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When a Catholic-school teacher noticed that a new boy in her second grade class was struggling to adjust, her idea to connect him with Jake Anstock, another student in the class, not only helped the boy succeed at Mother of Divine Providence (now Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania), but the two boys formed a lasting friendship as a result.
Anstock, now 19 and a sophomore at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, said he appreciates the friendships he made at the school as well as preparation received to attend a rigorous college-preparatory high school.
“None of us went to the same high school or college, but being in a small Catholic school with not a lot of people in my class, I was able to become close with two or three of my buddies,” he said.
Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School is one of 22 U.S. Catholic grade schools and high schools named “Blue Ribbon Schools” in September by the U.S. Department of Education for their outstanding academic performance. But good test scores reflect just one measure of success at these and other Catholic schools, which seek to educate and care for the whole child, regardless of their academic level.
For Catholic schools, “academic excellence is an outcome of wanting to be that well-prepared servant leader and not just an end in itself,” said Lincoln Snyder, executive director/CEO of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and also a board member of the Council for American Private Education, which manages and nominates “Blue Ribbon School” applications for private schools.
Leaders of several of this year’s Catholic “Blue Ribbon Schools” shared what receiving the award has meant to their school and how they motivated students to score in the top 15% on state-assessment tests of practicing (English language arts) and mathematics, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. They and others also talked about knowing students well, and nurturing them spiritually and emotionally, contributes to helping them succeed academically in both good and challenging times.
Catholic grade schools and high schools made up 22 of the 24 private schools recognized in 2022, of the 297 total elementary, middle- and high-school awardees that include traditional, charter, magnet, parochial and independent schools. Non-private schools were awarded either for overall academic excellence or for their progress in closing achievement gaps between student subgroups, while private schools were recognized for academic excellence.
The Catholic schools awarded include both diocesan and religious-order-run school.
“There are a lot of different models for excellence for us within the Catholic school system,” Snyder said. “This is a very diverse list, geographically and by types of schools. We’re just proud to see our schools from across the country represented.”
During the 2021-22 school year, 1,688,417 students were enrolled at 5,938 U.S. Catholic elementary and secondary schools, according to NCEA data.
The more than 350 elementary-age students at Christ the King School in Chicago were working together to become a “Blue Ribbon School” as they went through COVID lockdown and restrictions, and they’re excited about reaching that goal, said Principal Ann Marie Riordan.
“I think it’s just a true genuine pride they have of our school, and that makes me so happy,” she said, adding that the students never “backslid” academically during the pandemic.
The award also impacts the parish and neighborhood community, she said. “I think that will keep us stable and definitely keep us on the map for years to come, and that’s important to us because it’s not just about the physical school.”
To ensure students stayed on track during the pandemic, teachers developed individualized plans for every grade, Riordan said. “We don’t want to just cross our fingers and hope they catch up,” she said. “We know that COVID was real, and there’s no playbook.”
Private and Catholic schools performed well academically during COVID compared to public schools, Snyder said. “We know that the fact that Catholic schools came back and offered in-person instruction throughout the COVID pandemic did result in our kids being ahead academically.”
About 20% of Christ the King students have non-standard learning needs, prompting the school to expand its special-education resource staff, Riordan said. As a Catholic school, there is less red tape, and teachers can better focus on what works for student success, she said.
Developing ways to help students who aren’t learning has been a priority for Notre Dame Preparatory High School, said Gene Sweeney, principal of the Scottsdale, Arizona, school that was named a “Blue Ribbon School” this year. Addressing this question has helped the school, with its 927 students coming from 56 feeder schools, achieve the award.
“We just need to keep setting a higher bar, a higher expectation here for ourselves, and continue to focus on learning collaboration and results,” Sweeney said.
School leaders developed three programs to bridge the performance gap: for advanced students and those with preparatory and remedial needs. Relationship building is essential in the programs, said George Prelock, director of the school’s exceptional-learner program. “Especially being a Catholic school, to let these students know that you do care for them, that you are their biggest cheerleader, biggest support — and sometimes it’s more than academics.”
The achievement gap widened during the pandemic, and communities of color have been disproportionately affected by learning loss, Snyder said. During the 2021-22 school year, more than 21% of U.S. Catholic-school students were racial minorities, and almost 19% were Hispanic/Latino. More than 20% were not Catholic.
Educators need to ensure that all children are being served and be deliberate about mitigating losses suffered during COVID, Snyder said.
Leaders of high schools in the Cristo Rey Network don’t yet know how they’ve emerged from the pandemic academically because internal and external measures of achievement have changed, said Elizabeth Goettl, president and CEO of the Chicago-based network consisting of 38 schools in 24 states.
Cristo Rey schools stayed in-person to the extent they could during COVID, she said. “Certainly the personal face-to-face is the most powerful experience,” Goettl said. “Catholic schools are privileged, and we’re all privileged every day, to make our practice of our faith public. We don’t need to hide it and go to work and leave it at home.”
About 98% of the network’s 12,441 pupils are students of color, she said. On average, half are working to Strengthen in a designated academic area, she said. Students also spend part of their school day getting job experience in offices. Amid COVID, the schools worked with the employers to move as much work to remote as they could, so the students kept working. Of the network’s class of 2016, 39% graduated with a bachelor’s degree within six years — more than two times higher than their demographic peers, Goettl said.
Even when Catholic-school students have similar test scores or academic outcomes to their public-school counterparts, they’re more likely to stay in college or engage in civic life, Snyder said.
Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School’s smaller size enables it to better identify students’ learning needs early and provide them the help they need, even if they’re coming from failing schools, said Principal Christine Pagan. The school has started STEM, special education and reading/math intervention programs for the 200 K-8 students, 10% of whom are English learners, she said.
In 2021, Mother Teresa Regional Catholic School became the regionalized school for Mother of Divine Providence parish in King of Prussia and St. Teresa of Avila parish in Audubon, Pennsylvania. Keeping the schools’ doors open for anyone who wants a Catholic education is a priority the school backs up with scholarships, Pagan said.
“We want the people who want to be in our school for what we teach, as far as our faith goes,” she said. “And a lot of people for a long time didn’t go to Catholic schools because of the money because they didn’t have the programs that maybe their child needs, and that has been our goal: to make it available to those people who really want it.”
Fewer than half of the students who applied early to college this fall submitted standardized test scores, according to an analysis by the nonprofit that publishes the Common Application.
The data point could mark a watershed moment in admissions, college advisers say, when a pandemic pause in SAT and ACT testing requirements evolved into something more permanent.
Just three years ago, 78 percent of applicants included test scores in their early Common App submissions, a round of admissions that ends Nov. 1.
The share of applicants reporting SAT or ACT scores plunged in 2020, as COVID-19 shuttered testing sites and drove hundreds of colleges to adopt “test-optional” admissions.
Many observers expected the testing requirement to return as restrictions lifted. It hasn’t.
“We’ve actually seen an increase in the share of colleges on the Common App that don’t require a test score,” said Preston Magouirk, senior manager of research and analytics at Common App.
More than 1,800 colleges are “test-optional” this year, including most elite public and private campuses, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest.
Common App data shows that only 4 percent of colleges require test scores for applications this fall, down from 55 percent in pre-pandemic 2019. The group includes a handful of technical universities and Florida’s state university system.
Any number of schools could revert to requiring test scores. But admissions experts don’t believe they will.
“I think it’s harder to go back,” said Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth Tutoring Services in Atlanta. “When you go test-optional, you have the freedom to build the class you want to build.”
The test-optional movement began at Bowdoin College in Maine in 1970 and spread through academia, gaining traction in the 2000s amid concerns about equity.
Not until the coronavirus pandemic, though, did a majority of applicants exercise the option to omit test scores from their Common Application requirements.
College admission panels used to count on SAT and ACT scores as a way to compare students across schools. Sorting applicants by GPA or academic rigor can be tricky: An A in honors geometry may not mean the same thing from one school to another.
The test-optional push follows relentless criticism that college-entrance exams favor the affluent, who can afford pricey test-prep classes, effectively paying for a higher score.
A few colleges have rejected standardized tests altogether. California’s public university system, the nation’s largest, no longer accepts them. Elsewhere, most institutions have embraced the test-optional option.
Experts see little downside. By accepting test scores but not requiring them, a selective college often finds that its SAT and ACT averages go up, because students with lower scores don’t submit them.
Admission consultants say test-optional policies free an institution to enroll more economically disadvantaged students, or more affluent “full-pay” students, whose parents cover the full cost of attendance, all without regard to test scores.
“If they want, they can increase diversity,” Applerouth said. “If they want, they can increase full-pay. Why would you provide that up?”
The leaders of FairTest and other equity advocates cheer the test-optional trend.
“Any time spent preparing for the SAT or ACT is time spent not practicing a novel, time not spent playing the guitar,” said Harry Feder, executive director of FairTest. “I think it’s a waste of kids’ energy and time.”
For applicants, however, the test-optional era brings a host of new complexities.
Applicants now face more decisions on the pros and cons of submitting scores to individual colleges. The choice can trigger a deep dive into a school’s test-score profile, admission statistics and philosophies on testing.
“It’s a combination of multivariable calculus and practicing tea leaves,” said Wendie Lubic, a partner in The College Lady, a Washington, D.C., consultancy.
As a general rule, admission consultants encourage applicants to submit scores that fall near the SAT or ACT average for the target school: the higher, the better.
College leaders promise to provide every student a fair shake, test scores or no.
“When we say we’re test-optional, we really mean we’re test-optional and don’t think twice when a student doesn’t submit test scores as part of their application,” said Jeff Allen, vice president for admission and financial aid at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Macalester officials decided to go test-optional shortly before the pandemic descended. A slim majority of Macalester applicants did not submit scores last fall, a quotient that suggests they accept the school’s pledge not to penalize the score-less.
Yet, admission statistics suggest some other schools prefer applicants who post scores.
Lubic, the consultant, cites Boston College. The school’s overall admission rate is 17 percent. Boston College is test-optional. Its website promises that students who do not submit scores will “receive full consideration” in admissions. But school policy also notes, somewhat ominously, that those who do not send scores “will have one less credential to be considered by the Admission Committee.”
To Lubic, the numbers speak for themselves. For the current academic year, Boston College admitted 25 percent of applicants with test scores and 10 percent of those without.
The University of Virginia provides another case study. In the last round of admissions, students without test scores made up 42 percent of applicants but only 26 percent of admissions.
“Amherst, Barnard, Boston College, Boston University, you can see that they actively prefer scores,” Lubic said. “They have actually told people what the admit rate is for students who submit scores, and what the admit rate is for students who don’t submit scores.” The second number, she said, is invariably lower.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of a swamp,” she said. “Nothing is confirmed.”
Jessica, a mother in Richmond, Va., helped her daughter through the college admissions process last year. The daughter had a 4.8 weighted GPA and a 1390 SAT score. The family chose to submit scores to some schools but not to others, depending on each institution’s SAT average and apparent preference.
The daughter gained admission to several colleges whose admission committees never saw her scores, including the honors program at the University of South Carolina, where she ultimately enrolled. The University of Virginia did see her scores — and put her on its waitlist.
“That was a shocker,” said Jessica, who withheld her last name to discuss what remains a sensitive subject in her family.
During the pandemic, when some students lacked access to testing, hundreds of colleges pledged to treat applicants the same with or without test scores.
“That pledge has now expired,” Applerouth said.
In a post-COVID world, he said, test-optional means a college considers an application complete without test scores. It does not necessarily mean the application is on equal footing with the others.
“Academic rigor is optional,” Applerouth said. “Submitting robust AP scores is optional. Being student body president is optional. But optional does not mean without impact.”
The retreat from required testing, especially in California, has lowered the stakes for students who take the tests. More than 1.7 million high school students in the class of 2022 took the SAT, up from 1.5 million in 2021, but down from 2.2 million in 2020, according to test publisher the College Board.
On the future of standardized testing, “I think California will continue to drive a lot of the discussion,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University.
California’s university system dropped standardized tests from admissions in 2021, a dramatic step affecting several of the nation’s most prestigious public campuses.
“I know College Board continues to campaign quietly in the state to get the public universities to reinstate the tests,” Boeckenstedt said. “And if they do, that would be a game changer.”
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National association of tax lawyers urges Supreme Court to overturn Ninth Circuit decision unduly restricting the availability of attorney-client privilege.
— Armando Gomez, President of the American College of Tax Counsel
Background of the Case
Countless attorney-client communications involve both legal and non-legal inquiries. For example, a lawyer may be asked to advise on both the legal validity and commercial feasibility of a proposed transaction, or to conduct an internal investigation for compliance with both legal requirements and corporate policies. The question presented in this case is the test for determining when attorney-client privilege attaches to such “dual purpose” communications.
The case arises in the context of a grand-jury subpoena of a law firm that advised its client about the tax laws governing expatriation and that prepared the tax filings required upon expatriation. The Ninth Circuit started from a premise, shared by some other lower courts, that the tax filing preparation work was “non-legal” and therefore that the attorney-client communications at issue had dual purposes. The court then held that the communications were not privileged because the legal purpose did not “predominate.” And it reasoned in part that applying the D.C. Circuit’s more protective “significant” legal purpose test would be particularly inappropriate for tax-related communications.
The College’s Brief
The College’s brief explains that the Ninth Circuit erred and that the D.C. Circuit is correct. In the words of Armando Gomez, President of the College: “The tax context underscores that confidential attorney-client communications should be privileged as long as they have a significant legal purpose. For tax-related communications, the legal purpose and the non-legal purpose asserted tend to be inextricably intertwined, and it is difficult verging on impossible to determine which purpose ‘predominates.’”
The College’s brief elaborates that the legal purpose of advising about the best tax position and the asserted non-legal purpose of assisting in the preparation of tax returns reflecting that position are often flip sides of the same coin. Through a variety of common scenarios facing tax attorneys, the College’s brief illustrates that it would be futile to try to disentangle and weigh the tax-advice and return-preparation purposes of tax-law-related communications. And the College’s brief further demonstrates that the problem is exacerbated by the substantial overbreadth of the rationales that lower courts have offered for sometimes treating a lawyer’s assistance in tax-return preparation as effectively “non-legal.” A confidential communication between a lawyer and a client to properly prepare and file a legally mandated form with the government is a conventional case for attorney-client privilege, and lower courts have failed to justify treating the tax-return-preparation context differently.
You can read the brief on the College’s website.
About Amicus Briefs
A brief by Amicus Curiae (“friend of the court”), also known as an amicus brief, allows a person or organization with a strong interest in or important views on the subject matter of a case to file a brief explaining those views and urging the court to rule in a manner consistent with those views. Amicus briefs are often filed in cases of broad public interest and are filed with the permission of the court and typically, as is true here, with the consent of all the parties in the case. The College’s brief in this case was submitted by its governing Board of Regents, represented by attorneys Hashim M. Mooppan, Frank J. Jackson, Kathryn Keneally, and Kelly C. Holt of the law firm Jones Day in Washington D.C. and New York, and Lawrence Hill of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP in New York.
About the American College of Tax Counsel
The American College of Tax Counsel, founded in 1981, is a nonprofit association of tax attorneys in private practice, law school teaching positions, and government, who are recognized for their excellence in tax practice and their substantial contributions and commitment to the legal profession. One of the chief purposes of the College is to provide a mechanism for input by tax attorneys into the development of U.S. tax laws and policy. A Board of 19 Regents serves as the College’s governing body, with one regent drawn from each of the 13 federal judicial circuits, plus two at-large positions. The Board is rounded out by the four members of its Executive Committee -- President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer, and Last Retiring President. The College can be found online at http://www.actconline.org.
American College of Tax Counsel
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Nov. 26—Students newly enrolling in courses at Santa Fe Community College for the spring 2023 semester might be surprised — and delighted — to find they won't have to undergo a battery of tests long used to determine if they have to take remedial classes.
The college is rolling out a new assessment method in place of standardized tests for math, English and practicing called Accuplacer that previously have placed the wide majority of new students in developmental classes.
The change, college President Becky Rowley said, is intended to advance equity and degree completion.
"What we found with the test is that, first of all, it's not very accurate," she said. "It really doesn't tell us what we think it has been telling us all along. And there are a lot of cultural biases with the test."
Earlier this month, the school began enrolling students in spring courses using a system with several performance metrics, including high school grade point averages, self-assessments and optional tests.
Scholarly research over decades has found problems with the use of standardized tests in higher education as a yardstick for a student's college readiness, such as cultural biases favoring white students and limiting access to college for those of color.
Yash Morimoto, Santa Fe Community College's vice president of strategy and organizational effectiveness, said the college's use of the Accuplacer exams repeated this pattern. Students of color were much less likely to perform well on Accuplacer, an assessment developed by the College Board, which also governs the SAT, high school Advanced Placement exams and other standardized tests.
Morimoto said 79 percent of students enrolling in the school were placed in remedial courses. Many of those students didn't need the remedial courses to succeed at a college level, despite the test results, said Marcos Maez, director of student engagement and recruitment. In his workshops offering high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to take Accuplacer, Maez added, he found many high-achieving high school students — those who were college ready based on other measures — were testing below college level.
Placing students in remedial courses drastically reduces their likelihood of attaining a college degree, Morimoto said, because developmental courses extend the time it takes for students to complete their degree programs and raise the cost of higher education.
"The longer you take courses in college, the greater chance that something in your life is going to derail you — not because you're not capable but because nonacademic life challenges happen," Morimoto said.
Morimoto called the continuation of Accuplacer use a "huge, disproportionate racial injustice;" Rowley called it a "disservice" to students.
Students with a high school GPA of 2.6 or above are now considered ready for college courses, Rowley said.
Meanwhile, Accuplacer is still an option for students who want to use it as a placement metric, and the college will consider scores on other nationally recognized exams, such as the SAT and ACT.
The college is also streamlining its remedial curriculum to limit the burden developmental courses place on students and move them into college-level courses faster.
Ultimately, Rowley said, the new placement policy should Strengthen student retention and promote degree completion while making course placement a collaborative conversation between students and advisers.
While the rollout of the new policy might involve some hiccups, Morimoto said he isn't panic about students meeting any challenges.
"Our students are capable students," Morimoto said. "People are panic that if we move in this direction, we're throwing unprepared students in dangerous water where they're not going to be successful. But our experience and our data and our research all point that that is not the case."
Sasha Chada, the founder of Ivy Scholars, a college admissions counseling company based in Texas, said that while his company’s Latino clients often emphasized their ethnicity and their engagement with Hispanic cultural organizations on their college applications, his company frequently gave Asian American students the opposite advice, urging them to shift away from “classically Asian activities” to Strengthen their chances of getting into the country’s elite universities.
“It doesn’t make me happy to tell ninth graders that there are musical instruments they shouldn’t play or academic pursuits they shouldn’t engage in because it’s going to make them look bad because of their ethnicity,” Mr. Chada said.
Many consultants said that, when it came to elite college admissions, it was not enough to just be a well-rounded student. Differentiation is the name of the game, regardless of race.
Part of the problem, some college consultants say, is that there are kernels of truth in the stereotypes of Asian applicants. Within the communities, violin and piano are, in fact, oversubscribed activities, the consultants say, making it difficult for most students to stand out.
“I often tell families that instead of playing violin or piano, which is something almost every Chinese American can check off on their profile, try a different instrument,” said Shin Wei, the founder and chief executive of IvyMax, an admissions counseling company based in California.
For many immigrant parents like Jing Zeng, getting their children into a top college is seen as crucial for upward social mobility. But navigating a new and opaque admissions system that takes into account factors besides test scores can feel daunting, leading many first-generation parents to look at what families around them are doing and push their children into the same types of activities.
“When we came to this country, we had nothing — we have no background, we have no legacy,” said Ms. Zeng, 52, who emigrated from China in the mid-1990s and recently sent her son off to Pomona College in California.