less appealing to borrowers. Major lenders are becoming sticklers about eligibility criteria and have been cutting back on the benefits offered to students with good paying records.
Students who are no longer eligible for Perkins Loans still have financial aid opportunities. By applying for college scholarships and grants, students may find college funding they do not have to repay. Before considering loans, students should conduct a free college scholarship search to find awards they may be eligible to receive. It is also important to fill out a FAFSA each year. Just because an individual is not eligible for Perkins Loans does not mean they will not be awarded free money in the form of Pell, FSEOG, SMART or TEACH grants.
April 23, 2008
In an anticipated statement outlining potential changes to the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced new plans to amend the act. Key improvements included the standardization of graduation rate calculations and the heightening of awareness about family tutoring and school transfer options.
Based on current regulations, states are permitted to define not only their benchmarks for academic success, but also the methods for determining their high school graduation rates. The problem with this approach became particularly evident after a study comparing graduation gaps between major cities and suburbs suggested that numerous states fared much worse than their graduation data suggested.
Under the secretary’s new plan, all high schools would have to determine graduation rates by dividing the total number of high school senior graduates by the number of freshman who began four years earlier, with adjustments made for transfer students. Students who took extra years to finish would not be considered to have successfully completed the program, indicated a Los Angeles Times article covering the story. The issue of assisting students attending “at risk” schools was also tackled, with the Secretary proposing an increase in efforts made to inform parents about alternative scholastic options for their children. Students who attend such schools have the option to switch to a more successful district school and additional tutoring opportunities should be made available to them. To address the problem of transportation costs to new schools, Margaret Spellings suggested that funding set aside for that purpose be increased.
In regards to the frequent requests for flexibility in measuring the progress of students with disabilities and those with limited English skills, the Secretary of Education stated, “the Department promulgated regulations to permit States to include in their AYP [Annual Yearly Progress] determinations the proficient and advanced scores of students with disabilities assessed based on alternate and modified academic achievement standards, as well as regulations that provide flexibility in the assessment of, and accountability for, recently arrived and former LEP [Limited English Proficiency]students.”
The official version of this statement will be made available today in the Federal Register, and the public will have 60 days to respond before proceedings move forward.
As the NCLB primarily affects students, Scholarships.com has created an opportunity for them to voice their opinions about its effectiveness. In the 2008 Scholarships.com Resolve to Evolve Essay Scholarship, high school seniors were asked to determine and elaborate on why the NCLB has or has not been successful in reaching its goals. The number and quality of responses were nothing short of impressive. Winners of the annual Resolve to Evolve competition will be announced on June 30, and their essays will be made available to the public. Top responses will also be forwarded to the proper officials in the hope that we too can be a part of the solution.
May 14, 2008
For two months, College Board and Karen Dillard's College Prep LP (KDCP), a college test-prep company, have been embroiled in a heated battle over allegations of copyright infringement. The two have now settled, with KDCP agreeing to give College Board $1 million--$400,000 in the form of free tutoring services to low-income high schools.
The problem began when College Board, the administrator of the SAT and AP exams, found through a previous KDCP staff member that KDCP had obtained and used unpublished copies of the SAT. Though President Karen Dillard did admit that her company had obtained the copies without permission, she denied selling the exams or using unpublished materials to tutor students. She instead accused College Board of attempting to monopolize the standardized test-prep business and of obtaining its evidence illegally (grounds for her countersuit).
Eventually, both sides dropped their lawsuit and a compromise between the $300,000 settlement first proposed by Ms. Dillard and the $1.25 million suggested by College Board was reached. College Board also agreed that students tutored by KDCP would not have their SAT exam scores canceled, a measure College Board threatened to take in the wake of the lawsuit.
The New York Times quoted College Board Senior Vice President of Operations Laurence Bunin saying, “We believe that the settlement shows that KDCP acted improperly in copying and distributing a secure SAT test form and other college materials…We have demonstrated that we cannot and will not tolerate such conduct, and that we will take all appropriate steps to protect our tests.”
July 2, 2008
On Tuesday, ACT and College Board (the administrators of the ACT and SAT tests) released a conversion table that could be used to compare scores of students who completed either exam. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the table was based on a study of more than 300,000 students who had taken both tests between 2004 and 2006.
The two test providers release a similar table every few years, but the latest chart was a necessary update due to a change in the SAT format. In 2005, College Board added a new mandatory writing section to their exam, one that is optional for ACT takers. To better assist college administrators in making their admissions decisions, the new table predicts the SAT scores of students who chose to opt out of the ACT writing section as well as of those who completed all portions of the exam.
Students who did not take the writing section and received a score of 21 (the average composite score on the ACT), could expect a combined critical reading and math score of 990 on the SAT. Those who chose to complete the writing section of the ACT and received a composite English and writing score of 20 could expect to receive a 490 on the writing portion of the SAT.
College Board stressed that the comparisons were estimates and that a student’s results on one test did not necessarily ensure the suggested equivalent. The company stated that, “In general, the scores should not be compared. However, we understand that our constituents, particularly members of the admissions community, have a need to assess the test scores of students, some of whom might have taken the SAT, while others might have taken the ACT.”
February 6, 2009
Advanced Placement, or AP, classes are becoming more popular and more students are passing the exams, according to annual data released by the exam's publisher this week. Approximately 15.2 percent of the class of 2008 received a passing score on the AP exam, as compared to 14.4 percent of the class of 2007.
AP courses, typically offered to high school juniors and seniors, allow students to take college-level classes in high school and potentially earn college credit. Each AP course ends with an exam, scored on a scale of 1-5, with a score of 3 considered to be "passing" and credit-worthy by most colleges. A few high schools also offer the option to take an AP course as dual-enrollment, where students pay to earn college credit for their work completed, rather than their test score. Students can potentially shave a semester or more off their college experience through AP coursework, or AP work can free students' time in college up for more exploration of a variety of courses. Either way, many students see AP courses as a way to work towards their college goals.
Despite the benefits of AP, there are some arguments against it, as with any standardized test. For students, AP exams cost money, often have relatively low pass rates, don't guarantee college credit, aren't offered in every subject at every school, and are likely to conflict with at least one event your senior year of high school. For teachers and college administrators, there's a concern about depth of coverage, quality of instruction, and students missing out on a key part of the college experience by coming in with so many AP credits.
Advocates of AP coursework say it can help students start college planning, get excited about the subject area, and save money by shaving off a few general educational requirements. As AP grows in popularity, high schools are continuing to add courses and improve their teaching of the subject. As long as you weigh the benefits and drawbacks, AP courses are definitely worth considering. AP credit can be a way to build your resume, explore a potential college major, and jumpstart your career.
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