Full Show Notes
There’s no singular experience in teenage life quite like the SAT. Unlike the grueling four year academic curriculum, it occurs for only 180 minutes–and determines whether or not a teen is accepted to the school of their dreams. Needless to say, this is likely a significant cause of anxiety for you and your teen alike.
A lot of programs out there promise your teen instant success at standardized tests, but in reality, performing well is much more complicated than just quick tips and tricks. Beyond simply putting in the reps, acing the ACT or SAT requires teens to understand their own thinking. It takes a serious mastery over anxiety and external pressures to keep a clear head and perform like a champion.
This week we’re talking to one of the most sought after test prep professionals in the country, Ned Johnson. He runs the company PrepMatters, which helps people prepare from everything from the LSAT to the MCAT. He’s also the co-author of Conquering the SAT: How Parents Can Help Teens Overcome the Pressure and Succeed. Ned’s put in over 35,000 hours of one-on-one test prep with young adults, and has learned quite a few lessons along the way.
He’s here today to share with you why he thinks standardized tests are valuable despite their flaws. These tests go beyond just words and numbers–they teach teens how to push their boundaries. Ned and I also chat about why pressuring kids to do well can often backfire, and how you can help your teen tackle performance anxiety to smash that ACT out of the park.
Why Standardized Tests Matter
Humans are unique and changing, while standardized tests are just that–standardized. How can one test possibly measure every person’s intelligence when we all think so differently?
Ned understands why some people feel this way. Although he’s made a career out of SAT and ACT prep, he knows that there are more important things than getting a perfect score. However, he believes standardized testing can be a great way for teens to challenge their own limits. Specifically, tackling these tests makes kids understand how they can better handle high pressure situations.
Ned explains how, when humans are anxious about something, the easiest solution is avoidance. It’s so much easier to just not do scary things than it is to burst through our comfort zones. For teens, taking a 180 minute test that determines their college acceptance can feel like a stressful nightmare. It can be tempting to simply opt out.
But by facing tests as intense as the SAT, students learn to surmount their anxiety instead of letting it control them. If we avoid situations that make us anxious, then we’ll remain afraid forever. That fear is not going to bode well in adulthood, which is filled with confrontations, important presentations, and big meetings that can’t be ignored. By overcoming their apprehensions about these tests, teens will learn to face the pressure and be less terrified when the next frightening challenge rears its ugly head.
That being said, taking on fear is easier said than done. Luckily, Ned has some advice for how to help teens work through serious nerves.
How to Handle Test Anxiety
Test anxiety is a pretty intense and overwhelming feeling that keeps brilliant kids from performing their best. Ned explains how teens can break this anxiety down into parts and make each part a little easier to handle. That way, kids can be cool as a cucumber when they’re face to face with those pages full of questions.
To start, Ned tackles the notion of novelty, explaining how new things cause us anxiety by catching us off guard. Luckily, the SAT is pretty similar on each go around, and teens can take practice tests. Even if the questions undergo some changes, it’s pretty much the same material. The more practice tests kids can take, the less novel the real test will be.
Another significant contributor to this anxiety is the potential threat to teens’ egos. For some teens, underperforming on these tests means their self esteem is on the line. This leads them to get worked up about their score and might even cause them to fumble on the big day.
In the episode, Ned presents the idea of test prep therapy. This process involves asking students what in particular about the test is stressing them out, and looking for patterns in their thinking. In our interview, he explains how we can reframe these anxious thoughts to help teens overcome their apprehension.
Oftentimes, kids are nervous about these tests because they’re facing a lot of scrutiny from parents. Ned breaks down how to ensure that you’re motivating your student to perform their best instead of pushing them in the wrong ways.
How Parents Play a Role
No parent wants to leave their kid in a state of distress, especially when there’s an important test on the line. However, we still want to encourage kids to do well and ensure that they’re working hard. So how can we approach the situation to give kids a boost instead of dragging them down?
Ned emphasizes the danger of making kids believe they have to be successful at all costs. When parents give the impression that success is the only acceptable option, it leads teens down a bad trajectory. They often feel like they have to lie, or hide their failures. They feel they can’t be vulnerable with you, and may even cheat to achieve the perfect score you might be expecting.
In fact, Ned and I discuss how there’s nothing less encouraging than telling a student that they’re not doing good enough work. The teenage brain is eager to avoid anything that makes teens feel stupid or unworthy. If this negative rhetoric becomes associated with their ACT prep, they’re not going to want to return to their practice tests again and again. They’ll likely blow the whole thing off to go do something that makes them feel instant gratification, like playing video games or watching Netflix.
Instead of pressuring them, Ned explains how you can help kids believe they can achieve. Don’t tell them that there’s no option other than a perfect score. Instead, let them know that you really think they can improve their score, if they really put their mind to it. This encouragement goes a long way, and is much more nourishing than harsh expectations.
Ned also discusses the value of encouraging incremental change. Telling students they need to perform perfectly right away only discourages them. Cheering them on as they bring their practice test score from 1000 to 1200 will work wonders for their confidence. When they feel empowered, they’re more likely to be determined, and will come back the next day excited to improve.
In the Episode…
Ned is not only extremely knowledgeable about test prep but also lovely to talk to! On top of the topics mentioned above, we chat about:
- Why some kids believe they’re college material and others don’t
- How to turn kids into readers
- Why sleep is essential to success
- The neuroscience of confident test taking
We all stress about SATs and ACTs, but Ned’s advice can help! If you enjoyed listening, check out his test prep company, prepmatters.com. Don’t forget to subscribe and share, and we’ll see you next week.
Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen
1. Explain the connection between avoidance and anxiety: (1 of 2)
“We know the dominant manifestation of anxiety is avoidance. We know you’re really anxious, we know you’re struggling with depression–and what I want for you is to graduate high school with a brain that’s more tolerant of this.”-Ned Johnson
2. Explain the connection between avoidance and anxiety: (2 of 2)(Members Only)
3. Explain the connection between avoidance and anxiety: (3 of 3)(Members Only)
4. Help your teen understand what happens with avoidance:(Members Only)
5. Encourage your teen to cope with tough stuff now:(Members Only)
6. You don’t need a brand-name college to be successful:(Members Only)
7. Point out the pros of taking a big standardized test: (1 of 2)(Members Only)
8. Point out the pros of taking a big standardized test: (2 of 2)(Members Only)
9. Prepare your teen for the reality of gaining knowledge:(Members Only)
10. When you bring up something at the wrong time: (1 of 2)(Members Only)
11. When you bring up something at the wrong time: (2 of 2)(Members Only)
12. Help your teen practice visualization:(Members Only)
Complete Interview Transcript
Andy: Okay. So, you literally wrote the book on the SAT, and specifically for parents on how to help your teenagers survive the SAT. But, it’s been a few years since this book came out. So, I’m really curious what has changed about the SAT and about the world of test prep since you first published this book?
Ned: Yeah. So, the SAT has gone through a number of iterations. In 2005 there was a new test where they added a writing section to the test and went from a 1600 scale to a 2,400 scale. And then they had another new test in 2016, where they got rid of that since they went back to 1600 scale, got rid of the separate writing score. The big takeaway is that they have really excised vocabulary from the SAT, which used to be such a big part of the test and made the SAT, in many ways, a lot more like the ACT is. And that’s on purpose because about 10 years ago, the ACT overtook the SAT.
Ned: More kids nationwide were taking the ACT than the SAT, partly because school systems in wanting to have a high school exit exam, really no child left behind stuff, started trying to do this, and ACT and College Board swept in and said, “No, no, no. Don’t make your own tests. You guys are educators, use ours. Let us explain to you how our test really gets at and measures the things that you care about. And the ACT was more well-positioned in that conversation than the SAT was because the ACT had always claimed that it was going to be an achievement test, an assessment has what kids have learned, where the SAT, so much of its history was steeped in kind of an IQ test of being an aptitude test, which didn’t work as well.
Andy: So we saw you in Paul Tough’s book. We had him on the show to talk about his book last year now, I guess.
Ned: Yeah, I love him.
Andy: He’s great.
Ned: He is wonderful.
Andy: You’re a huge character in his book, which was really fun to see.
Ned: He could have told that story differently if he’d chosen to. Rarely does a test prep guy ended up being anything other than a cardboard cutout of a villain with a little mustache and twirl it, so I was really grateful. It was fun. There are a couple of other points I would, of course snuck in there, but it’s his narrative to tell. But I like how seriously he takes the role of anxiety in the way that I think that I do the work on that with kids. And for me, I did a podcast with him, and I didn’t quite land the plane the way that I wanted to. But, because in how children succeed, he talks so eloquently about ACEs, ACE scores and the work of Nadine Burke Harris, and childhood stressors, and the effects on developing brains. And then I think in the years that matter most, really gets at pressures and stresses on kids going through both the application process, but even more so, getting through college, particularly for marginalized kids, particularly for under-resourced kids.
Ned: So, I just, I loved it. I was really glad that he threw me into that plot the way that he did.
Andy: Yeah, you’re like an example of what is wrong with the SAT process in a lot of ways. But also, your stories through the book do show some of these things, like just how important things that don’t have anything to do with how much knowledge you have can really affect your score, like anxiety is just a huge one, and confidence, and some of these other variables that tend to favor people who can afford to spend a lot of time practicing and getting better at these.
Ned: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fair. That’s fair. And of course, the interesting thing is, standardized tests are what allow me to be overly compensated to work with kids. But, some of the more enjoyable feedback and notes of thanks and that kind of thing that I get from kids are, they’re putting two and two together and realizing that the things that I’ve talked about that have proven significant in helping them do their best work or perform their best on standardized tests, apply to a whole lot more than this stupid test. Applies to learning.
Ned: I have a guy I worked with years ago who’s one of the most brilliant, just an incredible mind, brilliant kids I’ve ever worked with. He was a football player at a local high school. And, at some point in that summer football camp went to this not so great local college for their, because the facilities were there, and the coach sidles up to him is like, “You know, Paul, looking at choice for college, and we might not be your first choice, but wonder if you were interested in us, and have you got your sheets?” It’s like recruiting sheet.
Ned: So Paul hands him the sheet and it’s his name and his GPA, 4.0 unweighted, his SAT Reading score, 800 SAT Math, 800, the Writing, 800, the Chemistry, 800, the Math Level 2, 800. And the coach is like, “Jesus Christ,” and just walks away. And so, I had such a fun time working with this guy, and he did beautifully, blah, blah, blah. But, I wrote a blog right before the holidays about gratitude and he actually read it, which stunned me because he’s 35 now. And he sent me this just beautiful email about all the things that I talked about that helped him do his best work. And of course he did such a great job, of how many of these things he applied to his time at university, and now that he’s a business person and dah, dah, dah, and I thought, “Well, yeah because, ultimately, this is about how brains work.
Andy: Yeah. Right. And conquering your own insecurities, and fears, and habits that are getting in the way of you not being able to get the score that you want to get.
Ned: And it’s particularly, to your point, and it’s particularly pernicious, in that things like the ACT now, they have these benchmarks where they talk about whether you’re college-ready or not. And one of the real challenges is that under-resourced, marginalized kids who score below those benchmarks are often jumping into, taking the message that, “We’re not college material,” and so they don’t persist. Not understanding yet that there are a lot of false negatives on standardized tests. There are very few false positives. You don’t get a 99th percentile score, perfect, if you’ve got a 72nd IQ. It’s just that’s a hard gap to close. But there are people who have a 72nd IQ, or ability or learned skills in school, who perform at the 40th level, that has very little to do with how they can think, but more of how they do think on the given day.
Ned: And so that’s the work that all teachers are doing, and I’ll throw myself in the mix as an Airside teacher, when you can help folks understand that and reframe and have tier point better habits and practice differently, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You do, because you hate to see talent go undeveloped. And it’s just, and of course it’s kids with fewer resources. Talent is widely distributed, but opportunity isn’t. So yeah, I hear you.
Andy: It’s one thing that really strikes me reading your book though, was how much we can talk all day about how this test is stupid and it doesn’t really measure this and it doesn’t measure that, or it does this or whatever. But, at the end of the day, there is something. If it’s not the SAT, it’s something else. But, we need to have these things that are… Throughout your life you’re always going to have the huge presentation, and you have to be on, on that day, and you have to learn how to prepare for it properly. You’re going to have tests of all different kinds throughout the course of your life. That we can look at this as a good thing.
Andy: Whatever score you get on it, we can view this as a positive thing, because it’s something that we can help you prepare for, we can look at your habits, we can dissect your preparation, and we can talk about, “Hey, why did we not perform so well on this particular time taking it? What could we do differently next time?” And if you see this experience as something that we can learn from, then it’s a win-win, no matter what.
Ned: Yeah, no, I think it’s an excellent point. Three things jump to mind. One, in the DC area where I live, several years ago, they removed parallel parking as part of the driver’s test. And kids exalted parents like, “Oh, thank goodness.” I thought this is the worst idea ever. Because taking the driver test-
Andy: It lowers the bar.
Ned: Well, and in addition to lowering the bar, because a lot of people say that, “Oh, we’re dumbing down college and dah, dah,” and I would build on your point about you’re going to have stressful situations. And the challenge is, at a neurological level, the dominant manifestation of anxiety is avoidance. And so we avoid things that make us anxious. And I’ll come back and talk about tests in a moment. And that’s a problem because the more you avoid things, short-term it feels better, but long-term, it makes us more anxious.
Ned: And the way that we wire brains is of course the book, in our book, The Self-Driven Child, the way that people develop the coping skills and resilience, the ability to handle difficult situations, is handling difficult situations. Not throw them in the deep end of the pool and have them risk feeling like they’re drowning, but have things that are manageable stressors, and then they recover from it.
Ned: So, you go and take your driver’s test and parallel parking is scary. Oh my gosh, it’s oh. And what happens if you fail the test? You’re upset, you’re irritated. But nobody loses a job, nobody loses a finger. You just, you lose nothing but a bit of pride. Because you would want to have the experience of being able to park a car and parallel park a car when it’s a little stressful, because guess what? The first time when you park this for real, you know, on the streets of Bethesda, Maryland, you’re not going over an orange traffic cone, you’re backing into some expensive car. And if you hit it, that’s even going to be more of a thing.
Ned: So, there’s a wonderful book called, Make It Stick, and it’s Henry Roediger, and he talks about when he describes they coined the term, the testing effect. And it shows that the experience of being repeatedly tested, actually deepens knowledge. The idea of neurons that fire together wire together. And, the experience of putting yourself in mildly stressful situations. Again, you deal with that and you recover and you deal and you recover. Because if we create school in ways that kids never have things that are stressful, it’s really poor preparation for real life.
Andy: You’re not really getting them ready.
Ned: Yeah. That hasn’t been said. When you look at there are other countries where everything, your whole path to college, is about this test. And if you could do it, then you can to go to the best universities in Shanghai, I’m just making this up. And if you don’t do, all these opportunities disappear. And so I get that with standardized tests. But the reality is that the vast, there are… Well, this is Jeff Samilingo’s book. There are 41 colleges and universities in the country that have admission rates under 20%. The vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority, really aren’t a highly selective. More than half the kids can get in there. So, it’s not Yale or McDonald’s. If it’s not Yale, it’s a half-step down and then a half-step down and a half-step down.
Ned: So, people may desperately want to go to Yale or some other fantastic place, but it’s simply not the case that you have to go there to have a successful life, and that you can’t go to 1000-other universities and have a first rate education, even if it’s at a college that people haven’t heard about before.
Ned: Now, of course, speaking against test prep and I maybe have to find a different job. But, I think the important thing with standardized tests, and tests in school generally, is that they’re balanced in how they’re used, and they’re not given more value than they need or deserve. But we also don’t remove all impediments to stress for kids, because that doesn’t prepare them well for real life. And I say that, understanding full well that depending on the resources in your family, depending on the ACE scores in your family, depending on who you are, the problem with standardized tests is they’re not really standardized, because we think they’re an objective measure of what’s a highly subjective experience. And of course, that’s all Tuft’s book of, you and I could go on the thing and you think, “Dude, this is awesome, I love this kind of thing,” and I could be really scared, even though we both can you do the same stuff in math, and we may get really different scores. I can argue both ways in the stupid test.
Andy: Okay. But, so you have talked a little earlier about how there’s been some changes, even since you wrote this book. And, one of them you mentioned was vocabulary. It used to be much more emphasized. And even in here in the section about the reading, the critical reading section of the test, you talked a lot about vocabulary words and how words are used in sentences. So, what has changed about how we help our kids to prepare for that, if vocabulary is less central?
Ned: In terms of how we can help kids prepare for taking the test, interesting question. Yeah, so gone are the days boxes of vocabulary words.
Andy: Yeah. Right. The flashcards and the big boats of words and circling words and–
Ned: It makes me so sad. I was not really an inveterate reader in high school or college, so I would not have casually thrown out the word inveterate. But doing all this test prep and really being on the hook for every kid saying, “Well, what does this word mean?” and I couldn’t hem and haw, “Well, it kind of might,” No, no. They want, “What do I write down?” So when I first started doing test prep in ’93, I had these little pocket dictionaries. I probably have them kicking around, with all the etymologies, and I just shredded them because I looked up words over and over and over and over and over and over and over.
Ned: And so, I really enjoy and find real value in having a more robust and more nuanced vocabulary, because I think it allows one to be more specific, more accurate, and more subtle with language and conveying specific and subtle ideas. That being said, no one cares and no one’s going to bring a standardized test for… If you grew up with a family, both your parents were college professors or English teachers, you’re going to be awash in words in ways that you won’t if you have a different experience.
Ned: And there’s a wonderful book called, Meaningful Differences. It’s Hart and Risley, they’re there. Two professors out of Tennessee University, I believe, who were tasked with looking at the Headstart Program, and found that the Headstart, it didn’t close the gap as much as people… It was credibly helpful, but didn’t close the gap as much as people would have thought. In part because by age four or three, whenever kids were engaging, there was already this 30 million-word gap. Not individual words, but how many total words kids of professional families, how many words were spoken to develop to babies and their developing brains, than to really under-resourced families. And those differences stick, literally stick in their brains.
Ned: But, so with standardized tests, if we talk really for now just about the reading and writing and not the math, it remains the case that this is a test of reading. And so, for kids who have read a lot, who have been read to, because we know that people acquire vocabulary and linguistic sophistication as much by hearing, by being spoken to, as they do by reading things themselves. So, for parents who are listening to this, like, “I can’t get my kid to read,” read to your kid. Even for kids who are like 10, 11, 12, this is actually important. My partner-in-scribe, Bill Stixrud, is a clinical neuropsychologist, so often would see kids who were struggling with reading. And, the assignment from on high would be, “Well, have your kid read every night.” And Bill pointed out, “Let’s not do that.”
Ned: Because if you take the thing that the kid finds hardest to do, and you make it a chore, and you do it at the end of the night when he’s already tapped out, you’re really going to blitz any potential love of reading.” He said, “Because when we look at how we know words are processed, if you hear where to go through and ends up in the left frontal lobe, back of the brain and then background and it ends up there, if you read it yourself, it goes through the occipital lobe, blah, blah, blah, and ends up in the exact same darn place.” I can’t get all the language right because I’m not a brain scientist the way he is. But, it comes through a different place, but ends up at the same place, comes through a different, sense.
Ned: So, if we want to help kids read, we want to talk to them as much as we can. Talk with them, not at them. We want to expose them to sophisticated language and sophisticated reading. Read to kids, if they’re not readers, read to them. And also, from my perspective, you want to have kids read things that are fun. And I’ve read a beautiful article and I forget who wrote this, but it made the point that for kids even up through high school age, will routinely go back and read things that are too young for them, because it’s comfort reading. It’s a snugly blanket. It’s cinnamon toast when you’re sick in bed.
Ned: And so, my daughter adores the Mysterious Benedict Society. I have a kid who’s, she’s super bright, she’s very sophisticated, but she loves these, because they’re great stories and they’re great characters, and so they’re like these old friends. So, it’s a note to don’t poo-poo what kids want to read, because honest to gosh, whatever they read is great. We do want to stretch them and have them read things that are more sophisticated, because one of the things the SAT did in its new iteration in 2016, was recognize that for it to be ready for college-level reading, and that was really their goal, it’s not just fiction, fiction, fiction. So there’s a mix of prose fiction and historical documents. Lincoln-Douglas debates, there are scientific passages about whatever scientific passage they’re about. And these are different types of reading. Right?
Ned: And so, the long story short is if you wanted to help your kids do better on this, it’s you want to talk with them about sophisticated things. Not just being on top of them at school, but in a perfect world, particularly if your kids are little, is to try to create a culture of reading. And then whatever it is that they want to read, support that. Get books from the library. If you can afford it, go on Amazon, find people who bought this book also liked that book, and then try to, whenever it’s an opportunity to gently note to them and to things that are a little bit more challenging to them at a linguistic level.
Andy: And then, what do we do to move them up the scale a little bit if they’re reading this cinnamon toast types of books?
Ned: So how do we get kids who don’t want to take on things that are more challenging, to take on things that are challenging?
Ned: Yeah. Well, It certainly depends on the kid. One thing, it’s important to note that a lot of kids who are averse to reading, some of them may have undiagnosed learning disabilities or learning differences. If you are concerned about that, reach out to your children’s teachers and/or the pediatrician. And we just want to see them there, because if there’s something that’s undiagnosed, then kids are going to naturally, we’re back to avoiding. They’re going to avoid the things that make them feel dumb. And that’s… It was funny. I have a student I’m working with now, who’s a lovely kid. And she talked about she never liked, she doesn’t like reading now, she doesn’t think of herself as a good reader.
Ned: I have, I have a friend who did her doctoral work on academic self-concept, and found that kids, and this was from a couple of decades ago, but their academic self-concept was tied to what reading group were they in in first grade. And because if you have to read out loud, and I’m struggling with my phonics to sound out the word, and Angie’s over there snickering at me, it just makes me feel like a dummy. So I don’t want to work harder to do it, I don’t want to do it at all.
Ned: So, you want to pay attention to that. And you can even test this. I test it with kids I work with, and oftentimes then refer them to have an evaluation done where, “Just read those couple sentences out loud.”
Ned: And if your kids struggle to sound out words, that really means that they’re going to struggle with decoding. Meaning that they can’t figure out words that are unfamiliar to them, and therefore, they’re really going to struggle with the acquisition of vocabulary. So, I’m not really a reading specialist, but a couple of things to look for. With books generally, it’s a digital world and there’s just so many incredibly compelling things on YouTube and everywhere else, I get that. I get that kids don’t want to do it. But, I think it helps a lot if we, as parents, are reading. I think you can do things like, in our summer vacation, let’s everyone have a book. Everyone’s going to be off their phone and we’re just going to read whatever you want to read for a couple hours. And then if you can afford it, to be as generous as possible with making available to kids books that are compelling to them.
Ned: And certainly if you go to a good bookstore and say, “My kid loves this kind of movie. What’s a good book that’s like that?” Because a lot of the… I always have this idea, recollection of eighth grade, where we’re sitting there and the teacher’s like, “Well, we’ve got some really good books to read this year. These are important classics. None of which you’re going to like, but this.” And it’s like, part of it is also, it’s a stereotype, kind of a boy/girl stereotype, of girls going through puberty at an earlier age, more early maturation of the prefrontal cortex, taking more interest in relationships in inner lives and in their monologues, are going to more take to, I don’t know, Jane Austin, Jane Eyre kind of stuff. And I’m like, I’m still, I’m sure it’s arrested development like, “No.” Because you like what you like.
Ned: So, I think parents sometimes think I need to get my kids to read important books. But there are books that are linguistically sophisticated written about everything you can imagine. So when I have kids who are outdoors folks it’s like, “Well, have you read, Into Thin Air? Have you read, Into the Wild?” They’re really great yarns that Krakauer tells. If you love books, A Good Walk Spoiled, and all those wonderful books about sports, Jim Collins, there’s great stuff out there.
Ned: And so the problem is you can’t argue tastes, but I think it’s great to see what your kids like and take interest in the books that they’re reading. I ask about all these characters. Don’t poo-poo it, but then, you might secretly ask the school librarian, “What’s a book that’s like this that’s a little bit more sophisticated?”
About Ned Johnson
Ned is the co-author of Conquering the SAT and The Self-Driven Child. Considered by many to be the most sought-after instructor in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, Mr. Johnson founded PrepMatters in 1996 and has served area students as well as clients from across the country and around the globe. In addition to his time with clients, Mr. Johnson oversees instructor hiring and training, curriculum development, business management, and coffee purchases.
A sought-after speaker and teen coach for study skills, parent-teen dynamics, and anxiety management, his work has been featured on NPR, NewsHour, U.S. News & World Report, Time, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
Originally from Connecticut (he can drive in snow), Mr. Johnson now resides with his wife and children in Washington, DC.