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Under Pressure? We Can Help!

You are facing insurmountable pressures.  Expectations continuously increase, while resources – like your valuable time and energy – decrease.  Nearly every educator I meet is completely maxed out and depleted!  I know the feeling.  I was a classroom teacher for several years.  My husband is a middle school teacher.  My best friends are teachers.

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Everyone is constantly stressed out.

The real culprit is not the fatigue of having more to do than time to do it.  It is the chronic sense of feeling ineffective; the feeling that all of your work, effort, and energy is not enough to meet expectations. This is not what you imagined when you chose this profession.

The expectations and mandates have hit critical mass; the pendulum won’t swing any farther.  Something must change. The goods news is that you have the power to make critical changes, simply by harnessing a mathematical law of the universe. It’s the law of 80/20, or “Pareto’s Principle,” as named after the Italian economist who discovered the law in 1906.

80/20 says that all of your efforts are not equal.  80% of the impact you have in your life, on your: family, colleagues, community, and of course, your students, comes from only 20% of your efforts!

When you harness your “top 20%” efforts intentionally, you quickly find yourself feeling more and more effective…and less stressed. For students, middle school study skills are the top 20% skills students need.

This phenomenon goes completely against conventional wisdom. Our natural tendency is to believe that our rewards should be equal to our efforts. But, when your efforts are at (or beyond) maximum capacity and the “rewards” aren’t meeting expectations, it’s time to recognize that the 1:1 ratio of “effort” to “rewards” is flawed.

We have made it easy for you to see the implications of 80/20 in education, so you can examine them in more detail.

We can teach you how to transcend all barriers to learning: poverty, learning disabilities, and apathy. There is no need to reinvent the wheel…the “secret” is hiding in plain sight and has been proven every day since 1896.  Yes, this is another “top 20%” leverage point.

We can teach you to see why learning disabilities shouldn’t be disabling. The path for navigating around learning disabilities is the path for best-practices in education, in general.  Yes, its another “top 20%” leverage point.

At the end of the day, however, you have to be sure you can deliver results. You’ll see what research says how to raise test scores. Guess what…it’s another “top 20%” leverage point.

Are you from a private, charter or magnet school?  If you have to recruit students to your school, be sure to check out our findings for a special “top 20%” leverage point that can help you.

Change your paradigm from “1:1” to “80/20” and you will change your life! This transformation is a “win-win” for you and your students because it will change their lives, too.

80/20 in the Classroom: How to Reclaim Your Energy & Effectiveness

The 80/20 Principle is a law of the universe. It confirms that only 20% of what is taught has 80% of the impact.  This principle is the key to raising students’ performance, while also lowering your stress.

The Pareto Principle states that 20% of actions produce 80% of results. Or, 80% of effects come from 20% of causes.  Here are some simple 80/20s you might recognize:

  • You wear 20% of the clothes in your closet 80% of the time.
  • People spend 80% of their time with 20% of their family and friends.
  • 20% of society holds 80% of the wealth.

It’s not always an 80/20 split – sometimes it’s 70/30 or 90/10 – but you will rarely see an even split between cause and effect.

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3 Ways to Bring 80/20 into the Classroom

#1 • 20% of Your Students Will Take Up 80% of Your Time, Resources, and Energy

Action Plan: Identify the 20% of students who use most of your energy. Develop strategies and systems to streamline their challenges.

There’s tremendous value in recognizing this pattern! It makes the challenges of these students seem less personal when you see the “bigger picture,” the larger pattern of their behavior or struggles.

#2 • You Will Not Be Able to Reach 20% of Your Students

Action Plan: Focus on the 80% you can reach and impact!

Teachers always focus on the students they can’t reach; they don’t realize the 80% successes they have every day! In education, we value the “100%,” the “perfect score,” the “A+.” Most of us did not become teachers to be complacent with an 80% success rate! We are even told, “No child should be left behind.” But, it’s EXTREMELY important to recognize the discrepancy between our expectations and what is viably possible.

#3 ● 20% of Content = 80% of Impact!

Action Plan: Identify the most important 20% of your content – then let your creativity and passion take over.

When you identify the 20% of the content that will have 80% of the impact, you DRAMATICALLY reduce your burden of covering “so much” content. Common Core has already identified the top 20%.

80/20 Is the Real Reason Finland & Germany Are Kicking Our Class!

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Common Core has clearly identified its 80/20 leverage points…the Anchor Standards! The Anchor Standards are the “ultimate outcomes” of Common Core, but 80/20 says we need to teach the Anchor Standards FIRST! When students know how to access content, the friction between the learner and new content is eliminated. All students need are the perfect middle school study skills.

PISA is a global program with one objective; determine students’ readiness for the real-world.  PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) assesses students’ ability to apply math, science, and language knowledge to problems and contexts of modern life.

Finland and Germany have risen to the top of the world on PISA! The United States, however, continues to rank near the bottom of all industrialized countries.

How Did Finland & Germany Do It?

They found their 80/20 leverage points! They pared content down and focused on the most important 20%.

The Carnegie Mellon Foundation and Stanford Research Institute surveyed Fortune 500 CEOs, identifying the most critical skills. They concluded that 75% of long-term career success depends on soft skills, such as: the ability to process and organize new information, solve problems, think critically, manage time and deadlines, communicate effectively with others, etc.  Only 25% of long-term success, however, depends on technical “content” knowledge.

The Scale Has Already Tipped in a Healthy Direction.  But, Most Educators Don’t Know It…Yet.

The Common Core has clearly identified its 80/20 leverage point…the Common Core Anchor Standards for Career and College Readiness.

What are the Common Core Anchor Standards?  They are the “ultimate outcomes” for the Common Core.  All of the Common Core standards are intended to “build up” to the final outcomes described in the Anchor Standards.

80/20 turns that notion upside down and says, “Teach the anchor standards FIRST!”  Then, students will know how to access all of the other Common Core standards. When students know how to access content, the friction between the learner and new content is eliminated.

This process has many important benefits:

1. Students perform much better on standardized tests.  Now that students know how to learn, they are able to learn more content, much faster, with long-term retention.

2. Students will be ready for college and the workplace.  The continued application of these skills in other content-areas is perfect practice for college and workplace expectations.

3. Teachers have less stress.  When students have strategies for learning and self-management, they are empowered. Teachers have more energy because they do much less “nagging.”

4. Teachers feel more effective.  These skills release all sorts of resistance from students, who are now more organized and prepared to learn strategically.  Now, teachers can focus on…teaching!  (Not nagging, prodding, and feeling eternally ineffective.)

The One Fatal Flaw of Every Education Initiative

“New initiatives” only address a fraction of the equation. They only provide perspectives and tools for teachers to deliver content. They do NOT teach students HOW to learn or process that content. They do not address teaching middle school study skills.

Every 1 to 3 years, the time comes around again; time for the latest education initiative. This time, it’s the big, new idea that will “fix everything.” School districts invest hundreds of hours mapping curriculum so teachers can have “airtight” lessons in the classroom. All the initiatives start to look the same. In fact, you realize, they are all the same. They are just repackaged in new language every year.

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Why These Initiatives Don’t Work

The problem is, they only provide perspectives and tools for the educator to deliver content. They don’t teach students how to process that content: how to consume it, analyze it, and make decisions about it.

Everything in education – every college class, PD session, and magazine article – suggests that you do all of the work! Meanwhile students only learn how to follow directions, fill in the blanks, and answer questions…instead of asking them.

The Most Important 20%

You will always feel like you’re slogging uphill until your students are empowered to learn strategically. Strategic learning skills are the great differentiator – they put students in the driver’s seat. They teach students how to learn by asking questions and navigating their way with high-level thinking skills.

Strategic learning skills teach students how to:

  • Think forward and set their own goals.
  • Create their own purpose for learning.
  • Organize their papers and supplies.
  • Learn with maximum effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Monitor their progress along the way.

Why Reinvent the Wheel? How to Transcend ALL Barriers to Learning: Poverty, Learning Disabilities, & Apathy

In 1896, in the slums of Rome, a young woman was put in charge of a group of children labeled “impossible to educate.” As the first female physician in Italy, she had fought great resistance to get her own education; “no one wanted a female doctor.” Her assignment to care for these children was considered an insult. In a sense, she and the children, ages 3 to 6, were outcasts together.

She recognized that she and the children had something in common: it wasn’t that they couldn’t learn, but that the adults around them wouldn’t let them learn. She studied her children. She paid careful attention to what they were inclined to do. She followed their lead and respected their choices. Before long, she began to unlock their natural gifts. Her children went on to surpass “normal” students on Italy’s achievement tests. (Yes, standardized tests were around more than a century ago!) WWI & WWII forced her into exile across several different countries, where she continued to observe and test her methods.

That young woman – who had been cast aside in her young professional life – went on to revolutionize education! She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Her methods are still used successfully today, in every socioeconomic setting, on every inhabited continent. Many well-known people are graduates of her methods, including: Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Whales, actors George Clooney and Helen Hunt, famous management consultant Peter Drucker, Princes William and Harry of Wales, and even Helen Keller and Anne Frank.

That woman was Maria Montessori.

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Her methods transcend language, culture, and socioeconomic conditions because they are based on the natural progression of human development. I call it “Complete-Human Education” (CHE). Montessori empowered her students by teaching according to human development and respecting the natural, human gifts within each student. She provided Structure, yet celebrated the Originality of each student, built on their natural Aptitudes, and made her curriculum Relevant to the “real world.”

The 80/20 on Motivation

Armed with these principles, Montessori created the path for students of all backgrounds and abilities to SOAR! She cracked the not-so-secret code for unlocking student motivation and tapping the individual potential within all students. All education initiatives must embrace these principles, these “80/20 leverage points,” in order to achieve maximum success.

SOAR® Soft Skills has been carefully designed to embrace these principles:

  • Provide Structure. – The curriculum, itself, provides structure for accessing these essential skills.
  • Celebrate Originality. – The first section of SOAR® is an in-depth discovery into the Multiple Intelligences. Students are encouraged to dig deep into their unique talents and interests. They even identify their Superpower.
  • Build on Natural Aptitudes. – In traditional education there is so much emphasis on remediating struggles. With SOAR®, we “clear the slate,” as we celebrate originality. The strategies students are about to learn are bare-bones efficient, aligned to the circuitry of the human brain. They will support students through school, enabling them to better develop their natural aptitudes.
  • Make it Relevant. – All skills and strategies in SOAR® are “life” skills. They will not only help students get better grades today, they will help students pay bills on time tomorrow, complete projects on the job, and get along effectively with others. They are 100% relevant to the real world! Middle school students can use study skills the rest of their lives!

Special Education:
Middle School Study Skills Are Essential for Students with ADHD & Learning Disabilities!

Clearly, the best 80/20 leverage point for helping students with ADHD & learning disabilities is to teach strategies aligned to the circuitry of the brain.  Not only does this allow for maximum efficiency, it naturally builds detours around traditional challenges.

The brain has many sections, each responsible for different types of information.

These sections communicate with each other through a massive series of wires called neurons.

Our brains have billions of neuron wires, but any one of those neuron connections is just like this very familiar circuit of party lights!

In ADHD, the frontal cortex sends weak signals to the rest of the brain.  The frontal cortex is the “organizing center” of the brain; it orchestrates everything from your five senses and feelings, to the thoughts you generate in response to them.  When the frontal cortex sends weak signals those signals never connect – and the power goes out!

Middle School Study skills are strategies with very few steps to manage, making the process of learning and organizing much less susceptible to “power outages” caused by ADHD.

Learning disabilities are caused by weak neuron signals to isolated sections of the brain.  The key to managing learning disabilities is to build new circuits around the weaker sections – much like building a detour.  This is why “multi-sensory” interventions are so popular for students with learning disabilities; the additional sensory input is one way to build that detour.

Middle School Study skills provide another detour; specific learning strategies allow learners to bypass weak sections of the brain quickly. Over time, these strategies provide a scaffold to strengthen neuron pathways throughout the brain.

State & Standardized Tests:
The Two Research-Based Ways to Raise Test Scores

Research consistently confirms that there are two critical requirements to achieve optimal results on state and standardized testing:

1. Teach the curriculum, not “to the test.”  Teaching “to the test” – also known as “item teaching” – actually lowers test scores; it promotes only narrow, rigid thinking.1,2 (It is also directly opposed to #2).  Instead, students get better results when instruction is focused on the content represented on the test.  This body of knowledge is typically known as your content standards.

2. Build cognitive flexibility with metacognitive strategies.3 If students do not have strategies for learning the content, well…they won’t learn it! Obviously.

The National Research Council concludes that teaching students how to ask questions is the key to successful problem solving.3 (The ability to “ask questions” is a significant 80/20 leverage point!) As you will notice, the “A” in SOAR® stands for “Ask questions.” All metacognitive strategies presented in SOAR® use the process of “asking questions” as the primary strategy for learning new information.

With SOAR®, we focus on the top 1% strategy that has 99% of the impact.  It is the process of making connections. From there, we teach how to “ask questions” as the basic strategy for making learning connections. This simplification empowers students to use “metacognitive strategies” in a wide variety of situations…including on high-stakes tests!

Growing “Growth Mindsets” & Grit

MindsetIn her landmark book, Mindset, Carol Dweck, Ph.D., shares her scientific research on motivation. She concluded that teaching students how to learn, in conjunction with brain biology, is the best way to boost motivation and develop a “growth mindset.” In two scientific studies, she confirmed that this combination works; motivation and grades skyrocketed among adolescents!

Angela Duckworth, Ph.D., cites Dweck’s work as one of the strongest ways for students to develop “grit”…the character trait most strongly associated with success in middle school students.

Our innovative model, The Brain Circuit™, allows students to easily understand brain biology. Strategies in SOAR® are aligned to this model, maximizing effectiveness and efficiency. Students not only learn how to learn, they learn why these learning strategies work. As research has proven, this approach is a “top 20” leverage point for inspiring student motivation and success!

Response to Intervention (RTI)

SOAR® is perfectly suited to support RTI. Here’s how it works:

RTITier I: Teachers can easily embed SOAR®’s strategies across the curriculum for the whole class. Our triangulated assessments allow teachers to identify students who need additional assistance implementing the strategies. Those students will move up to Tier II.

Tier II: In Tier II, students meet in small groups to target specific skills or strategies for which they need support. Tier I assessments allow teachers to identify targeted small-groups. Teachers can pull additional instructional materials from the Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide or simply support students’ application of strategies to their current classes.

Tier III: Students who escalate to this level are usually doing so for learning challenges beyond the spectrum of middle school study skills. However, these skills are essential for all students and continue to play a role in the individualized learning plans created in Tier III.

For Private, Charter, & Magnet Schools

When parents shop for schools, they can all look the same.  How can you stand out from the rest?  Provide something parents desperately want!  (it’s a simple 80/20 leverage point!)

If your school depends on recruiting to survive, you’re all too familiar with the constant pressure to attract and retain students. You have to get parents’ attention!

The SOAR® Soft Skills curriculum gives private, charter, and magnet schools a great way to stand out from the field. SOAR® raises student performance and gives students lifelong tools for success. The curriculum also helps teachers and students connect meaningfully with parents to report on their progress – and, as it turns out, boost retention! Teaching your middle school students study skills is a great way to stand out from the rest!

SOAR® Is Proven to Raise Average GPAs by 1 Full Point!

The strategies I teach in SOAR® took me from struggling to straight-As.  Today, they allow me to run a business and raise my family. But, do they work for others?

They sure do!

robynStudents at Maeser Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Lindon, UT raised their average GPAs by more than ONE full point. Principal Robyn Ellis also credits SOAR® for the “tremendous” growth measured on standardized tests.

After only two months of implementation, the teachers overwhelmingly agreed:

  • Students had become more organized.
  • Students were losing and forgetting homework less often.
  • Students were remembering to take the correct materials home for homework.
  • Student achievement increased because of SOAR®!

After GPAs rose by an average of more than ONE full point across the entire 6th grade and standardized test scores grew “substantially,” Principal Robyn Ellis said, “We realize…it would be detrimental NOT to use SOAR!®

“Where Do I Start?”

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The learning tasks required of students in 6th grade essentially remain the same for the rest of their academic career: completing assignments, reading textbooks, studying for tests, writing papers, giving presentations, etc.  Therefore, the strategies in SOAR® are appropriate for all grades, 6 and up.

SOAR® is most ideal for the “transition grades,” as students enter middle school, typically 6th or 7th grade. Study skills are important for middle school students to learn!


SOAR® will accommodate whatever time you have! Every school has unique resources and restrictions.  For this reason, the SOAR® Multi Media Teacher’s Guide was designed to be extremely flexible.  If time is tight, core lessons are identified in the Teacher’s Guide.  As little as 15 minutes a day can deliver impactful results. For longer classes, extension activities are provided for all lessons. It is also extremely helpful to incorporate frequent class discussions and allow for “Guided Implementation Time.”


The first and most important rule of teaching middle school study skills is this: Anything is better than nothing!

SOAR® was born as an after-school program because that was when I originally had time to teach it. Your unique schedule requirements will shape the middle school study skills program at your school. You can have confidence that whatever you can fit in will be a tremendous service to your students.

Some schools incorporate SOAR® into a year-round or semester-long class. It can be part of a common fixture in the schedule such as homeroom, “middle school academy.” Hurst Middle School in New Orleans shaved a few minutes from each class period to make room for a 20-minute SOAR® class at the end of each day.

Other schools offer middle school study skills instruction in place of an elective credit, or as an elective class. You’ll be surprised by how eager students can be to learn how to learn. IMPORTANT TIP: If you make the class an elective, give it an appealing name, such as “Better Grades in Less Time.” (Seriously.)

You can also offer it to at-risk or special education classes, in small groups or even on a one-on-one basis. Remember, though, that all students can benefit from learning middle school study skills.


If you are finding it challenging to fit middle school study skills into your schedule, contact us for a free consultation!


Teachers and administrators have seen a lot of new education ideas come and go. In order to show them that middle school study skills offer a real benefit to students and to the school, you may need to cut through the noise.

First, share solid information. No one cares for hype. Gather facts, data, and research to support your conviction. Since middle school study skills are my passion, I’ve been busy doing this very thing. Check out “The Cost of NOT Teaching Study Skills”.

Second, survey your school. Ask teachers, students, and parents about the symptoms that concern them. Some teachers may tell you that they don’t care about “middle school study skills” – but when you ask them about their frustrations, they will complain about the volume of incomplete work from students!

Next, start gathering allies. You know who they are. Having just one other teacher excited for middle school study skills is enough to start building momentum. Two or three more are even better. The first follower is important when starting a movement, click Here to read our article about starting a movement.

There will always be a minority of naysayers for any initiative. According to psychological research, resistance is a healthy sign; it typically means that their pain points must be addressed before they can become fully engaged.


You know your school better than we do. It’s time to ask, “What are my priorities?” SOAR® offers a “toolbox” of instructional tools – what are you going to build with it?

In our MMTG, we lay out what we believe is the optimal plan for teaching middle school study skills, assuming you have “optimal” time and resources available. In reality, however, very few schools have “optimal” anything.  So, our “optimal” plan is provided as a starting point.


We’ve made SOAR® lean, so it requires only a fraction of the materials (and cost) of a “core content” curriculum program. Yet middle school study skills benefit students in every subject, and we guarantee the results with the right materials and implementation. Here is what you will need:

1. SOAR® Multi-Media Teacher’s Guide: We have done all the prep-work so teachers can put their energy into working with students. The MMTG contains high-quality, interactive lesson plans, materials for students, and multiple assessments to monitor progress.

2. SOAR® Student Book: We’ve written the student text in a clear, concise style with a lot of visual support. We use a “flipped class” model, where students explore the content in this book at home, and then put it into practice in the classroom. This makes for more fruitful classroom discussions, and takes advantage of “positive peer pressure” to get students involved.

3. Additional Supplies: You’ll need a few more supplies to put SOAR® into practice, but these are all more efficient versions of things that students already use. Most importantly, students will each need a 1-inch or 1.5-inch ring binder to use the SOAR® binder system; this one binder replaces the separate notebooks that they would have needed for each other individual class!

Students Want to SOAR!

250 middle school students in Madison, VA petitioned their school board, asking for middle school study skills! They know they don’t know how to learn,…and they want to learn!

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Timothy Decatur-Luker, a 6th-grader at Wetsel Middle School in Madison, VA, saw that he and his friends needed to learn how to learn. At a school board meeting, he presented a petition signed by 250 of his peers, requesting that they adopt the SOAR® curriculum! The board was enthusiastic, but told him that they didn’t have the budget. That didn’t stop him.

He applied for grants, but the deadlines for that year had passed already. Soon, he found a “corporate sponsor.” Jim Fitzgerald, President and CEO of the print company Taradel, LLC jumped at the chance to support Timothy’s initiative. Thanks to Timothy and Jim, Wetsel students now have a learning opportunity they richly deserve; they are learning the strategy of learning, a gift that will serve them for life!

Students are some of the biggest advocates for SOAR® because they understand the value of strategies that make all learning more accessible. Timothy saw the need for middle school study skills when he joined a sports team and saw his peers struggling to balance practice and homework. Every student wants to know how they can learn more and get better grades in less time! Middle school study skills can teach them this!

SOAR® IS… #1

3,600 Schools

SOAR® is ranked as the #1 test prep book in the world and the #1 middle school study skills curriculum in the world; The SOAR® curriculum is used in thousands of schools.  The SOAR® curriculum covers 100% of the Common Core Anchor Standards.


SOAR® brings the 80/20 Rule into education, focusing on powerful strategies that supercharge student achievement. Built on the science of learning and the biology of the brain, SOAR®’s strategies help students master executive function to improve focus, boost performance, and reduce study time by as much as 50%. LD and ADHD students especially stand to benefit from our hyper efficient and brain -aligned strategies.


34_gold_guarantee-100x100SOAR® is proven to raise GPAs by more than one full point! It is proven to raise standardized test scores, and proven to meet teacher expectations.

We guarantee results with SOAR®! If you don’t see an across-the-board increase of 1/2 a point in student GPAs, a 20% improvement in student attitude and confidence, (as measured by the survey that comes with SOAR®), or a 30% reduction in missing assignments, you can return the used materials and we will refund your entire purchase.

SOAR® provides the skills that students need to succeed in middle school and in the 21st-Century job market. This is your chance to give students a powerful gift that will benefit them for the rest of their lives!

To learn more about this proven, award winning curriculum with guaranteed results, request a Free Digital Review Copy in the top-right corner of this page.


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  • Popham, J.W. (1999). Why standardized test scores don’t measure educational quality. Educational Leadership, 56(6), 8-15.
  • National Research Council. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
  • Andrade, H.G. (2000). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. Educational Leadership, 57, 13-18.
  • Stiggins, R.J. (1997). Student-centered classroom assessment. 2nd edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill.
  • Meier, D. (1995). The power of their ideas: Lessons for America from a small school in Harlem. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Johnston, P.H. & Winograd, P.N. (1985). Passive failure in reading. Journal of Reading Behavior, 17(4), 279-301.
  • Rief, L. (1990). Finding the value in evaluation: Self-evaluation in a middle school classroom. Educational Leadership, 47(6), 24-29.
  • Wolf, D.P. (1989). Portfolio assessment: Sampling student work. Educational Leadership, 46(7), 35-39.
  • Valencia, S.W. (1998). Literacy portfolios in action. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Guskey, T.R. (2003). How classroom assessments improve learning. Educational Leadership, 60 (5), 6-11.
  • Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Assessment crisis: The absence of assessment for learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83 (8), 758-765.
  • Powell, S.D. (1999). Teaching to the test. The High School Magazine, 6 (6), 34-37.

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