ISAAGNY Decides on ERB testing for NYC Private Schools

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Recently, ISAAGNY met and decided that NYC’s private schools can each use their own approach to assessing young children’s abilities in their admissions process. It looks like some schools will continue to use the ERB, while others may choose a different test or approach to measuring a child’s skills. In fact, this is how private schools in L.A. assess students. When kids come in for their school visit, they are taken aside for part of the time and administered a “test.” Parents don’t know what the test is. Each school does its own thing. It allows the schools to evaluate students based on whatever criteria is important to that school.

For NYC parents, the big question now is, “what do I do?” In the past, you could do a bit of prepping so that children would know what to expect on the ERB, and that would be it. There was only one test to get ready for. Now, depending on the number of schools you are applying to, some may ask for the ERB while others may do their own test (and you won’t know what it is). Here is the good news. There are only so many things that a 4 – 5 year old is expected to know and understand and be able to do. In my book, Testing For Kindergarten, I call these the “7-Abilities” Students need for testing and school success. They are: Language, Information/Comprehension, Thinking, Memory, Fine-Motor, Mathematics, and Visual-Spatial Reasoning. As long as your child is really solid when it comes to these abilities, he or she should do fine on any kindergarten admissions test they have to take. At www.TestingMom.com, we have an entire kindergarten readiness section that takes you through each of these abilities, practice questions from all kinds of different tests that assess these skills, and ideas for parents on how to build these skills with their children through fun activities and games you can do at home. Take a look and get started in making sure that your child is “solid” when it comes to any of the skills and abilities that private schools will be testing for now that the ERB is no longer a requirement in NYC.

Here is Sophia Hollander’s article on what is happening with ERB from the Wall Street Journal. To read the article there, CLICK HERE.

Decision Fragments New York City’s Private-School Process
Universal Standardized Admissions Test Likely Will No Longer Be Used by Most Schools

by Sophia Hollander

A coalition including some of New York City’s most prestigious private schools captured the attention of parents and educators last fall when it announced a search for an alternative to its longstanding admissions test.

Now, the answer appears to be in, and it won’t fit neatly into a test sheet’s bubble: There is no single solution.

For the first time in nearly half a century, there likely will be no universal standardized test used by the majority of the city’s independent schools, education officials said. Instead, each school has been asked to devise its own admissions plan, which may include new exams, strategies and targeted games—or even sticking with the old test, which has been administered in some form since 1966.

Officials at the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York announced the decision at a meeting of school leaders on Wednesday, according to people at the meeting. Association officials didn’t respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

For years, kindergarten applicants to many private schools—most of them 4 years old—have had to go through a fiercely competitive process: take the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment, commonly known as the ERB; go through an interview with school officials; and participate in a play group. Now, families—who are advised to apply to multiple schools—will have to navigate a more fragmented admissions process, officials said.

The decision ended a five-month study of alternatives to the ERB, a version of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence. The rise of test-prep companies undermined its validity, some school officials said. Some also worried about the expense ($568 this year). Still, 3,173 applicants took the test in 2012-13.

Some private school administrators praised the schools association for empowering schools to shape their own admissions processes. Others questioned whether the change would create more stress for families.

“I’m disappointed because I would have liked more central direction,” said George Davison, head of Grace Church School in Greenwich Village, cautioning that the changes could “drag out the process” for parents.

Officials at the Educational Records Bureau, which administers the test, criticized the decision. It “will create significant new burden on schools, parents and children,” said Anne Sullivan, vice president of member services, in an email. She said many schools were interested in continuing using the test.

“We’re reviewing the recommendations, and we’ll make a decision about the tools that we’ll use—including the ERB—in the coming weeks,” said Kevin Ramsey, the communications director for Trinity School on the Upper West Side.

The association’s decision to not replace the ERB reflects a growing unease among educators regarding the role of standardized tests for admissions. Earlier this week, the College Board announced an overhaul of its signature test, the SAT, in an effort to improve its fairness and reliability. Last year, New York City revamped the admission tests used for its gifted and talented program, which also covers kindergarten admissions.

At the meeting this week, private school administrators were presented with a range of admissions strategies and games designed to evaluate abilities, including one test administered via iPad, according to multiple meeting participants. They also proposed a series of workshops to learn more about different approaches.

Some schools praised the varied approach.

“I think ISAAGNY did a fabulous job in offering all these different ways that we can measure children,” said Teri Hassid, head of the lower school at Friends Seminary, which had already stopped using the ERB.

One game presented at the meeting involved telling a story with three animals or objects as characters, Ms. Hassid said. Midway through, the teacher asks the child to add an additional element, like a toy or a boat. “That measures flexible cognitive thinking,” Ms. Hassid said.

Families may still have to take the ERB, said Suzanne Rheault, CEO of Aristotle Circle, a tutoring and educational consulting company. Some schools, including Horace Mann, have declared their intention to continue requiring the test. Others may make it optional—which families may interpret as mandatory for the most competitive schools.

“I think it’s just a shame to go through all this hassle, create all this uncertainty and at the end of the day what parents are probably going to have to do is continue to take the ERB” while preparing for additional exams, said Ms. Rheault.

Edwin Mullon has two children, now 11 and 10, currently enrolled in private school. The admissions process was a struggle, but he and his wife took solace in knowing that there was a one consistent standard, he said. Parents now might worry about subjective criteria like “who do you know” creeping into the process, Mr. Mullon said.

“I think it’s a nightmare,” he said. “The whole thing is going to become a huge mess.”

Entry Points

Admissions suggestions made to private schools:

Stick with the current standardized test
Add iPad-administered test
Engage kids in storytelling games to test flexible thinking
Ask children to match words with discordant images (i.e., saying ‘day’ to a picture of the moon)
Attend admissions workshops
Source: Private school officials


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