GKT Essay made easy with this formula.

The GKT essay is easy once you understand this writing formula and, of course, practice. You will be given two prompts to choose from. Pick the one that you can write to the easiest. Use the following technique.

1. Take a position. 

It is easier to write when you pick on position over another. Yes, most of us are in the middle on many issues. But when writing and essay for time, you are better off to pick one side or the other.

2. Map a plan.

Use the dry erase board the test center provides to map your essay. This will help you stay organized and concise. Don't spend a ton of time on mapping; just get something down you can follow as you type the essay.

3. Keep it organized.

Organization is KEY when trying to gain points on the essay. Readers—the people grading your essay—do not want to go around the world to figure out what you’re talking about. This is how your GKT essay should be organized:

Now let's put all of this together.

Detail Paragraph 1: Only talk about reducing crime:

  • When students are in school, they are off the streets. 
  • When students are in school, they are working towards an education and staying out of trouble. 
  • In a recent study, 85% of students who were not enrolled in school had committed a crime. (Yes this is a fake stat, but it works!)
  • Children are susceptible to gang activity when not enrolled in school.

Detail Paragraph 2: Makes society stronger

  • Educated children become part of the community.
  • They are involved with school activities and functions.
  • Sports, clubs, community service.
  • In a recent study, 75% of students who were enrolled in school participated in community service. (Yes this is a fake stat, but it works!)

Conclusion: Restate the intro. Quickly restate your position.

  • Call to action: Everyone should protect our children by allowing all students to attend school, regardless of citizenship.  

Advantage and disadvantage prompts are the EASIEST because the first detail paragraph can be all about the advantages and the second detail paragraph can be all about the disadvantage. For example:


Technology has become an asset in the classroom. Teachers now have access to digital resources like never before. Technology can also create challenges for teachers and students. Before choosing technology for their classrooms, teachers must evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of technology.

Detail Paragraph 1: Advantages

  • Makes life easier
  • Ebooks can store many books in one device.
  • Students can watch virtual tours of ancient cities. 
  • In a recent study, students who used technology were 75% more likely to score proficient on their reading tests than those who did not use technology.

Detail Paragraph 2: Disadvantages

  • Students can become distracted by technology.
  • Students can become addicted to technology.
  • Teachers have to compete with the latest technology when they should be teaching.
  • Online bullying.
  • In a recent study 45% of students said they have been bullied online.


A good way to close an advantage vs disadvantage prompt is to offer a solution or a balance between the two. 

Practice Practice Practice: There is no silver bullet. If you want to get better, you have to read more and you have to write more. 

For more information on our GKT resources GKT visit NavaED.com/ftce


Group Work Should not be Cheat Work

The dreaded “group work,” where one kid does all the work, and the rest chill and wait for the class to be over. Only 1-2 students are engaged and doing the work. How can you avoid this? EASY. Formalize your cooperative learning!

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Assign student groups every 9 weeks. You are in charge here. Put students together strategically so they can maximize success. Keep those groups for 9 weeks. Then change after report cards. When you say, “Ok guys, get into your cooperative learning groups,” there is no question as to where they are supposed to go. Sure, they may gripe for a second when you first do this. However, they will fall into the routine in no time. Stick to your guns; you chose the groups.
  2. When using cooperative learning, make sure everyone has a job. For example, if an English teacher wants students to analyze a piece of text in their cooperative learning groups, she can assign each student a task. Perhaps two students are readers, 1 student is the note-taker, and one student is the administrator. The readers read, (obviously), the administrator decides when to stop and discuss, and the note-taker writes down important points discussed.
  3. Have students evaluate their own group. When students have a chance to grade or evaluate their peers, they step up. So along with the final grade for the cooperative learning activity, consider factoring in the group evaluations in the grade.
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice! Good cooperative learning takes time and practice for you and your students. So, don’t give up. Keep at it.

Having students engage in a more formalized activity like this will save you from pulling your hair out when you see this: 




FYI, the most important year of high school is your junior year.

Junior year is a really important year. This is the year when every class you take, and every move you make, affects your academic career. Your junior year is when you can change your habits in school, stretch beyond your comfort zone and make big things happen. At this time in your life, you should define clear goals for what you plan to do after high school. Then, make the necessary tweaks and changes along the way to achieve those goals.

3 things for students:

Up until this point you’ve probably been strolling along in your life, passively trying to figure things out as you go.  Your parents help you with a lot; maybe your mom still does your laundry. But things are about to change and you need to be ready. Here are some ways you can start becoming an active participant in how your future plays out after high school.

1. Make an appointment to see your school counselor. If you wait for your counselor to call you down, you'll be waiting a long time. She's super busy. Take control of your own destiny, and schedule an appointment to go over your goals. Before the appointment, make a list of all the questions you need answers to and bring the list to your meeting so you don't forget anything. You'll want to ask:

  • What is my GPA?
  • Do I have the right number of credits to graduate? What about enough credits for college?
  • Should I be taking better electives? Perhaps an extra math class or science class?
  • What are my next steps?

2. Start a list of potential colleges and their programs of study. BE REALISTIC. Too many dreams are shattered when students have ridiculous expectations for themselves and others. Before you declare a school your dream school, research the following:

  • How much does it cost? Yup, this is the most important. Have a conversation with your parents as to what the family can afford. Then, plan accordingly.
  • Can I get in? Look at the admission requirements. If you are a low B or C student, you’re not going to Harvard. And you don’t really want to go to Harvard anyway. Get real on what is sensible, what you can achieve, and what you really want. 
  • What programs do they offer? There is no sense in spending time and money to apply to a school that does't offer what you want to study. Research!

Don't be afraid to stretch. If you have a goal or a school that’s just a little bit beyond our comfort zone, put it down as a goal. But have other schools ready as back-up. 

3. Stay organized. Start digital files or paper files on everything:

  • Grades/transcripts.
  • Research on colleges.
  • Admission criteria for colleges.
  • Documents needed such as letters of recommendation, resumes, essays, etc.
  • Volunteer hours.

3 things for Parents:

Up until now you’ve probably been doing a lot for your student. Junior year is when parents really need to let students take control of their future.  This is scary, but you can do it.  

1. Start to relinquish control slowly. Help with organization and ask questions. Make suggestions and guide. Insist your student do the his or her own research on schools. Insist your student set his or her own appointments with school counselors, ACT/SAT tutors and college admissions specialists. Insist that your student take the lead on this process.   

2. Find someone who can help. There are plenty of programs and consultants there to help you and your student through this process:

  • ACT/SAT tutors and online programs.
  • Postsecondary planning programs.
  • Other parents who have been through it.

3. Let go. Don’t try to control every move of this undertaking. Being a control freak during this process will make you crazy and completely ineffective. Help; don't push.

The postsecondary process is overwhelming and time consuming. We've created a Checklist to make the process easier. Make small incremental steps towards your goals, and you'll enjoy the journey.  

And for more info on our college prep programs like our rising junior and senior math workshops, college application workshops, ACT/SAT prep and more, email Info@NavaED.com. You can also click the link below to learn more.

What is superscoring on the ACT & SAT?

Some colleges will use a superscore, also known as a combined highest score, when looking at your ACT or SAT scores. This is to your advantage, especially if you've taken the test multiple times.

This is how superscoring works:


You take the ACT three times: Oct, Dec and Feb. And your highest scores on the subtests (English, math reading science and writing) vary. Maybe you did the best on the math section in Dec, but for all the rest of the subtests (reading, English, science and writing) your best scores were in Feb. 

A university that superscores will take your best math score in Dec and your best reading, English, science and writing scores in Feb, average them, and calculate your ACT SUPERSCORE.


You take the SAT three times: Nov, Dec and Jan. Your best reading comes from the Dec date. However, your best math and writing come from the Jan test date. 

A university that superscores will take the Dec reading and the Jan math and writing, total them, and calculate your SAT SUPERSCORE.


ACT/SAT Superscore Examples

ACT Superscore

ACT Superscore

SAT Superscore

SAT Superscore

Superscoring gives you an edge as you apply for college. We've created a guide to help you understand the superscoring process complete with a list of Florida universities that use the superscoring method. See below!


How to interview for a teaching position like a boss.

At NavaED, we focus mainly on the certification tests that teachers have to pass before they can even interview for a job. But, we also know a thing or two about the interview game. After all, I have both interviewed for different teaching positions, as well as interviewed and hired teachers.  And, we are happy to share the dos and don'ts when it comes to sitting down with a principal and a committee for an interview.


  1. Be positive.  A positive attitude in teaching is everything. Let’s face it, principals are looking for people who can take challenging situations and turn them into amazing learning opportunities. Focus your conversation on times in your life when you did this. Maybe even brag a little.
  2. Research the school at which you are seeking a job. A quick trip to google will help you understand the basic aspects of the school. Even better: Get onto the school website and look at their literacy programs, their student demographics, and unique things that make the school special. Principals and teachers love to talk about their schools, especially the positives. Talk specifics so principals know you are truly interested in their school, not just any school.
  3. Talk up your strengths to showcase your ability to work with students and parents. Never taught before? No problem. Use experiences like camp counseling, serving in a restaurant, working in retail, or even volunteering for community organizations to demonstrate how you’ve helped people. Remember, your focus is helping students achieve. If you are sincere about that, the principal and committee will see it. A passionate teacher with the desire to do anything to help her students is far better than an experienced person who is apathetic to the success of students. Trust us. 
  4. Make eye contact with everyone in the room. While you may get a one-on-one interview, you may also be in a room with a hiring committee. Engage all of them if this is the case.  If you focus on the one or two people you think are the most important, you will risk getting a thumbs down from those you brushed off.  
  5. Speak clearly and audibly.  Sounds like a no brainer, but we have been in the room with some mumblers and fast talkers. While we’re at it, please use intelligent vocabulary, but don’t overuse “big” words just because you think they make you sound smart.  And, always stick to words you know. Now is not the time to toss in obscure words. Clear communication is key. 
  6. Put yourself in the principal’s shoes.  She has to manage a large staff, an even larger student body, events, building maintenance, community outreach, and much more.  She needs to know you will be that employee who will step up to get involved outside of your classroom.  This is another great place to sprinkle in your volunteerism and leadership roles in the community.  


  1. First things first, NEVER, and I repeat NEVER, bad mouth a prior boss, colleague or situation when interviewing for a job. Saying things like, “We didn’t get along.” or “She didn’t like my ideas” sends up a red flag and tells your prospective principal that you are difficult. Like we said in our dos, keep it positive.  
  2. If you are applying for a high school position, unless the football team is winning, don’t mention it. Seriously. Football is a very stressful aspect of being a high school principal and can be a sore subject. When they are losing, principals hear about it in the community and see it in their low game attendance. Don’t even bring it up.
  3. While the hours and vacation time are nice, please never say things like, “I want to teach because I am seeking summers off and long winter breaks.” Nothing says, “I only care about myself and not students” than this statement about vacation time. Ditto wanting to spend time with your kids. Yes, that’s a nice perk, but the principal cares way more about the hundreds of kids in her school than your handful or less at home. Your main goal should be student achievement. And, a principal worth her salt would never consider hiring someone who isn’t hyper focused on student success. 
  4. And, last but not least, don’t come dressed like you’re headed to the beach.  Yes, it’s summer. It’s hot. But, being a little sweaty is worth strapping on a pair of pants or a skirt, a nice top, and some close-toed shoes.  Shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals do not scream, “I’m a professional.”

After you slay the interview by following these handy tips, make sure you send a follow-up letter to thank the principal for the opportunity to interview within 24 hours. This gets your name in front of the principal again and speaks volumes about your professionalism, your desire for the position, and your communication style, all things quality teachers possess.

Tips on beating the FTCE K-6 Subject Area Exam

The FTCE K-6 Subject Area Exam has four parts to it: Language Arts and Reading. Social Science, Science, and Math. 

The language arts and reading section has more to do with teaching than any of the other subtests. In this section, you will be asked about scenarios in teaching the reading process. Here are some things to brush up on before taking the ELA portion of the K-6 Subject Area Exam:

  • Know the difference between emergent and fluent reading.
  • Understand that teachers must differentiate instruction without lowering expectations in the classroom.
  • Always include students in the planning and execution of reading instruction.
  • Pay close attention to key words in the questions. Most of the time there is a word that will lead you to what the answer is not, which will help you find what the answer is.
  • Know the different writing stages: emergent (scribbling, mock letters, invented spelling), and fluent (conventional spelling).
  • Understand the role tech plays in language arts and reading instruction.

The social science section of the K-6 Subject Area Exam is all about content. You have to refresh your history knowledge. Here are some main things tested on the social science section:

  • The 20th century (by decades).
  • Main players in history - John Locke, Ben Franklin, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Susan B. Anthony, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
  • 3 branches of government - checks and balances, articles outlining the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
  • Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments of the Constitution)  - know the first 5 amendments and what the mean. 
  • Different types of governments - democracy, theocracy, republic, and oligarchy. 
  • Geography - maps, location, and population density.
  • Citizenship - roles and responsibilities of citizens.
  • Economy - monopoly, assembly line, investing and immigration. 

The science section of the K-6 Subject Area Exam is all about content as well. Go back over all those elementary science concepts. Here are a few in case you can’t remember:

  • Nature of science - independent/dependent variables, control, scientific method.
  • Physical science - matter, atoms, ions, isotopes, compounds, molecules, changes in matter, energy, electricity (circuits).
  • Earth space - plate tectonics, rocks (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary), water cycle, biosphere, Earth, Sun, Moon (phases).
  • Life science - cell theory, classification, energy pyramid, open vs. closed circularity systems, sickness (common cold), heredity and genes.

The math section is like the language arts and reading section in that it has lots of questions on teaching math. Make sure you know:

  • subitizing, tiling, arrays, and inventive strategies.
  • progression of math knowledge over time. 
  • math fluency.
  • how to read and set up word problems.
  • fractions, ratios, proportions, and integers.
  • measurement and data (speed, time, volume, conversions).
  • geometry - area, perimeter, shapes.

For all sections know the different types of assessments.

Come to our next FTCE K6 Prep Course on Sept 19th from 5-8PM! 

The Effects of Mandated 3rd Grade Retention: An Analysis of Florida's A+ Plan

In 2003-2004 approximately 23,000 third graders were retained in Florida under the third grade retention mandate outlined in the A+ Plan. Researchers in previous studies found students who were retained faced difficulty in catching up to their peers, achieving academically, and obtaining a high school diploma (Anderson, Jimerson, & Whipple, 2005; Andrew, 2014; Fine & Davis, 2003; Jimerson, 1999; Moser, West & Hughes, 2012; Nagaoka, 2005; and Ou & Reynolds, 2010).

In a recent study, Jasper, Carter, Triscari and Valesky (2016) evaluated longitudinal data to determine if the A+ plan was effective in helping students achieve on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT and acquire a standard high school diploma. In the study, researchers tracked a cohort of retained third grade students from a large southwest Florida school district. Reading assessment data was evaluated for the Grade 3 Reading FCAT. Then researchers evaluated those same students' scores on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. The scores were then compared. Researchers Also compared that same data for a similarly non-retained group (the control group), who scored at a level 1 but who were not retained. Graduation status and diploma acquisition for both groups was also compared. This is what researchers found:

  • 93% of the retained group in the study remained below a level 3 on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. In addition, 67% remained at a level one on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. 
  • 41% of the retained students did not graduate with a standard high school diploma.
  • The non-retained group were 14.7% more likely to graduate with a standard diploma than the retained group.
  • Between 2003-2013, it cost Florida tax payers approximately $587 million FTE funding for the retained students.
  • Approximately 6% of white students were retained while 20% of nonwhite students were retained. Of the students retained in 2003-2004, 69.8% were on free or reduced price lunch.
  • There was a statistically significant difference between retained students and nonretained students regarding Grade 10 Reading FCAT mean scale scores (.000). There was also a statistically significant difference between ethnicity and Grade 10 Reading FCAT scores (.003).

You can see from the graph below, in 2013, 7 years after retention, 94% of the retained group remained below proficiency. 

Reading levels of retained students 7 years after retention in




If you would like to read the executive summary or the full study, click the titles below:

Executive summary of my research (Short Version) 


4 ACT hacks to use on test day, no studying required.

Some things in life you just can't study for; you have to go on prior knowledge and common sense. However, having a few hacks in your pocket doesn't hurt. Gain an extra edge on test day by using these 4 ACT hacks.

1. Know the structure of the ACT before you go into the testing room. Be aware of what's coming. The ACT has 5 subtests administered in this order: English (grammar), Math, Reading, Science and then Writing. Below is how most testing centers structure the administration of the ACT.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.41.08 AM.png

2. Get just a few more questions correct. As little as 5 more questions correct on each subject test can move you from the bottom to the middle, and from the middle to the top. 

3. Use ear plugs. This is my favorite hack of the all, because it's so easy and makes a HUGE difference. Ear plugs block out annoying sounds like tapping pencils and squeaking chairs. They prevent you from losing focus. Ear plugs work!  A box like these are about 4 bucks at Walgreens or CVS. Get the squishy kind!

4. Get a D on the ACT and still go to college! Don't stress out thinking you need an A on the ACT in order to get into a good college. You only need between a 63% - 75%. An overall grade of a D on the ACT will get you into USF and UCF. Heck, Cs on the ACT will get you into schools like UF and FSU. Don’t believe me? Here's the break down: 

Want more tips and tools? Click the button below! 

These commonly confused words are almost always on the test.

Do you know the difference between affect and effect, or accept and except?


Don't worry! Lots of people confuse the two. That's why these words and more are almost always on standardized tests. Study the words below and have a better chance slaying the grammar section of any standardized test.

  • accept - to agree to receive or do
  • except - not including 
  • adverse - unfavorable, harmful
  • averse - strongly disliking; opposed
  • advice - recommendations about what to do
  • advise - to recommend something
  • affect - to change or make a difference to
  • effect - a result; to bring about a result
  • aisle - a passage between rows of seats
  • isle - an island
  • all together - all in one place, all at once
  • altogether - completely; on the whole
  • along - moving or extending horizontally on
  • a long - referring to something of great length
  • aloud - out loud
  • allowed - permitted
  • altar - a sacred table in a church
  • alter - to change
  • amoral - not concerned with right or wrong
  • immoral - not following accepted moral standards
  • assent - agreement, approval
  • ascent - the action of rising or climbing up
  • bare - naked; to uncover
  • bear - to carry; to put up with
  • bated - in phrase 'with bated breath', i.e. in great suspense
  • baited - with bait attached or inserted
  • censure - to criticize strongly
  • censor - to ban parts of a book or film
  • cereal - a breakfast food 
  • serial - happening in a series
  • coarse - rough
  • course - a direction; a school subject; part of a meal
  • complement - an addition that improves
  • compliment - to praise or express approval; an admiring remark
  • council - a group of people who manage or advise
  • counsel - advice; to advise
  • elicit - to draw out a reply or reaction
  • illicit - not allowed by law or rules
  • ensure - to make certain that something will happen
  • insure - to provide compensation
  • foreword - an introduction to a book
  • forward - onwards, ahead
  • principal - most important; the head of a school
  • principle - a fundamental rule or belief
  • sight - the ability to see
  • site - a location
  • stationary - not moving
  • stationery - writing materials
  • allusion - indirect reference
  • illusion - false idea
  • allude - to make indirect reference to
  • elude - to avoid
  • capital - major city
  • capitol - government building
  • conscience - sense of morality
  • conscious - awake, aware
  • eminent - prominent, important
  • imminent - about to happen
  • everyday - routine, common
  • every day - each day, all the day

Slay the GKT Reading

If you're struggling with the reading portion of the GKT, you're not alone! We see people every day who need help with reading for standardized tests. Reading for any test is a skill, and practice is essential.  Here are some helpful tips to increase your success on the GKT reading test.

  • Timing is everything! You have 55 minutes to read 4-5 passages (usually 4 with 1-2 of those being paired passages) and answer 40 questions. The number of questions per passage varies, so you won’t spend equal time on each one. A good rule of thumb when prepping and when taking the test is to spend 3 minutes quickly reading the passages to get the overall idea, then 1 minute per question. You will absolutely need to go back into the text as you attack the questions, so saving time for this is a must! Example: 


Passage 1, 15 questions - 18 minutes 

Passage 2, 10 questions - 13 minutes

Passage 3, 8 questions - 11 minutes

Passage 4, 7 questions - 10 minutes


Total Time 52 minutes

  • Track your reading! Use your finger right on the screen or use your cursor; it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you are keeping your place and your pace while actively and quickly reading. Not only is this a great test-day strategy, it is something you want to do every time you read to build your speed. If you’re practicing with printed text, use a pencil or pen and move it faster than your normal reading pace. Just like training for a race, you must push yourself and practice daily to increase your reading speed and comprehension.
  • Use the notepad! As you read, jot down words and phrases that show an opinion or argument (look for “emotion” words) to help you establish author attitude and tone. Descriptive adjectives are another good thing to write down. Record any “a-ha” moments you have or things you think are important. On paired passages, take a few minutes to jot down the overall idea from passage A before reading passage B. Establish the relationship between the 2 as soon as you are done reading passage B. This will go a long way in helping you answer the questions.
  • Pay close attention to the question stems! There are important phrases to help you determine exactly what the question is assessing. For example: “According to the passage,” “According to the author,” “Based on the selection,” and items similarly worded are key ideas and details questions. That means you will find the answer in the text, but the answer choice will NOT be worded exactly as it appears in the text. Look for a re-wording of that detail.
  • Pay attention to “EXCEPT” or “NOT” in questions! It's really easy to miss these. Be vigilant and remember you are looking for the NOT. Eliminate the 3 choices that are in the text to reveal the 1 that is NOT.
  • Pay attention to the tone! If the author is not taking a position or making a claim, the passage is informational, So look for neutral words or feelings to describe the tone. However, if the author is taking a position or arguing a point, the author's tone probably has feelings behind it, either negative or positive, so look for words that convey feelings.
  • Attack the vocab strategically! When you see, “In this context __________ most nearly means,” you are obviously dealing with a vocabulary term. However, sometimes all 4 answer choices are synonyms/close synonyms of the word. Therefore, it is imperative to go back to the place in the text where the word is located and see which choice best fits the context. If you are not sure, use the plug-in method by replacing the word with each choice to see which one best fits. Any question that asks for relationships between sentences, sentences and the rest of the passage, or two passages is asking you to evaluate and synthesize information to draw conclusions about a concept or theme. Again, a simple detail cannot be the correct answer. The thought process for these questions is way more involved.
  • Pay attention to extreme language. Look for extreme words like “never,” “always,” “solely,” etc. These are usually incorrect.
  • USE earplugs or headphones! They really help you keep your head in the game. Wear them when you are prepping too! 

A final word: Reading daily is the best way to build your speed, accuracy, vocabulary, and comprehension of difficult text. We recommend at least 20 minutes a day. Try our 21 day challenge by clicking HERE to sharpen your reading skills.

Below is a practice GKT reading passage, questions, and answer explanations. Try it out. And don't forget to time yourself!

Why we should IMMEDIATELY stop retaining third graders

In a study of first, third, and sixth graders, researchers gave students a list of 20 life events. The researchers asked students to rate the events according to stress level. Researchers found students, across grade levels, rated the experiences in this order: losing a parent, going blind, and being retained in school (Anderson, Jimerson, and Whipple 2005; Andrew, 2014). Sixth grade students rated grade retention as the most stressful life event, rating retention more stressful than losing a parent or going blind. (Anderson, Jimerson, and Whipple 2005).

In terms of academic achievement, several studies outlined the negative impact grade retention had on students’ reading and mathematics achievement. Researchers also found early retention increased dropout rates, and decreased participation in postsecondary education (Fine & Davis, 2003; Hong & Raudenbush, 2006; Hong & Yu 2007; Jimerson, Anderson & Whipple, 2002; Ou & Reynolds, 2010; Roderick, 1994; and Xia and Kirby, 2009). 

Despite the research, in 2003-2004, educational leaders in Florida retained 23,348 third graders (Florida Department of Education, 2016) a few years after mandatory retention was signed into law by former Governor Jeb Bush with the A+ Plan. Under the A+ Plan, students were required to earn a level two or higher on the Grade 3 Reading FCAT test to be promoted to 4th grade. After the A+ Plan was signed into law, educational leaders in 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, mandated third grade retention for students who did not meet grade-level expectations in state reading tests (Workman, 2014). In Florida, high stakes and consequences have been the  pillars of school legislation since the 1990s.

Educational leaders, however, have expressed concern that a snap shot of a student's reading score on one day at the end of third grade is not an accurate measure of the student's ability. To retain those students, based solely on the reading score is problematic because important questions hadn't been answered: Does the retention mandate in the A+ plan work? Do the retained students achieve better because they were retained?"

In a recent study, Jasper, Carter, Triscari and Valesky (2016) evaluated longitudinal data to determine if the A+ plan was effective in helping students achieve on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT and acquire a standard high school diploma. In the study, researchers tracked a cohort of retained third grade students from a large southwest Florida school district. Reading assessment data was evaluated for the Grade 3 Reading FCAT. Then researchers evaluated those same students' scores on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. The scores were then compared. Researchers Also compared that same data for a similarly non-retained group (the control group), who scored at a level 1 but who were not retained. Graduation status and diploma acquisition for both groups was also compared. This is what researchers found:

  • 93% of the retained group in the study remained below a level 3 on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. In addition, 67% remained at a level one on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. 
  • 41% of the retained students did not graduate with a standard high school diploma.
  • The non-retained group were 14.7% more likely to graduate with a standard diploma than the retained group.
  • Between 2003-2013, it cost Florida tax payers approximately $587 million FTE funding for the retained students.
  • Approximately 6% of white students were retained while 20% of nonwhite students were retained. Of the students retained in 2003-2004, 69.8% were on free or reduced price lunch.
  • There was a statistically significant difference between retained students and nonretained students regarding Grade 10 Reading FCAT mean scale scores (.000). There was also a statistically significant difference between ethnicity and Grade 10 Reading FCAT scores (.003).

You can see from the graph below, 7 years after retention, 94% of the retained group remained below proficiency. 

          Reading levels of retained students 7 years after retention. 

          Reading levels of retained students 7 years after retention. 

Cost: $587 Million 

Result: 93% remained below proficiency on the Grade 10 Reading FCAT. 

If you would like to read the executive summary or the full study, click the titles below:

Executive summary of my research (Short Version) 



PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and rewire your brain!

Athletes don't win races and get better at their sport by sitting on their couches, eating potato chips and thinking about winning. The ones that win are on the track, on the field, in the pool working their butts off practicing to get better. 

I wish I could give you a magic pill that will help you read faster or sprinkle good grammar dust on you to make you a better writer. But that's not the way it works.

You may think, "Well, I'm just not a good reader." Or, "I've always been really bad at math."

Get over it. And then get to work, because you can get better at subjects you you may not be so good at right now.

New research has taught us that the brain is actually plastic and can change based on new experiences.  Scientists call this Neuroplasticity, which is just a big scientific word for plastic brain. 

We now know, to achieve at any skill you must create different pathways through your brain and reshaping that plastic!. Yup, that's right. When you learn something new or work on a skill, your brain creates a pathway from those specific neurons to other neurons. As you practice, the pathways get bigger and wider. 

Photo Cred: http://www.diygenius.com/neuroplasticity-rewiring-your-brain-for-optimal-learning/

Photo Cred: http://www.diygenius.com/neuroplasticity-rewiring-your-brain-for-optimal-learning/

Photo Cred: http://www.diygenius.com/neuroplasticity-rewiring-your-brain-for-optimal-learning/

Photo Cred: http://www.diygenius.com/neuroplasticity-rewiring-your-brain-for-optimal-learning/

As you use your brain for math or reading or writing, that practice and the work is carving new pathways into your brain. Subsequently, you become good at those things!  

We can use this idea of neuroplasticity to our advantage when studying for crazy tests like ACT, SAT, GRE, & GKT, or when getting to college or starting a new job.

Create new pathways by changing your study habits. 

To get to where you want to be, you have to set the goal or expectations for yourself. Then recognize triggers that help you get there such as good study habits or tools. Then you make conscious decisions to do those things that make you better. Train your brain to feel pleasure when you practice. Reward yourself after a hard study session so your brain feels pleasure in doing the tough work. Finally, you will start to feel those pathways get bigger and observe yourself get smarter! I'm serious; it really works. Check out the pic below and use it as a guide.

This all worked for me. When I started coaching kids for ACT, many of them wanted me to train them in math. English, reading and writing has always been my thing and math was usually a challenge for me. Not to mention I hadn't done Algebra or Geometry in YEARS. But I wanted to help these students. So I started practicing and guess what? I'm awesome at ACT math now! I strengthened those pathways and got better. 

To strengthen new brain pathways, you need tools to practice.

I have created a list of free tools that can help you.  Whether you are trying to learn new skills or resurrect old skills you haven't used in a while, download the info graphic below and get started. Practice, Practice, Practice and watch things change as new pathways are carved into your brain. 

Try it out and let me know how it goes in the comments! 

Read like an Athlete

Training for a reading assessment is no different than training for a race.

To win a race, serious athletes tweak their diets, adhere to a consistent exercise regimen, and abide by a strict sleep schedule - all to get in the zone and maximize their performance on the big day. 

To read faster for a big test, you have to do the same: tweak your diet, exercise and get some sleep.

And just as runners balance sprints with distance runs during their workouts, you must to do the same with your reading routines. Intermingle short articles with longer articles or books to boost your vocabulary, speed, and endurance. 

Athletes training for a big race also watch what they consume. They eat healthy foods with lots of nutrients. The same goes for training for a reading test. Pay attention to what you guzzle digitally. If you overload your brain with digital junk food, you'll miss out on the skills needed to read high-level text quickly and efficiently. Staying on a strict, digital diet will help you accurately interpret the tricky questions and answer choices designed to stump you on the test.

Reading Workout

  • Sprints - Read 400-500 words quickly and time yourself. Get a sense of what 8 minutes per passage feels like. It’s fast. Maybe you start off reading a passage and answering the questions in 12 minutes. Work on getting to 10 minutes and then 8 minutes.   
  • Distance - Read longer pieces like a book or long-form blogs. Distance reading, like distance running, helps with endurance. In reading you need cognitive endurance: stamina needed to stay actively engaged in a passage even when you want to tap out.
  • Digital Diet - Substitute endless social media scrolling with articles from the Atlantic, New York Times or Wired. Pick an article that makes you stretch beyond your comfort zone a little. Even pick a topic you aren’t particularly interested in and try staying focused and interested while you read. 
  • Practice - Read 15-20 minutes a day, no matter what. Those minutes add up. You’ll be exposed to a variety of vocabulary, which will increase your comprehension of complex text.
  • Mediate - Ask some of the best athletes, scholars and thinkers in the world if they meditate, and many of them will say, “YES.” Training your brain to slow down and reset is essential in expanding your knowledge. Try it. Sit for two minutes in the quiet. No phone. No TV. Just silence. Close your eyes and visualize your goal. You can manifest your dreams.
  • Think Like a Test Maker: Step up your game and write a question or two about the passage or article you just read. Make it tricky and think about the answer choices.

Good grades and high test scores are just like running. You have to practice even when you don't want to. You've got to push through the wall when you're tired. You have to tap into your endurance to stay focused and keep trucking along. 

"It's all about effort and hard work. And hard work beats talent when talent isn't working."

-Coach Jeff Sommer

Here is our "Think Like a Test Maker" Toolkit to help you :) .

Stand Out!

Hate to break it to you, but when you post a resume, 1000 people are posting the same resume for the same job. The likelihood of your resume being enthusiastically plucked from the sea of sameness on a prospective employer's' desk, is low at best. 

You've got to stand out. Here are a few things to consider.

  1. Be creative with how you represent yourself. Use infographics, pictures, images, logos and animation. See the resume below for an example.
  2. Stand out, but don't be overwhelming. Make your resume pop but don't make it so crazy  prospective employers feel overpowered by images and shiny objects. You want them to notice you, but you also want them to immediately know what you're trying to say about yourself. Be creative, not gaudy.
  3. Less is more. No one wants to read an 8 page resume. Keep it to 1-2 pages. Focus on the really cool things you've done that are applicable to the job description. The rest you can talk about in the interview.
  4. Remember the robot. Computer software (the robot) is picking through resumes before an actual human even looks at it; so you must understand how the robot works. The button below can help you with that.

Below is an example of a resume I did a while ago. It got lots of attention!

Contact us if you need more help!

Avoid the yawn fest and construct a compelling essay.

I get it. Nothing bad’s ever happened to you, so you don’t know what to write about. You think real writers are tortured, tragic, withered human beings with an infinite amount of heart-wrenching material spewing from their fingers onto the keyboard. You, with your beige existence, up to this point, have been enjoying life blissfully ignorant of all the horrible things happening to others. Your life is boring, a yawn fest. You're not a writer, right? WRONG!

You ARE a writer!

Because even the best writers sit in front of a blank screen wondering what the heck they’re going to write about. You’re not alone, either. Millions of teens are in your position — having to write a college essay and having absolutely nothing compelling to say. Consider yourself lucky. You’ve made it through life without any catastrophic circumstances impacting you.

However, simple moments in life are just as compelling as a catastrophe. And if you can convey, in detail, a small instance in your life when something changed in you, you have yourself an awesome college essay. 

Here are some things to remember when writing a college essay:

  1. Make the opening line a punch to the face. Like this: “When I was in 9th grade, I watched my best friend die of brain cancer, and I stopped believing in God.” Tell me you wouldn’t want to read more of that essay! 
  2. Show don’t tell. Saying, high school was challenging (YAWN!) doesn’t have enough force behind it. I cannot see "challenging" because it’s an abstraction. Avoid abstractions at all costs in creative writing. Instead, show the reader "challenging." For example, you might say, “I was the only kid who wore white tennis shoes on my first day of high school. Walking down the hall I looked like I had headlights on my feet, and everyone looked at me and giggled. Obviously, I didn’t get the memo that white sneakers, that my mom bought on clearance, were not cool in 9th grade.” You can see the awkwardness of that teenager walking down a crowded hall with his glaring white tennis shoes. Poor thing!
  3. Keep it small. Choose a topic that is small enough to construct a succinct, descriptive account of what you are talking about in your essay. For example, one of my students focused on when she realized she was surrounded by misogyny and sexism. Her eyes were opened and her outlook on life was altered. Another student of mine focused on the plane ride in a small puddle jumper that took him to a third-world country, where he would help build houses for people, displaced from their homes. The plane ride is full of emotion and uncertainty. It’s brilliant!
  4. 500 words only, PLEASE! Look, admissions officers read thousands of essays. When they see a three pager, they die a little inside. Get your point across with the fewest words possible. How do you do that? You start big and get everything on paper. Then you revise, cut, revise, cut and revise. 
  5. Edit, revise, edit, revise. The power of an essay comes in many, many revisions. If you think you’re going to write one draft of an essay and hit submit, think again. Good writing is great editing — period. Write a little, put it down, come back, edit, revise, and repeat as many times as it takes.  
  6. Have someone else take a look at it. You may know what you’re trying to say, but other people may not. It’s ok to share your drafts and get meaningful feedback. You have people you can trust to read your essay; use them. 
  7. Take a chance! Go ahead, embellish, and push the story a little further than you normally would. What will it hurt? You just may catch the attention of the admissions officer and get into your dream school. 

With that, we would like to share a few essays and excerpts written by our students over the last few weeks. These students followed our advice and wrote some very moving pieces. They grab the reader in the first lines, which is key.

Full Essay by Justin Suter

When I was in 9th grade, I watched my best friend die of brain cancer, and I stopped believing in God. 

Dillon and I had been best friends for as long as I could remember and grew up playing ice hockey and lacrosse together. When I found out he had a brain tumor, I honestly didn't know what to think. I was confused about how someone so young could be so sick. I was scared for him, but I was also frightened at the idea of losing him. I remember thinking how unfair it was and began secretly blaming God while holding on to the hope that He would heal Dillon. 

I made it a point to go visit Dillon so he didn’t feel alone; I would go to his house for dinner and watch comedies, Dillon’s favorite. I remember watching 21 Jump Street and laughing as Dillon acted out all the funny scenes. He was confined to his couch because of the awful effects of the cancer treatments, and the swelling of his body was getting worse. He didn’t even look like himself anymore, and his looming death began to take up space in my head. 

The morning of April 25, 2014, my mom came to wake me up for what I thought was school, but instead told me the news. 

In Lutheran school I was taught that God was our savior, our protector. God was all-knowing and all-powerful and was supposed to be the one we could go to and ask for help to get through life. It never occurred to me that He would take life away. I was so confused because for the first time, my blind faith was being challenged. At Dillon’s “celebration of life,”  his pastor focused on painting God in a positive light. I was furious. 

Even today, I am not sure what I believe in. Part of me wants to believe that there is a greater power and that all things have a larger purpose. The other part of me will never let go that God took away my best friend. I am grateful my parents are understanding when it comes to my beliefs. They understand I’m not buying the religious teachings of my youth. I can tell they are hurt by this a little. 

Sometimes I run my fingers over the charm I wear on my necklace to remember my friend and remember how Dillon’s death forced me to question my beliefs. Life would be easier if I just forgave God and moved on. And perhaps the fact I am mad at God means I do believe. After all how could I be so furious with something that doesn't exist?

Excerpt From an Essay Written by Parker Hazen

“As the micro plane began speeding up and taking off above the tarmac, I looked back at the colorful aquatic designs of the airport and the colossal mega resort of Atlantis in the distance, imagining how much more fun those peoples' next 7 days will be than mine. I began to sweat as we flew over the island. It was even smaller than I had expected. We landed on the strip and walked up to the small hut of an “airport” and hopped in a truck that would carry us to what would be our home for the next week.”

Excerpt from an essay written by Sammy Maurer

“With all this talk about shattered glass ceilings, one might assume that I, being a seventeen-year-old woman can be anything I want: an astronaut, a model, a journalist, even a mom. However, the reality is I have been told to shrink myself. I have had to put up with discrimination and misogyny, and have been gracious while doing it.  I have agreed to these terms willingly without knowing it because my role was socially constructed from birth.”

Excerpt from an essay written by Oliver Mansell

Before the shards of glass hit the ground after my father threw a grenade into the middle of my life, I was splendidly ignorant and privileged: skiing in New Mexico, whale watching in Alaska, snorkeling in the Bahamas.

And then my father decided to leave. I was thirteen.

The ideal home is a structured, nurturing environment that enables young adults to mature. Unfortunately, not all homes are ideal. When my father walked out the door, we were not only left with an empty chair at the dinner table, but also financial burdens that included 4 years of back taxes my mother was left to pay. With the absence of a father figure, I had to design my own path to becoming the type of man that I would see as successful.

Full Essay by Michael Davis

I came home from school to find a perfectly manicured house. The laundry room stood spotless and every counter had been wiped down, leaving only a couple of out-of-place flower pots. On a weekend this would have been the regular routine; however, it was a Tuesday, and I was supposed to be the only one home. Surely robbers hadn’t broken in to make sure all of the crumbs had been scooped off of the counter. I ventured further through my home to find my dad sitting on the living room couch. He usually would not come home from work until seven, and it was only a quarter past four. He told me to take a seat, which I cautiously did; I began to ask him why he was home so soon but was quickly cut off. He looked up and calmly said, “I don’t have a job anymore.” Astonished, I stared at him for a couple minutes, not fully understanding exactly what this meant. My dad was the branch manager at TruGreen making low six figures, and now he was apparently making nothing. 

Weeks went by and for the most part nothing had changed. He wasn’t looking for a new job like I expected, but instead, he began developing his own lawn care company. His 9 to 5 job had defined him professionally for the past thirty years, and it dawned on me that a new business was the only option to keep our family from going bankrupt. The process was not easy; completing tedious paperwork and applying for the required licenses were now my dad’s responsibility. He was no longer just the branch manager; he served as every position from CEO to the clean-up crew, but before too long, GreenSmart LLC. was prepared to operate.

Although he had already ordered all of the chemicals and equipment to begin operations, one piece of this puzzle was still missing. He had no truck -- the most vital tool in the lawn care business. Just as I was posing the question, “What about the truck?” to my mom, the phone rang. It was my dad telling us to come outside. As we walked out of my front door a fluorescent green wrapped Chevrolet 2500 with the name Green Smart Lawncare pulled into the driveway. It felt like christmas morning watching the faces of my parents light up after months of worry and sadness.  

Soon after the small celebration, it was straight to work. The phone began to ring non-stop with potential customers. This was not a 9-5 job but rather an unstoppable machine that required a captain at all times. Inordinate amounts of time were spent writing commercial proposals, only to have a fraction of them sign with our company. Although the business was not always particularly rewarding, my father's determination showed me the importance of dedication and perseverance. He showed me that I should not let obstacles stand in my way, no matter how bleak the situation seemed.  This experience inspired me to be an entrepreneur, and my learning experiences at The University of Florida will allow me to fine tune my business acumen.       

Excerpt from an Essay Written by Sarah Eller

I have always felt protected in my hometown. I am privileged to have grown up in an upscale neighborhood with an intact family.  I never had a reason to feel unsafe--until recently. There have been many horrific stories of mass shootings, particularly against minorities.  In response, people have started movements such as Black Lives Matter, hoping to bring the violence to an end. Unfortunately, this seems to be creating even more dissension.

The FAFSA - Your first step in applying for financial aid.

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If you're like most future college students, you're going to have to borrow a few bucks for this next stage in your life. Most families cannot pay for college out of pocket, because it's really expensive. Therefore, you will need to become very familiar with the process of applying for federal student aid. These are the loans and grants that will get you through the next 4-5 years of your undergraduate experience.

The type of financial aid students need and receive varies from student to student and from school to school. But one thing is certain: everyone applying for federal student financial aid must fill out the FAFSA. This includes the Bright Futures Scholarship

The FAFSA is an online form that sends student financial information to the federal government. The government looks at this information and determines your financial need and how much money you are eligible to receive. It sounds far more complicated than it is. But, it's important you understand this process so you can be ready for the financial aspect of your college career.

Here are the 5 most important to know about the FAFSA:

  1. It's FREE. You are never charged to fill out a FAFSA; so if you end up on a site that wants a credit card to fill out the form, you're in the wrong place. The only website for the FAFSA is  https://fafsa.ed.gov/.
  2. You will need a Federal Student Aid ID or a FSA ID to fill out the FAFSA. It's  an easy process to obtain your FSA ID. Go to https://fsaid.ed.gov/ and fill out the form. Once you generate your FSA ID, you can start filling out your FAFSA.
  3. You will need tax information to fill out the FAFSA. If you are a dependent student, you will need your parents' financial information from their most recent tax returns. If you filed with Turbo Tax, there is a button right on their website that will automatically transfer your tax info straight into your FAFSA form.  
  4. You must fill out a FAFSA for every year you are in college. This is not a one time deal. Your financial situation may change; therefore, it's imperative to fill out a FAFSA every year you're eligible. 
  5. Your FAFSA information should remain confidential. DO NOT give this information to anyone - even people who may be trying to help you fill out the FAFSA. Giving out W-2 and social security information puts you at risk for identity theft. 

It's time to get real about the college application process.


College application time is here, and it’s time to get real about the process. Blindly filling out (and paying for) applications for every school is not a good use of your time—or money. Here’s how to strategically decide where you will apply and increase your chances of getting in:

  • Make a list of at least three schools you want to apply to. In fact, write down all the schools you want to apply to. Think of this as your brainstorming. Then, start doing your research by checking out their sites for admission requirements, costs, degree programs, and campus life. 
  • Be realistic about which colleges are a good fit for you.  While minimum requirements are often posted on the school’s website, they often aren’t enough to get you in. For example, on UF’s admissions website they list a 19 as their minimum ACT or a 1000 SAT. However, their average student profile indicates students will need much higher scores for them to seriously consider your application. Google “average student profile” and then your school’s name to see for yourself. Below is a chart with all the different profiles for FL schools. These averages change year to year, but only in that they become more competitive each year. 
  • If you haven’t met at least one of these minimums, consider other opportunities different institutions. If you’re a senior and you have a low ACT/SAT, you don’t have a lot of time to increase that score. And, at this point, if your GPA is low, you don’t have time to bring it up. Don’t panic! There are so many options. Just because everyone in your clique is going to a particular school doesn’t mean it’s the right place for you.
  • After this reality check, you may need to revise your list. Be sure one of the schools listed is a stretch school. While you must get real, you should still stretch for a school a little beyond your reach. Perhaps you have the GPA but not the ACT score, or you have the SAT score but not the GPA. Go for it! Perhaps by writing a great essay or having some awesome extracurricular activities listed on your app, you may have a shot. Some schools wait until the very last minute and will offer students spots that were left vacant by someone who couldn’t attend. 
  • Get a brand new, professional gmail account and use that for all your college correspondence. I recommend a brand new one because your parents probably set up your old one. It’s time to start a new chapter. For every school on your list, make profiles in each school’s application process. Some schools are on the Common/Coalition App; others have their own application processes. But for every school, you’ll need a username and password to submit your application. Use your gmail account to set this up.
  • Spend time on the essay. Lot of time.  Choose topics that are timely, interesting and impactful. Get help if you’re a lousy writer. It’s OK, lots of people are lousy writers. In fact, even brilliant writers start with a less-than-perfect first draft. But, if you take the time to write, edit, get feedback, and revise, you’ll have a competitive essay. 

Nothing stings more than rejection, so don’t set yourself up for disappointment. It sounds harsh, I know. But why try to force yourself into a situation that just isn’t right for you?  Now is the time to pave your own way and to make decisions that make sense for you. Honoring your own set of unique strengths and abilities will result in a positive college experience and set you up for success. And, in the end, your success is all that really matters.

Overwhelmed by the whole thing? Try taking one of our workshops for the college application process. We've guided many students through this process. Let us help you. Click the button below for more details. 

Standout Sophomore Year

Sophomores often get a bad rap as having the immaturity of freshmen with the cockiness of juniors.  After years of working with sophomores, we don’t buy that one bit!  In fact, we know this is a great year to take your lead at the head of the pack.  

Here’s some quick tips to help you be a sophomore stand out:

Use the mistakes of freshman year as learning experiences. Didn’t dedicate enough time to independent study? Neglected to turn in work? Didn’t ask for help? Now that you know what doesn’t work, you’re better equipped to do what does.  Participate in class, ask questions, review materials every night. All these things, along with an added year of maturity, will go a long way on your road to success.

Meet with your counselor.  After the hectic first week of school is behind you, schedule time with your counselor to review your academic history, discuss your GPA, talk about assessment requirements for dual enrollment and graduation, and get information on your dream colleges. Knowing the expectations and where you stand is really important at this point in your high school journey.  Wait too long, and you run the risk of not meeting the requirements for the schools you want to attend. 

Sign up for the PSAT. A lot of schools offer this test to their sophomores for FREE. Yep, FREE. And, when you do sit for the PSAT, take it seriously.  The results provide important feedback on your test-taking skills and strengths and weaknesses. You can use the results to design a plan of action for the real SAT. 

Also, if you score high enough on your PSAT, you may find yourself eligible for the National Merit Scholarship. So, there’s that. 

Participate in extracurricular activities. Join a team or club. Better yet, go for a leadership position. Colleges eat that stuff up. They want you to come to their school and do the same thing. And, you’ll experience the happy side effect of having some fun and making connections with your peers and club sponsors. Those sponsors will later be good resources for letters of recommendation. 

Get your community service hours. While you may not need community service hours to graduate, you do need 100 of them for some scholarships like Bright Futures. That’s 25 per year, but how great would it look to colleges when you apply as a junior if you had more? Colleges love to see applicants who get involved in their communities. Many service clubs at your school offer volunteer opportunities, but you can also find things that are important to you and sign up on your own. Go clean a beach, take care of animals, tutor kids at your church, deliver meals to homebound senior citizens. You’ll be doing some good while setting yourself apart.