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February 2008 Archives

test prepWe recently had the opportunity to sit-down and talk with Charlie O'Hearn founder of Summit Education Group. Summit and has carved out the niche of personalized preparation for standardized testing. Charlie talks a bit about the foundation of Summit's test prep options.

Summit certainly isn't alone in the tutoring and test prep world. How does Summit do test prep differently/uniquely?
In a word, customization. Our focus is one-on-one, in-home tutoring for standardized tests and, within that niche, we pride ourselves on customizing a program precisely to the needs of each student.

Like other companies we offer a diagnostic test which allows us to get an early read on strengths and weaknesses both from a skills standpoint and a strategy perspective. Different students need different doses of those two things. During an initial conversations with the parent (and sometimes student), we create a profile of the students that contains basic data- like grades, courses, and extracurriculars- but goes much deeper to include descriptions of the student's favorite teachers, the student's learning style, the student's personality, the student's feelings toward standardized tests. All of this data gets considered when we match the student with a particular tutor. There is no "standard" student, and the match is critical.

In addition, we've designed our course materials specifically for use in a one-on-one setting. The books are unique in that they make it very easy for tutors to tailor the material to individual students. Our web-based database is state-of-the-art and allows for tutors, families and Summit staff to communicate effectively and efficiently. Everything is transparent and the transparency allows for day-by-day monitoring of the program. If adjustments need to be made, they're made quickly.

You face many large competitors. How does Summit set itself apart?
Most of my answer resides in my response above, but to add to that, I feel like we are much more customer-focused than the "bigs" and, frankly, we're more customer-focused than most of the smaller companies as well.

Call Kaplan and you're calling a call center in NYC and talking to someone who likely knows no more about test preparation and tutoring than what they learned in their training. Call a smaller company and you'll get an answering machine. Call Summit, and you'll immediately talk to a Program Director, who is, or has been, a tutor for us, who is extremely knowledgeable about all facets of college admissions testing, who will go the extra mile, and who will be involved in your program from your first call to the time that results from your final test come back. Our Program Directors feel very invested in each and every one of their families.

What drew you into the test preparation business?
As an undergraduate at Yale, I spent much of my time tutoring high school students from surrounding towns. I loved it, and for much of my time at Yale, I was sure I'd become a teacher. But as my tutoring load increased from word-of-mouth (the way our business grows today!), I actually hired classmates, and lo and behold, I had a business going!

Ever since I can remember, my father who owned a small business, gently pushed me and my siblings to be entrepreneurial. I sold seeds and greeting cards door to door before I was a teenager, and I had a thriving garden-tilling business throughout high school. Combine that entrepreneurial bent with my love of teaching and education, and you have the makings of a tutoring and test preparation business.

How do you approach the different tests and, then, translate the findings into approaches and lessons for your tutors?
We study and analyze the tests relentlessly and have been for 20 years. We are very systematic in our analysis, and that analysis directly affects the content, structure and layout of our course materials and our lesson plans. Successful test prep companies understand the inner workings of the test and then translate that effectively into their materials and curriculum.

How do you find your tutors? And, what to they bring to test prep teaching and lessons?
Our programs are only as good as the individuals who teach them. That's why we devote so much time and energy to recruiting the most talented instructors. All of our tutors have outstanding standardized test scores and have graduated from some of the most competitive universities in the country. Summit tutors come from a wide variety of backgrounds; in fact, we have over 200 tutors in Massachusetts and over 70 tutors in the Maryland-Virginia-DC area. The variety of tutors allows us to fulfill our mission of making the best match for each student. Each tutor is a skilled and enthusiastic educator who brings an ability to inspire, to connect with, and to engage students.

Importantly, and this is a difference between Summit and many other test prep companies, each tutor specializes in either math or verbal; tutors aren't asked to work in areas in which they're not expert.

Tell us a bit about what families seek from test preparation?
The immediate goal, of course, is higher test scores. But the reason they want higher test scores is to get their students into the best possible colleges and universities. Beyond that, I think parents are interested in giving their kids confidence and the ability to do well on standardized tests in general.

Specifically, given how busy students are these days, parents want something that is convenient and flexible, and for that reason alone sometimes, they'll call Summit since we do the tutoring at home on a schedule that works for the student.

From a pedagogical standpoint, some parents are looking for strategies to beat the test, some parents want certain skill deficiencies addressed, and other want both. As I mentioned before, successful prep addresses both the strategic side of taking a standardized test and the underlying skills.

I'm sure it's different for each student; what's the goal for each a student upon successful completion of a Summit Test prep course? Our goal is to get each student to score to his/her potential on the test, whether that test is the SAT, the ACT, Subject Tests, etc. For one student that might be to break into the 500's on each part of the SAT, and for another that might to score a perfect 36 on the ACT. I'm not sure that it's any more complicated than that!
Chris Farrell, Marketplace Morning Report economics correspondent presents a good piece on the recent commitments by several colleges and universities to reduce the borrowing/debt burdens of lower and middle income students.  

What does this mean for families staring at private school tuition?  Read his last paragraph and carry a critical perspective to the table when considering your loan options.

You can listen to a podcast of the interview as well.

A Better Chance

If you're unfamiliar with ABC/A Better Chance and their work with students from under-resourced communities and schools, take a few minutes to read this Boston Globe article highlighting the experiences of some ABC students attending school in Topsfield, MA.  I've been fortunate to work the ABC and some of their students over the years.  The commitment- by everyone involved- students, schools, ABC administrators- demonstrates the persistent power of good works.
We often write about and mention the potential of boarding schools to become the safe consistent environment for students.  With drive and a series of invested supportive adults, Shamila Kohestani made her way from Afghanistan to Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ.  

Read this great story in the NY Times about Shamila finding her way to and through an American boarding school and how the school and it's students reached-out to help and learn.

Update: Browsing the Time's site I found a video that accompanies the article. Figured I'd pass it along.

Junior boarding schools occupy a quiet niche in the boarding school spectrum.  As the moniker divulges, these schools educate younger students- usually grades 5-9 - in a boarding school environment.  Like their brethren working with older students, each boarding school brings a unique setting and perspective to education.  Environments and programs for all types of students are available- boys schools, girls schools, learning differences, smaller, larger.  As with upper schools, families and students can find the school environment that best supports each individual student.

Now, on to the initial reactions of many folks when they first learn of junior schools, 'why would anyone do that?"  "How can you send such a young child away from home?"  The answer- it's a good decision if the junior school  presents the best or a great way for the younger student to go to school.  In general terms, junior schools present great opportunities for students of busy families.  Boarding school with it's routines and regular schedule can become a comfortable environment.  Some students might thrive in a junior boarding school's learning differences program and some kids just do well by feeling independent in boarding school.

There's no denying that, no matter how much thought and consideration a family puts into their decision, sending a child to a junior boarding school takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice.

Many junior boarding schools offer summer programs combining academic work and recreation.  These offer great opportunities to test drive the junior boarding experience.

Junior boarding schools clearly aren't for everyone, but they provide great opportunities for kids who need their perspectives or will do well by their environments.

Visit our section on Junior Boarding Schools or the Junior Boarding School Association's site to learn more about junior schools.

The google map below plots their locations:

Boarding school essays - a bit of advice

boarding-school-essay.pngI found an article in today's Boston Globe that offers college essay advice from Parke Muth, an admission dean at the University of Virginia. Even though it's geared toward college applicants, students applying to boarding schools will find his breakdown helpful.

I won't go into too much detail (you're better served by reading the piece), but his point below really stood out:

An essay is not good because of the topic but because of the voice. ... Students need only to recall the difference between two simple concepts -- showing and telling. A good essay always shows; a weak essay always tells. By showing, a writer appeals to all of the senses, not just the visual.

Good advice if you ask me.

Walnut Hill School doesn't want to be a secret...

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Don't miss the piece on the Walnut Hill School in the Boston Globe this past weekend. Arts centered boarding schools are a small group, but they stand at the vanguard of arts education in America.  Walnut Hill School is among a select group of boarding schools that prepare serious arts students for collegiate and work careers in music, writing, dance, and other arts.

By highlighting successful alumni and strengthening community outreach Walnut Hill hopes to extend its reach in the local community and raise the school's profile among supporters and possible applicants.

You can view a list of arts boarding schools on our main site.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Walnut Hill School, Natick, MA

I learned from an educational consultant that Verde Valley School (Sedona, AZ) has joined the International Baccalaureate program. Their enrollment brings a strong, internationally recognized course of study to their curriculum.  The IB program works to develop inquisitive, thoughtfully rigorous students with wide ranging experience and world views.  

You can learn more about their IB status and the program on the school's web site.

This led us to see if there are other American boarding schools offering the program. As far as we can tell there are just two: George School (PA) and St. Timothy's School (MD).

Anyone know of others? If so please don't hesitate to drop us a comment or an e-mail. We're considering adding a list of American boarding schools that offer the IB to our recently enhanced boarding school directory.

Slicing & Dicing Boarding School Data

We recently enhanced our boarding school directory to include a number of pre-sorted boarding school lists for families researching schools. Looking for New England boarding schools? We have a list for that.  Searching for boarding schools with soccer? That one's covered too.

The idea is to provide site visitors with an easy way to access sets of boarding schools based on any number of school attributes. We're excited to bring you more groupings as we continue to slice & dice the data

Let us know what else you would like to see added. We welcome your ideas. 

Phillips-Andover-Academy.jpgAn interesting news item came across the wire yesterday. Oscar Tang, the president of the board of trustees at Phillips Andover Academy, donated $25 million to the school. It's the largest donation in the school's 230 year history and will support a number of initiatives including need-blind admission.

This gift dovetails on the recent announcement of the school's participation in the Davis United World Scholars program. It seems to show a substantial commitment to supporting qualified applicants. Congrats to the folks up at Andover.

Photo credit: Paul Keleher, FlickR
In simplest terms, boarding school ranking is too complicated and inaccurate.  Be glad there isn't one.

A number of boarding schools place high numbers of students in competitive colleges and benefit from large endowments.  However, the idea of ranking independent schools top-bottom/best to worst misses the point.

Just as there is a college for everyone, there is a boarding school for everyone.

We don't have a boarding school ranking list because every school appeals to and works best with a different kind of student.  Dare we say each school is unique in the kind of student who will do well in its environment.

Toss the notion of hierarchy out.

How then to think about schools?

  1. Figure out what kind of student you are and the kind of environment that is most likely to support your success.  What kinds of programs or activities do you need?

  2. Read catalogs and materials closely; ask questions of the schools.  What kinds of students go to this school?  Does a student like me do well here?

  3. Think of a school application in terms of match or fit.  Is this school a good match for me?  Does this school fit my abilities or provide what I need to be successful.
A ranking really doesn't matter at the end of the day. The most important thing is to dig deep to determine (as best you can) if a school fits where you are and what you need in your life as a student.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2008 is the previous archive.

March 2008 is the next archive.

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