How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science

Here is an article by Claire Cain Miller from today’s NY Times that talks about how teacher influence is a contributing factor to the dearth of girls who go into math and science fields. CLICK HERE to read this article at the NY Times website.

How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science, by Claire Cain Miller

We know that women are underrepresented in math and science jobs. What we don’t know is why it happens.

There are various theories, and many of them focus on childhood. Parents and toy-makers discourage girls from studying math and science. So do their teachers. Girls lack role models in those fields, and grow up believing they wouldn’t do well in them.

All these factors surely play some role. A new study points to the influence of teachers’ unconscious biases, but it also highlights how powerful a little encouragement can be. Early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn.

The effect is larger for children from families in which the father is more educated than the mother and for girls from lower-income families, according to the study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The pipeline for women to enter math and science occupations narrows at many points between kindergarten and a career choice, but elementary school seems to be a critical juncture. Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying.

“It goes a long way to showing it’s not the students or the home, but the classroom teacher’s behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls,” said Victor Lavy, an economist at University of Warwick in England and a co-author of the paper.

Previous studies have found that college professors and employers discriminate against female scientists. But it is not surprising that it begins even earlier.

In computer science in the United States, for instance, just 18.5 percent of the high school students who take the Advanced Placement exam are girls. In college, women earn only 12 percent of computer science degrees.

That is one reason that tech companies say they have hired so few women. Last year, Google, Apple and Facebook, among others, revealed that fewer than a fifth of technical employees are women.

“The most surprising and I think important finding in the paper is that a biasing teacher affects the work choices students make and whether to study math and science years later,” said Mr. Lavy, who conducted the study with Edith Sand of Tel Aviv University.

Beginning in 2002, the researchers studied three groups of Israeli students from sixth grade through the end of high school. The students were given two exams, one graded by outsiders who did not know their identities and another by teachers who knew their names.

In math, the girls outscored the boys in the exam graded anonymously, but the boys outscored the girls when graded by teachers who knew their names. The effect was not the same for tests on other subjects, like English and Hebrew. The researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys’ abilities and underestimated the girls’, and that this had long-term effects on students’ attitudes toward the subjects.

For example, when the same students reached junior high and high school, the economists analyzed their performance on national exams. The boys who had been encouraged when they were younger performed significantly better.

They also tracked the advanced math and science courses that students chose to take in high school. After controlling for other factors that might affect their choices, they concluded that the girls who had been discouraged by their elementary schoolteachers were much less likely than the boys to take advanced courses.

Although the study took place in Israel, Mr. Lavy said that similar research had been conducted in several European countries and that he expected the results were applicable in the United States. The researchers also found that discouragement from teachers in math or science wound up lowering students’ confidence in other subjects at school, showing again the potential importance of nods of encouragement.

Math Might be the Secret to School Success!

According to this NPR piece, math just might be the secret to your pre-schooler’s school success. CLICK HERE to listen to the piece!

Little children are big news this week, as the White House holds a summit on early childhood education on Wednesday. The president wants every 4-year-old to go to preschool, but the new Congress is unlikely to foot that bill.

Since last year, more than 30 states have expanded access to preschool. But there’s still a lack of evidence about exactly what kinds of interventions are most effective in those crucial early years.

In New York City, an ambitious, $25 million study is collecting evidence on the best way to raise outcomes for kids in poverty. Their hunch is that it may begin with math.

Time That Counts

“One! Two! Three! Four! Five!”

Gayle Conigliaro’s preschool students are jumping as they count, to get the feeling of the numbers into their bodies — a concept called “embodied cognition.”

P.S. 43 is located in Far Rockaway, Queens, just steps from the ocean. The area is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. But now it’s been chosen as one of 69 high-poverty sites around New York City for a research study to test whether stronger math teaching can make all the difference for young kids. The study is funded by the Robin Hood Foundation, which is dedicated to ending poverty in New York. Pamela Morris, with research group MDRC, is the lead investigator.

“MDRC and the Robin Hood Foundation developed a partnership really with a broad goal,” she says, “which is, they want to change the trajectories of low-income children, and to do so by focusing on preschool.”

There’s plenty of evidence on the long-term importance of preschool. But why math? Morris says a 2013 study by Greg Duncan, at the University of California, Irvine’s School of Education, showed that math knowledge at the beginning of elementary school was the single most powerful predictor determining whether a student would graduate from high school and attend college. “We think math might be sort of a lever to improve outcomes for kids longer term,” Morris says.

But there’s a real lack of math learning in pre-K. In one study, in fact, just 58 seconds out of a five-hour preschool day was spent on math activities. Part of the problem, says University of Denver professor Doug Clements, is that “most teachers, of course, have been through our United States mathematics education, so they tend to think of math as just skills. They tend to think of it as a quiet activity.”

“ “We want kids running around the classroom and bumping into mathematics at every turn.”
– Doug Clements, Creator, Building Blocks

Clements is the creator of Building Blocks, the math curriculum being tested in this new study. Building Blocks is designed to be just the opposite: engaging, exciting and loud. “We want kids running around the classroom and bumping into mathematics at every turn.”

At P.S. 43, math games, toys and activities are woven through the entire day. At transition time, the teacher asks the students to line up and touches their heads with the “counting wand.” At circle time, fittingly, the children talk about shapes. Just a few months into the school year, they observe correctly that a geometric shape must be a “closed figure” and that a square is “a special rectangle.”

“How do you know it’s a circle?” asks the teacher. “Because it goes round and round,” says one girl with a bear barrette in her hair.

When Ms. Conigliaro asks, “How do you know?” she’s asking the kids to think about their own thinking. That’s a skill called metacognition. Explaining your reasoning out loud also develops verbal ability.

At choice time, besides the play dough and pattern blocks, there are computer games matched to Building Blocks that keep track of each student’s progress. And two children play a game called Number Match (“Is three more than two? How do you know?”) as a teacher watches. The teacher is keeping notes of each child’s level of understanding. The idea of developmental paths, or “trajectories of understanding,” is a core concept in Building Blocks.

“There are reliable levels of thinking through which kids pass on their way to achieving a certain understanding in mathematics,” Clements says. For example, children go from simply chanting “onetwothreefourfive,” to separating out each number word, to associating a number word with a given amount, to knowing that when you stop counting, the last number tells you “how many.”

Also in the classroom is a coach from Bank Street College of Education, who comes every other week to help the teacher put Building Blocks into practice. This is important to the study design. The coaches ensure that the curriculum is being implemented. Pamela Morris says, “Often we ask teachers what curriculum they’re delivering, and we find it’s a book on their bookshelf collecting dust.”

The study will follow up with these students and a control group all the way through the third grade. They’ll be directly assessing their math and reading abilities and looking at their grades and test scores later on. Morris is curious whether working on math will enhance the children’s ability to self-regulate, inhibit impulses, pay attention appropriately and hold important concepts in working memory. This is a group of skills known as executive functioning. For example, if the teacher says “clap and count to five,” will you be able to stop clapping before you get to six?

But Conigliaro, a 24-year veteran teacher, is already convinced of the value of this curriculum.

“I just feel like the ‘aha’ moment. This is what teaching should be. Where’s the literacy program?” she says. “We would just like it to be a research-based program so we can give our kids the best.” She says the kids’ progress amazes her every day.

Youngest Kid, Smartest Kid? BY MARIA KONNIKOVA

I absolutely love this article that appeared in the September 19 issue of the New Yorker. CLICK HERE to read the piece on the New Yorker website. It really gives you pause if you are considering “Red Shirting” your child. Maybe your younger child will have an advantage by being inspired by his older peers.

When the Harvard sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman was expecting her first child, one thing worried her: her due date, January 3rd. It was uncomfortably close to January 1st, an often-used age cutoff for enrollment in academics and sports. “I was determined to keep him in until after January 1st,” she said. And if the baby came early? “I actively thought about redshirting,” she said. Given the choice, she wanted him to be the oldest kid in his class, not the youngest.

Redshirting is the practice of holding a child back for an extra year before the start of kindergarten, named for the red jersey worn in intra-team scrimmages by college athletes kept out of competition for a year. It is increasingly prevalent among parents of would-be kindergartners. In 1968, four per cent of kindergarten students were six years old; by 1995, the number of redshirted first- and second-graders had grown to nine per cent. In 2008, it had risen to seventeen per cent. The original logic of the yearlong delay is rooted in athletics: athletes who are bigger and stronger tend to perform better, so why not bench the younger, smaller ones for a year? The logic was popularized in “Freakonomics,” in which the authors, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, pointed out that élite soccer players were much more likely to have birthdays in the earliest months of the year—that is, they would have been the oldest in any group of students that used a January 1st cutoff for enrollment.

On the surface, redshirting seems to make sense in the academic realm, too. The capabilities of a child’s brain increase at a rapid pace; the difference between five-year-olds and six-year-olds is far greater than between twenty-five-year-olds and twenty-six-year-olds. An extra year can allow a child to excel relative to the younger students in the class. “Especially for boys, there is thought to be a relative-age effect that persists across sports and over time,” said Friedman. “Early investment of time and skill developments appears to have a more lasting impact.” Older students and athletes are often found in leadership positions—and who can doubt the popularity of the star quarterback relative to the gym-class weakling?

When the Harvard sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman was expecting her first child, one thing worried her: her due date, January 3rd. It was uncomfortably close to January 1st, an often-used age cutoff for enrollment in academics and sports. “I was determined to keep him in until after January 1st,” she said. And if the baby came early? “I actively thought about redshirting,” she said. Given the choice, she wanted him to be the oldest kid in his class, not the youngest.

Redshirting is the practice of holding a child back for an extra year before the start of kindergarten, named for the red jersey worn in intra-team scrimmages by college athletes kept out of competition for a year. It is increasingly prevalent among parents of would-be kindergartners. In 1968, four per cent of kindergarten students were six years old; by 1995, the number of redshirted first- and second-graders had grown to nine per cent. In 2008, it had risen to seventeen per cent. The original logic of the yearlong delay is rooted in athletics: athletes who are bigger and stronger tend to perform better, so why not bench the younger, smaller ones for a year? The logic was popularized in “Freakonomics,” in which the authors, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, pointed out that élite soccer players were much more likely to have birthdays in the earliest months of the year—that is, they would have been the oldest in any group of students that used a January 1st cutoff for enrollment.

On the surface, redshirting seems to make sense in the academic realm, too. The capabilities of a child’s brain increase at a rapid pace; the difference between five-year-olds and six-year-olds is far greater than between twenty-five-year-olds and twenty-six-year-olds. An extra year can allow a child to excel relative to the younger students in the class. “Especially for boys, there is thought to be a relative-age effect that persists across sports and over time,” said Friedman. “Early investment of time and skill developments appears to have a more lasting impact.” Older students and athletes are often found in leadership positions—and who can doubt the popularity of the star quarterback relative to the gym-class weakling?

It’s this competitive logic, rather than genuine concern about a child’s developmental readiness, that drives redshirting. Many parents decide to redshirt their children not because they seem particularly immature or young but because they hope that the extra year will give them a boost relative to their peers. In light of modern competitive demands, why wouldn’t you want your child to have that edge? The psychologist Betsy Sparrow calls it “gaming the system”—and the data on who chooses to redshirt bears out that classification: the people most likely to redshirt their children are those who can most afford to do so—that is, the white and the wealthy. Families in the highest socioeconomic quintile are thirty-six per cent more likely to redshirt their children than those in the lowest, and while close to six per cent of white children are redshirted, the figure falls to two per cent for Hispanic children, and less than one per cent for their black peers.

The data, however, belies this assumption. While earlier studies have argued that redshirted children do better both socially and academically—citing data on school evaluations, leadership positions, and test scores—more recent analyses suggest that the opposite may well be the case: the youngest kids, who barely make the age cutoff but are enrolled anyway, ultimately end up on top—not their older classmates. When a group of economists followed Norwegian children born between 1962 and 1988, until the youngest turned eighteen, in 2006, they found that, at age eighteen, children who started school a year later had I.Q. scores that were significantly lower than their younger counterparts. Their earnings also suffered: through age thirty, men who started school later earned less. A separate study, of the entire Swedish population born between 1935 and 1984, came to a similar conclusion: in the course of the life of a typical Swede, starting school later translated to reduced over-all earnings. In a 2008 study at Harvard University, researchers found that, within the U.S., increased rates of redshirting were leading to equally worrisome patterns. The delayed age of entry, the authors argued, resulted in academic stagnation: it decreased completion rates for both high-school and college students, increased the gender gap in graduation rates (men fell behind women), and intensified socioeconomic differences.

As it turns out, the benefits of being older and more mature may not be as important as the benefits of being younger than your classmates. In 2007, the economists Elizabeth Cascio and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach decided to analyze the data of Tennessee’s Project STAR—an experiment originally designed to test the effects of classroom size on learning—with a different set of considerations: How would the relative class composition affect student performance? Their approach differed from most studies of redshirting in one crucial way: the students had been assigned totally randomly to their kindergarten classrooms, with no option for parents to lobby for, say, a different teacher, a different school, or a class in which the child would have some other perceived or actual relative advantage. This led to true experimental variation in relative age and maturity. That is, the same student could be relatively younger in one class, but relatively older in another, depending on his initial class assignment. The researchers discovered that relatively more mature students didn’t have an academic edge; instead, when they looked at their progress at the end of kindergarten, and, later, when they reached middle school, they were worse off in multiple respects. Not only did they score significantly lower on achievement tests—both in kindergarten and middle school—they were also more likely to have been kept back a year by the time they reached middle school, and were less likely to take college-entrance exams. The less mature students, on the other hand, experienced positive effects from being in a relatively more mature environment: in striving to catch up with their peers, they ended up surpassing them.

Cascio and Schanzenbach’s results point to a logic that proponents of mixed, or split-grade, classrooms have long espoused: younger students benefit from having older peers. As long as the relative classroom composition isn’t too skewed in the younger direction, researchers have found no negative effects from combining the earliest school grades—kindergarten and first grade, or first and second grade—on the students. In fact, they’ve discovered quite the opposite: in 2011, a group of Norwegian economists concluded that mixed grades resulted in an over-all positive effect—mixed-grade students outperformed those in standard, single-grade classes on both classroom and standardized tests, largely as a result of the benefit that younger students derived from being among older ones. The older ones, on the other hand, suffered as a result of the mixing, but not enough to offset the gains of the younger students.

Few researchers would dispute that, in the immediate term, being relatively bigger, quicker, smarter, and stronger is a good thing. Repeatedly, the studies have found exactly that—older kindergarten students perform better on tests, receive better teacher evaluations, and do better socially. But then, something happens: after that early boost, their performance takes a nosedive. By the time they get to eighth grade, any disparity has largely evened out—and, by college, younger students repeatedly outperform older ones in any given year.

Why would that be the case? It all comes back to that relative difference: if you are always bigger and smarter, you may be more likely to get bored, and to think that everything—learning included—should come easily. You don’t have to strive and overcome obstacles in the form of older, more developed kids. If, on the other hand, you’re on the younger end of the spectrum, you are constantly forced to reach for your limits. And unlike in sports, where physical size often plays an undeniable, difficult-to-circumvent role in your eventual success, in school a physical disadvantage can turn into an academic advantage: children may learn to compete where they can succeed, where their persistence and attention can accomplish what their physical size may not.

These skills translate to a mindset that is crucial to lifelong achievement. In a way, the choice between redshirting and not is the choice between providing your child with a maturity boost or a challenge. While there is certainly an absolute benefit to being bigger and stronger, learning to deal with and overcome obstacles also has a long-lasting effect. It’s a quality the psychologist Angela Duckworth calls “grit,” and Carol Dweck dubs the “incremental mindset”: the knowledge that perseverance, dedication, and motivation can help you where an absolute advantage may not immediately come to the rescue. If you’ve always been praised as the best and brightest, chances are that that self-perception will eventually backfire; if you’ve had to earn your distinctions, they’re more likely to last.

Friedman’s son was born on time—one day late, in fact—rendering any decision on redshirting largely irrelevant. He is now twenty months old. Last week, he started pre-school. “He will be the youngest,” Friedman said. “At this stage, we want to socialize him and have him look up to other kids’ skill sets.” Why the change of heart? Her original logic, it turns out, was based on her own research into the role of relative age on sports performance and sports-related injuries. But when she stopped to consider the literature on academics—along with the real-life example of her husband, born in July—she realized that, at least in that respect, the logic no longer applied. Younger could be better after all.

Maria Konnikova is the author of the New York Times best-seller “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.” She has a Ph.D. in psychology from Columbia University.

Private-School Testing Jitters, by SOPHIA HOLLANDER

Here’s an excellent article about the NYC Private School tests for 2014 – 2105 admissions season. To read the article at the Wall Street Journal website, CLICK HERE. If you would like to watch the videos about the new AABL test on the ERB website, CLICK HERE.

NYC Private-School Testing Jitters
New iPad Tests Add Another Level of Anxiety for Those Looking to Secure Coveted Kindergarten Slots

As testing season gets under way, dueling iPad tests at the city’s top private schools are adding a new level of anxiety for families trying to secure coveted kindergarten slots for their children.

For nearly half a century, one company had a virtual monopoly on the admissions testing to New York City private schools. In 2012-2013, nearly 3,200 applicants to kindergarten and first grade took the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment, commonly known as the ERB after the firm that created the test, the Educational Records Bureau.

Last fall, an association of independent New York schools said that they were dropping the test, which they said had become too vulnerable to test preparation. In recent weeks, the group unveiled its own test developed over the summer in consultation with researchers from the University of Minnesota. It is known as the Kindergarten Readiness Task, or KRT, a five- to seven- minute test taken on the iPad that focuses on thinking and reasoning skills.

At least 10 schools, including Dalton, Marymount and Poly Prep Country Day School, will be participating in a pilot program for the test this year.

Now officials at the Educational Records Bureau are making a push to recruit schools for their iPad test, the Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners, or AABL, which will be available Oct. 15. The test, which isn’t timed, costs $65 per student and promises results within five days. So far schools including Collegiate, Horace Mann and Riverdale Country School have committed to using it this year.

Like the videotape format battle between VHS and Betamax, it is likely that one victor will emerge as the years progress. But for now, families interested in Dalton and Riverdale, or Marymount and Horace Mann will need to take two separate tests.

Other schools have created their own assessments, including Grace Church School. The city’s top public options, including Hunter, which gives a modified version of the Stanford Binet test, and New York City’s public gifted and Talented Program, which has students take a combination of the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, require still more exams. That means that four-year-olds could end up sitting for half a dozen different admissions tests this year.

The fractured admissions process has surprised schools and education experts.”I expected everyone to be more on the same page,” said Lillian Issa, deputy head and admission director at Marymount. “Quite frankly, it surprised me that so few schools were doing the KRT. I was hoping that this would be more unified.”

She remains hopeful that once the results are in for this year “the dust is going to settle and we’re all going to be able to look at things with fresher eyes,” she said. “Hopefully we can tighten the ship next year.”

Officials at the Educational Records Bureau also expressed hope that more schools would choose the Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners once they had seen the new test in action.

“Once people become more aware and I believe understand the benefits and see what it can provide I’m hopeful that we’ll get more schools and students participating in our test,” said Denise Mutlu, vice president of assessment development at ERB. “I think people still want to see how it goes.”

Some observers criticized both tests, especially the shift toward iPads. Even experienced adults need time to master new technology, said Suzanne Rheault, chief executive of Aristotle Circle, a tutoring and educational consulting company.

“When I switched from blackberry to iPhone there was a learning curve; I’m very tech savvy but man, it just did things differently,” she said. “How is that not the case for a four-year-old?”

Both are still vulnerable to test preparation, she said, noting that her company is printing booklets for both tests this week. Demand has also gone up for the company’s one-hour assessment, which includes children doing sample test questions and navigating group activities like snack and story time, she said.

Overall, the new system has “definitely created a lot of confusion,” Ms. Rheault said. “Now parents feel like, ‘my kids are guinea pigs.'”

But some educational experts said the upheaval, while painful, might ultimately prove to be positive.

“It’s actually a good thing,” said Carol Carman, an associate professor who studies education at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. New assessments may be “a pain for the parents,” she said, “but at the same time it makes the test more accurate.”

Write to Sophia Hollander at

Help for Overprotective Parents, by Jennifer Breheny Wallace

I just discovered a parenting writer that I really like – Jennifer Breheny Wallace. I read the piece on redshirting that she wrote for today’s Wall Street Journal, then googled her and found this piece as well. I think many parents will identify with the idea of being risk averse with their kids and how to overcome that. I was such a risk averse parent. We brought our kids up in NYC. I remember how scared I was to let my daughter (age 9) walk to the corner deli alone, even with me watching her the whole way, ready to pounce on child molesters who (I knew) were lurking in every doorway. Now I let this girl go to Nicaragua on her own (well, she is 23 now, but still!). Anyway, I thought you would really enjoy this piece that appeared in Real Simple Magazine. CLICK HERE to read it at the Real Simple website.

Help for Overprotective Parents
How a helicopter mom changed her ways.

A couple of years ago, my then five-year-old son William took a standardized test in which he was asked about everyday objects. The tester noted his unusual responses to some questions. When asked “What do candy and ice cream have in common?” William replied, “They both give you cavities.” For the question “What is chewing gum?” William answered, “A choking hazard.”

I was raised by risk-averse parents, and they were raised by risk-averse parents, and now I find myself raising risk-averse children. It’s an emotional family heirloom—but even my parents think I’ve taken it too far. They have two smoke alarms; I have 10. They worry about sunburn; I worry about skin cancer. And how well does sunscreen really work, and why can’t the kids just wear full-protection hazmat suits?

William, now seven, is my oldest; his sister and younger brother are six and three. Last year William and I had an exhausting summer as we struggled between his desire to grow up and my desire to keep him safe, which basically means locked in our house: no playing on the front lawn, no crossing our busy street, no swimming in the ocean. This year I vowed to break free. I was tired of saying no all the time, and I knew that as William grew older, he would only want to become more independent. But I knew I couldn’t get there alone—I needed a copilot who could stop my anxious mind from spinning. So I called Lenore Skenazy.

Lenore is the author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts With Worry, ($12, and she is my polar opposite. In 2008 she let her nine-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone and wrote a column about it for the New York Sun. After national media picked up the story, Lenore was dubbed America’s Worst Mom, so she founded Free-Range Kids, a grassroots movement to give children more autonomy. According to Lenore, hyper-protective parents like me are not only driving ourselves crazy but also depriving our kids of the satisfaction that comes with mastery and self-sufficiency. She even makes “free-range house calls,” in which she visits nervous parents to help them see how competent their kids can be.

I was ready to change, but I couldn’t resist asking Lenore, “Isn’t there a safe way to teach children to take risks?”

“Of course,” she said. “I’m a big fan of safety measures—bike helmets, seat belts. I just don’t think kids need a security detail every time they leave the house. Risk and risky are not the same thing, but our culture is determined not to see the difference.” Whenever a child gets on a bike, he’s taking a risk, Lenore told me, because he could fall and break an arm. (I resisted the urge to hang up.) Riding a bike at night without reflectors, however, is risky. “You can limit risky behavior, but you can’t eliminate risk,” she said. “If a child never tries gum, he’ll never choke on it. But he could choke on a bologna sandwich.” I had to admit she had a point.

On the phone, Lenore and I began identifying which previously forbidden activities we thought William was ready for. I immediately started negotiating. I could let him plug in electronics, but he had to do it in front of me. (I know that’s extreme, but that’s why I called in a professional.) He could play in our front yard, but not during rush hour.

And then my resolve wore thin. I said, “But how can I let go of my fear when that’s what’s keeping my kids safe?” Lenore said kindly, “All the fear in the world doesn’t prevent death—it prevents life.” Those magic words acted like a reset button, powering me down. Lenore told me to sit with William and create a list of five activities that he could try. The two of us would start with the easier challenges on our own. Later, when things got tricky, Lenore promised that she would come to our house to walk me through it.

1. Allow William to plug in electronics. William was so excited to get his first taste of freedom as he gripped the plug of the CD player. I watched, but from across the room. I didn’t say a thing—except “Be careful! Hold it by the plastic!” “I know, Mom.” Of course he knew. And, shocker, no one was electrocuted. Maybe I could do this.

2. Allow William to cook breakfast alone. Bizarrely, this was less frightening to me than the wall outlet. William cooks with his dad every weekend, so he knows his way around a stove. Plus, I had bacitracin and a Band-Aid in my pocket. William knew to take off his oversize robe so that it wouldn’t catch fire. He gently put the eggs in the pot, covered them with water, and turned on the gas. I saw how proud he was and felt a pang as I remembered the childhood thrill of mastering something new. When it was time to take the eggs out, I instinctually reached out to help, then realized that was cheating. I stepped back as he carefully took the eggs out of the scalding water with a spoon. They never tasted better.

3. Allow William and his sister to play in the front yard alone. This next challenge would be a huge leap for me and I needed backup, so Lenore made a house call. When she arrived, however, I had second thoughts. “My neighbors never let their kids play in the front yard,” I said. “And my daughter just turned six!” Lenore said, “You can do this,” and gently nudged me into the kitchen. She then went to the front door and opened it for William and Caroline, who were jumping up and down, unable to believe their luck.

Lenore set ground rules. “No street,” she said, “and no leaving the property.” She then shut the door and came back into the kitchen. “Wait,” I said. “If you’re in here with me, who’s watching the kids?” “That’s the point,” she said. “No one is watching the kids.”

Lenore and I chatted while we drank our coffee, but I have no idea what we talked about—there was an internal alarm blaring in my head. Lenore insisted that we let the kids stay out for at least an hour, but it felt like 10. Then there was a knock at the door. My stomach dropped. Was it the police? No, it was a neighbor stopping by to introduce himself. He had never seen us in the front yard before.

4. Allow William to cross the street alone. Our street gets light car traffic. Lenore warmed us all up by crossing with William several times. When it was his turn to try it by himself, I watched him cautiously look for cars, figuring out when it would be safe to pass. He took his time, and when there was nothing in sight, he carefully stepped into the street. Everything seemed to unfold so slowly, as if it were happening underwater. But he made it to the other side, and when he turned around, everyone was grinning, including me.

William was so inspired that he crossed back and immediately asked to ride his bike without training wheels for the first time. Most of his friends were doing this at age five or six, but I kept putting it off. I think he had picked up on my resistance and never pushed the issue. So we got the screwdriver and took the wheels off. “Stay in the driveway!” I yelled. (Where was the bacitracin?) But he pushed off and nailed it—no wobbles. This was a milestone for both of us.

“Courage begets courage,” I said to Lenore. She smiled and quietly added, “Like fear begets fear.”

I had been afraid for a long time. But as I watched William pedal, I realized that in my struggle to keep out every possible threat, I had been keeping out one very important thing: possibility.

5. Allow William to swim in the ocean. Armed with Lenore’s wisdom, I headed to the beach with our whole family for the final, most difficult challenge. I sat on the sand with my two younger kids, and William and his dad headed for the water. The waves were rough, and my mind churned: What exactly is undertow? Can a person detect it before it grabs hold? I whipped out my phone and started to Google “undertow.” And then I stopped myself. All the fear in the world doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.

A couple caught me looking at the water, stricken. They probably thought I had seen a shark; they stood up to peer out into the ocean, too. And they saw…a boy and his dad jumping into the waves, carefree. I let out my breath. I had safely landed.

Should 5-year-olds be Held Back for Kindergarten, by Jennifer Breheny Wallace

This article appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal. CLICK HERE to read the article on the WSJ website. This is a controversial practice that parents ask us about all the time. In some school districts, such as NYC, you can’t do it. Don’t even ask. The school deadlines are hard and fast and it practically takes an act of Congress to hold a child back who isn’t ready. At the same time, the private schools in NYC generally don’t want to take kids with summer birthdays, so kids entering private school are regularly held back. As a result, kids entering kindergarten in NYC might be almost 2 years apart, depending on whether they are entering public school with a late Dec. birthday or being held back for private school with an April or May birthday (yes, that happens!). Anyway, this article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace is well thought out and will help you make the choice about “redshirting” – if indeed, you have a choice!

Should Children Be Held Back for Kindergarten?
Many parents are holding back their 5-year-olds from school for a year, but the benefits are doubtful

Erin Odom and her husband, of Mooresville, N.C., spent months last year debating what to do about kindergarten for their daughter. They worried that her fifth birthday fell too close to their school’s cutoff date, which would make her one of the youngest children in the class. Their nursery schoolteacher assured them that their daughter would do “just fine” moving ahead, Ms. Odom says, but “we didn’t just want her to survive school—we wanted her to thrive.”

What ultimately persuaded them to hold her back for a year was talking to other parents. “Those who had pushed their children ahead came to regret it,” says Ms. Odom, “while parents who held their children back didn’t.” She estimates that in her daughter’s preschool class of nine children, roughly half were held back, too.

This sort of voluntary delay is known as “academic redshirting,” after the practice in college sports of benching a hot prospect for a year to give him time to practice and become an even better player during his four years of eligibility.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, some 6% of kindergartners are redshirted nationally. But the numbers can vary by neighborhood. Data from Connecticut’s department of education show the incidence of redshirting ranging from 2% in poorer school districts to 27% in wealthier ones. Redshirting is easier for families that can afford an extra year of child care or preschool tuition—and the practice can be controversial because of the perceived advantage that it gives to such children.

When Jamie Bakal, an educational consultant with L.A. School Mates in Los Angeles, started her business eight years ago, she saw that children who turned 5 over the summer were often held back for schools with Sept. 1 cutoff dates. She says it then expanded to include children with birthdays in April and May. Today, she says, schools are accepting children who have turned 5 as early as the previous February and March—potentially allowing for a 19-month age spread between classmates.

With the rise of demanding academic standards, states have employed their own kind of redshirting by moving up cutoff dates for kindergarten entry. In 1975, only a few states required children to be 5 before Sept. 15. Today, about three dozen states mandate it. Legislators in Connecticut are considering moving up their kindergarten cutoff date as well, from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1.

Some parents redshirt for the competitive edge that they think an extra year brings—time for a child to grow bigger, smarter, more assertive. Yet Meg Meeker, a pediatrician in Traverse City, Mich., and the author of “Strong Mothers, Strong Sons,” says that she sees too many parents redshirting children for the wrong reasons. “While some children really do need that extra year to mature,” she says, “I’ve found redshirting often isn’t about what’s best for the child. It’s about what’s best for the parents.” Today’s hypercompetitive parents, she says, want their children to win in the classroom and in sports, not only so the child looks good but so the parents themselves can feel superior.

The research on the benefits of being older is mixed. Elizabeth Dhuey, an economist at the University of Toronto Scarborough, didn’t specifically study redshirting, but she has published several studies showing that being relatively older in a class has some advantages. In one large-scale study, Prof. Dhuey and co-author Kelly Bedard compared the birth months and test scores of more than 200,000 students in several countries. They found the oldest students in fourth grade scored 4% to 12% higher than the youngest, a trend that continued in eighth grade. In another large-scale study, Prof. Dhuey and economist Stephen Lipscomb found the relatively oldest students were 4% to 11% more likely to hold leadership positions in high school.

Many researchers say that studies on redshirting show no long-term advantage, with any early benefits fading by the time of middle school. As one researcher put it: If you’re redshirting as a way to get your child into Harvard, you should rethink your strategy.

Princeton neuroscientist Samuel Wang, co-author of the book “Welcome to Your Brain,” says that being around more mature peers actually benefits younger classmates, both behaviorally and academically. He points to a large study that found schooling influences intelligence more than age: The youngest children in a grade scored higher on IQ tests than children the same age one grade lower.

Dr. Meeker cautions parents to think twice before holding a child back who doesn’t truly need it. “Redshirting is the initial seed that can grow into a devastating parenting philosophy,” she says. In essence, you’re telling your child that high achievement comes first—and if you can’t do it yourself, then we’ll hold you back so you can. She adds, “Every redshirted kindergartner eventually comes to know his parents’ motives.”

—Ms. Wallace is a freelance writer in New York.

The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart, by Salman Khan

Here is something I wrote about in my book, Testing For Kindergarten. I really Salman Khan’s (of Khan Academy) take on it and wanted to share it with you. This is from Huffington Post. CLICK HERE to read the post there!

The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart, by Salman Khan

My 5-year-­old son has just started reading. Every night, we lay on his bed and he reads a short book to me. Inevitably, he’ll hit a word that he has trouble with: last night the word was “gratefully.” He eventually got it after a fairly painful minute. He then said, “Dad, aren’t you glad how I struggled with that word? I think I could feel my brain growing.” I smiled: my son was now verbalizing the tell­-tale signs of a ‘growth­ mindset.’ But this wasn’t by accident. Recently, I put into practice research I had been reading about for the past few years, and I decided to praise my son not when he succeeded at things he was already good at, but when he persevered with things that he found difficult. I stressed to him that by struggling, your brain grows. Between the deep body of research on the field of learning mindsets and this personal experience with my son, I am more convinced than ever that mindsets toward learning could matter more than anything else we teach.

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones. What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed: and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.

However, not everyone realizes this. Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University has been studying people’s mindsets towards learning for decades. She has found that most people adhere to one of two mindsets: fixed or growth. Fixed mindsets mistakenly believe that people are either smart or not; that intelligence is fixed by genes. People with growth mindsets correctly believe that capability and intelligence can be grown through effort, struggle and failure. Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset tended to focus their effort on tasks where they had a high likelihood of success and avoided tasks where they may have had to struggle, which limited their learning. People with a growth mindset, however, embraced challenges, and understood that tenacity and effort could change their learning outcomes. As you can imagine, this correlated with the latter group more actively pushing themselves and growing intellectually.

The good news is that mindsets can be taught; they’re malleable. What’s really fascinating is that Dweck and others have developed techniques that they call ‘growth mindset interventions’ which have shown that even small changes in communication or seemingly innocuous comments can have fairly long­-lasting implications for a person’s mindset. For instance, praising someone’s process (“I really like how you struggled with that problem”) versus praising an innate trait or talent (“You’re so clever!”) is one way to reinforce a growth ­mindset with someone. Process­ praise acknowledges the effort; talent­ praise reinforces the notion that one only succeeds (or doesn’t) based on a fixed trait. And we’ve seen this on Khan Academy as well: students are spending more time learning on Khan Academy after being exposed to messages which praise their tenacity and grit and that underscore that the brain is like a muscle.

I really want to start a national conversation that examines how we as a society can help people develop a growth mindset. In fact, the Internet is a dream for someone with a growth mindset. Between Khan Academy, MOOCs and others, there is unprecedented access to endless content to help you grow your mind. However, society isn’t going to fully take advantage of this without growth mindsets being more prevalent. So what if we actively tried to change that? What if we began using whatever means are at our disposal to start performing growth mindset interventions on everyone we cared about? This is much bigger than Khan Academy or algebra it applies to how you communicate with your children, how you manage your team at work, how you learn a new language or instrument. If society as a whole begins to embrace the struggle of learning, there is no end to what that could mean for global human potential.

And now here’s a surprise for you. By reading this article itself, you’ve just undergone the first half of a growth­-mindset intervention. The research shows that just being exposed to the research itself ­­for example knowing that brain grows most by getting questions wrong, not right­­ can begin to change a person’s mindset. The second half of the intervention is for you to communicate the research with others. We’ve made a video (above) that celebrates the struggle of learning that will help you do this. After all, when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.

The Best Language for Math, by Sue Shellenbarger

Sue Shellenbarger is one of my favorite Wall Street Journal writers. This is a fascinating article on how language impacts a child’s ability to learn math and what you can do about it! CLICK HERE to read the piece at the WSJ website, along with the many comments from readers on this subject.

The Best Language for Math
Confusing English Number Words Are Linked to Weaker Skills

What’s the best language for learning math? Hint: You’re not reading it.

Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish use simpler number words and express math concepts more clearly than English, making it easier for small children to learn counting and arithmetic, research shows.

The language gap is drawing growing attention amid a push by psychologists and educators to build numeracy in small children—the mathematical equivalent of literacy. Confusing English word names have been linked in several recent studies to weaker counting and arithmetic skills in children. However, researchers are finding some easy ways for parents to level the playing field through games and early practice.

Differences between Chinese and English, in particular, have been studied in U.S. and Chinese schools for decades by Karen Fuson, a professor emerita in the school of education and social policy at Northwestern University, and Yeping Li, an expert on Chinese math education and a professor of teaching, learning and culture at Texas A&M University. Chinese has just nine number names, while English has more than two dozen unique number words.

he trouble starts at “11.” English has a unique word for the number, while Chinese (as well as Japanese and Korean, among other languages) have words that can be translated as “ten-one”—spoken with the “ten” first. That makes it easier to understand the place value—the value of the position of each digit in a number—as well as making it clear that the number system is based on units of 10.

English number names over 10 don’t as clearly label place value, and number words for the teens, such as 17, reverse the order of the ones and “teens,” making it easy for children to confuse, say, 17 with 71, the research shows. When doing multi-digit addition and subtraction, children working with English number names have a harder time understanding that two-digit numbers are made up of tens and ones, making it more difficult to avoid errors.

These may seem like small issues, but the additional mental steps needed to solve problems cause more errors and drain working memory capacity, says Dr. Fuson, author of a school math curriculum, Math Expressions, that provides added support for English-speaking students in learning place value.

It feels more natural for Chinese speakers than for English speakers to use the “make-a-ten” addition and subtraction strategy taught to first-graders in many East Asian countries. When adding two numbers, students break down the numbers into parts, or addends, and regroup them into tens and ones. For instance, 9 plus 5 becomes 9 plus 1 plus 4. The make-a-ten method is a powerful tool for mastering more advanced multi-digit addition and subtraction problems , Dr. Fuson says.

Many U.S. teachers have increased instruction in the make-a-ten method, and the Common Core standards adopted by many states call for first-graders to use it to add and subtract. First-graders’ understanding of place value predicts their ability to do two-digit addition in third grade, according to a 2011 study of 94 elementary-school children in Research in Developmental Disabilities.

The U.S.-Asian math-achievement gap—a sensitive and much-studied topic—has more complicated roots than language. Chinese teachers typically spend more time explaining math concepts and getting students involved in working on difficult problems. In the home, Chinese parents tend to spend more time teaching arithmetic facts and games and using numbers in daily life, says a 2010 study in the Review of Educational Research by researchers at the Hong Kong Institute of Education and the University of Hong Kong.

When Chinese preschoolers enter kindergarten, they’re ahead of their U.S. counterparts in the adding and counting skills typically taught by Chinese parents. They’re also one to two years ahead on a skill their parents don’t teach—placing numbers on a number line based on size, according to a 2008 study of 29 Chinese and 24 U.S. preschoolers by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

In math, one concept builds on another. By the time U.S. students reach high school, they rank 30th among students from 65 nations and education systems on international achievement exams, while Chinese and Korean students lead the world.

The negative impact of English is apparent in a 2014 study comparing 59 English-speaking Canadian children from Ottawa, Canada, with 88 Turkish children from Istanbul, ranging in age from 3 to 41/2 years. The Turkish children had received less instruction in numbers and counting than the Canadians. Yet the Turkish children improved their counting skills more after practicing in the lab with a numbered board game, according to the study, co-written by Jo-Anne LeFevre, director of the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario. Turkish students learning to count in their native language “mastered it more quickly” than the children learning in English, Dr. LeFevre says.

Dr. LeFevre is among a growing group of researchers exploring how parents can help instill number skills early. Children whose parents taught them to recognize and name digits and practice simple addition problems tended to do well on such kindergarten tasks as counting and comparing numbers, says a 2014 study of 183 children and their parents in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, co-written by Dr. LeFevre.

Board games can offset some of the disadvantages of speaking English, though only if played in a specific way. Some kindergartners who played a board game with the numbers 1 through 100 lined up in straight rows of 10 improved their performance at identifying numbers and placing numbers on a number line, according to a 2014 study led by Elida Laski, an assistant professor of applied and developmental psychology at Boston College. The rows of 10 helped children see that the number system is based on tens.

But the children improved only if researchers had them count aloud starting with the number of the square where they had landed; if children landed on square 5 and spun a 2, for example, they would count, “6, 7.” This skill, called “counting on,” is useful in early arithmetic. Kids who counted starting with “1” for every turn improved their performance only half as much.

Games such as “Chutes and Ladders” can have the same effect if children count on with each turn, Dr. Laski says. Studies show games without numbers in the squares, or set up in a winding or circular pattern, such as Candy Land, don’t provide the same benefits.

Just drawing a board game on paper or cardboard and playing it with a preschooler a few times can firm up counting skills. “It’s definitely more fun than doing a work sheet, and just as valuable,” Dr. Laski says.

Children whose parents exposed them to number games and showed they enjoyed playing with numbers tended to have better skills, according to the 2014 study co-written by Dr. LeFevre.

Math teacher Andrew Stadel wants to pass on his interest in math to his 4-year-old son Patrick. A videogame, “Hungry Guppy” by Motion Math, based in San Francisco, drew Patrick’s attention at age 2; players drag together bubbles with dots to add them, then feed them to a fish. He is now playing its successor for older kids, “Hungry Fish.” Patrick is “curious about what numbers will pair up to make the desired sum,” and if he makes a mistake, “there’s not a huge penalty and it’s not deflating to him,” Mr. Stadel says.

Such videogames build fluency in doing calculations, freeing mental energy for learning. A game called “Addimal Admath chartventures” by Teachley teaches different strategies for addition, showing “there’s more than one way to solve a problem,” says Allisyn Levy, vice president of an educational digital-game line, GameUp, offered by BrainPOP, New York City, a creator of animated educational content.

Ten-year-old Luke Sullivan of Marietta, Ga., says a game called “Addition Blocks” by Fluency Games of Smyrna, Ga., helped him learn when he started playing it two years ago. “You realize it’s educational, but then you start to enjoy it,” Luke says.

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at

Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher, by Dana Goldstein

This article, by Dana Goldstein, appeared in the Wall Street Journal on September 4. CLICK HERE to read the piece at the WSJ website. I love what Ms. Goldstein wrote and it looks like she has a book on the subject called “The Teacher Wars.” I want to suggest that all of the qualities she says great teachers have are also qualities that great parents involved in their children’s education have! This one is worth reading.

Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher
Parents should seek out educators who have outside intellectual lives, follow the data and ask terrific questions.

I recently caught up with my downstairs neighbors, an attorney and a college professor, who have been consumed by the process of enrolling their adorable 5-year-old son in kindergarten.

Our apartment building in brownstone Brooklyn sits between two public schools—one known for resisting standardized-test prep, the other known for a more back-to-basics approach. On a tour of the first school, the principal boasted so effusively about its art program that my neighbors wondered whether their son would learn enough math and reading. At the second school, the central office was disorganized, and my neighbors left bewildered and without much information. In the end, they enrolled their son in a private school.

As students trundle back to the classroom, many parents will recognize my neighbors’ frustration—and the anxiety that comes from trying to give your child the best possible education (especially if you can’t afford to send them to private school). But in a landmark book this year, two sociologists, Angel L. Harris of Duke and Keith Robinson of the University of Texas at Austin, found that many things parents obsess over—checking homework nightly, volunteering at their kids’ schools—have no measurable impact on student achievement.

Instead, what seems to matter most is getting one’s child inside the classroom of an effective teacher. Parents who do so see their children’s test scores rise by as much as 8% in reading and math, the study found.

Many schools ban parents from requesting specific teachers, which protects children whose parents are less involved. But most public schools, unhelpfully, also prevent parents of prospective students from spending unstructured time observing classrooms, where they could get a better feel for how teachers actually work with children. When parents like my neighbors visit schools, their impressions are often based more on gut instinct than on careful observation of what really makes a school great: how many skilled teachers it has.

So how can a parent identify superb teaching? Clearly, great teachers begin by loving children. But beyond that, a growing body of research points to some basic tenets of top-notch instruction—including these four actions and mind-sets parents can look and listen for when they visit a classroom, meet an educator or review their children’s schoolwork.

Great teachers:

Have active intellectual lives outside their classrooms.
Economists have discovered that teachers with high SAT scores or perfect college GPAs are generally no better for their students than teachers with less impressive credentials. But teachers with large vocabularies are better at their jobs because this trait is associated with being intelligent, well-read and curious.

In 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse in rural Tennessee, wrote that teachers must “be broad-minded, cultured men and women” able to “scatter civilization” among the next generation. The best teachers often love to travel, have fascinating hobbies or speak passionately about their favorite philosopher or poet.

Believe intelligence is achievable, not inborn.
Effective educators reject the idea that smarts are something that only some students have; they expect all children to perform at high levels, even those who are unruly, learning disabled or struggling with English.

How can you tell if a teacher has high expectations? Ask your child if he or she has learned anything new today. Research suggests that most students already know almost half of what is taught in most classes. Lame teachers—like one I watched spend a full 10 minutes explaining to a class in a Colorado Springs middle school that “denominator” refers to the bottom half of a fraction—spend too much time reviewing basic facts and too little time introducing deeper concepts.

Are data-driven.
Effective teachers assess students at the beginning of new units to identify their strengths and weaknesses, then quiz students again when units end to determine whether concepts and skills have sunk in. Research from the cognitive psychologists Andrew Butler and Henry Roediger confirms that students score higher on end-of-year exams when they have been quizzed by their teacher along the way.

Ask great questions.
According to the scholar John Hattie, when teachers focus lessons on concepts that are broader than those on multiple-choice tests, children’s scores on higher-level assessments—like those that require writing—increase. How can you identify a high-quality question in your child’s schoolwork? It tests for conceptual, not factual, understanding—not “When did the Great Depression occur?” but “What economic, social and political factors led to the Great Depression?”

Parents shouldn’t be the only ones looking for these four traits. Principals and policy makers should focus less on standardized test scores than on these more sophisticated measures of excellence. Together, we can create a groundswell of demand for great teaching in every classroom.

—Ms. Goldstein is the author of “The Teacher Wars,” recently published by Doubleday, and a staff writer at the Marshall Project.

New Test for NYC Private-School Applicants, by Sophia Hollander

We’ve been following this issue closely for some time. Here’s an update from the Wall Street Journal. CLICK HERE to read the piece at the WSJ website.

New Test for Private-School Applicants
Assessment for Kindergarten Takes 5-7 Minutes via an iPad

Several of the city’s top private schools have added a new five- to seven-minute experimental test for kindergarten applicants.

At least 10 schools, including the Dalton School, Poly Prep Country Day School and Marymount School, will require applicants to take the Kindergarten Readiness Task, a “content-free” assessment via iPad that is designed to evaluate cognitive skills.

The tests are being given as part of a pilot program run by an association of the city’s independent schools and researchers from the University of Minnesota.

Test results will be used for research purposes, not in admissions decisions, according to the website of the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York. Officials at the association didn’t return emails or phone calls for comment.

The new test adds another layer of complexity to an increasingly fragmented admissions process in the city’s private schools. After eliminating the standardized test in place since 1966, the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment, commonly known as the ERB, schools have begun customizing their own replacements.

Some have decided to retain the original test. Others, including Horace Mann and Riverdale Country School, have adopted a new iPad-administered test run by the Educational Records Bureau. Some schools accept test results but don’t require them.

Others will refuse to consider outside tests, fearing that agreeing to view scores on an optional basis sends a mixed message about the test’s actual value in the admission process.

Several schools, including Grace Church School and Speyer Legacy School, said they had created their own assessments, finding the existing test options wanting.

This year “the admissions process has become dramatically more complex,” said private-schools consultant Emily Glickman, who founded Abacus Guide Educational Consulting. “It’s really hard for parents now,” she said. “They don’t know which end is up.”

The Kindergarten Readiness Task was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who founded the company Reflection Sciences LLC in June.

It takes the form of an iPad game and lasts five to seven minutes, said Philip Zelazo, one of the test developers who is also a professor of child development at University of Minnesota.

The assessment tests fundamental skills known collectively as executive function, which include the ability to think flexibly, avoid distractions and remember relevant information, he said.

“These basic foundational skills turn out to be a better predictor of long-term outcomes than intelligence as it’s usually assessed,” Mr. Zelazo said.

The skills are also less susceptible to test prep, he said. Since it isn’t a knowledge-based exam, it is more difficult to teach.

While it is possible to improve executive function with practice, “that would be a genuine improvement in the important skills involved in learning,” he said.

He said he understood the frustration among parents who now must subject their children to more tests during an already fraught process for their 4-year-olds.

“Our hope is that this will be a more efficient way to collect more directly relevant information,” said Mr. Zelazo.

“Meanwhile, there may be some additional chaos associated with the use of different measures,” he said, “but in the end we hope we’ll be able to streamline the process.”

Some critics expressed doubt that a five-minute assessment could provide actionable information. But Mr. Zelazo said the test had been designed to quickly adjust to a child’s skill levels, allowing them to extract a lot of information quickly.

Others said the tests may favor children from privileged backgrounds and force parents to introduce their children to iPads at ever earlier ages.

“I have some concerns about children who come from different backgrounds who have more or less access to iPads and so may be disadvantaged in how these games are played,” said Katherine Trotzuk, admissions director at Speyer Legacy School.

Mr. Zelazo said it is an open question, but in the researchers’ experience even 2-year-olds with limited experience pick up iPads quickly because the devices are so intuitive.

For the data to be effective, students will need to be tracked to see how well the test scores predicted future results, Mr. Zelazo said, specifying that researchers wouldn’t seek identifying information about the students. Details about the follow-up data are still being negotiated, he said.

Parents have few choices but to comply, Ms. Glickman said.

“It’s not like a parent can say to Dalton, ‘I’m sorry, I think this is silly, I don’t want to do this.’ ” she said.

Dalton officials declined to comment.

Write to Sophia Hollander at

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