I wanted to share a question a mom from Florida asked me yesterday because she brings up a problem that so many parents struggle with. Her son is very smart and does super well in school. His teachers for the last 2 years have recommended him for the school’s Gifted and Talented Program. Each time he is tested, however, he misses the cut-off and can’t get into the program. She is a member of www.TestingMom.com. When she works with him on practice questions from the site, she observes that he is impulsive and doesn’t consider all the possibilities before choosing an answer. She asked me if there was any way to help him with this.
The answer is YES! There is. It is so important to realize that when you do practice questions with your child, he is learning 1) how to handle the substance of different types of questions whether it be math, analogy or “What Doesn’t Belong” items, and 2) how to answer a test question, which involves reading (or listening to) the whole question, considering each possible answer, eliminating answers that are definitely wrong, and choosing the answer that seems most right. These are two very different skills.
If you have a child who doesn’t listen well to questions, doesn’t think them through, doesn’t consider all of the options, here is what I would recommend that you do. Select a group of age appropriate questions to work with. These can be practice questions from a test your child is not taking. Here, you are working on test-taking skills, not practicing for a particular test.
Ask your child the first question. Instead of having her go right for the answer, ask her to tell you why each answer choice is either right or wrong. Then have her select the best answer. You can let her know if she is correct or not. Either way, talk about how well she thought through the question, or what she might have missed in her thinking so that she can do better next time.
Now go to the next question. Do the same thing with this question. And so on. By getting your child to articulate his thinking, his answer elimination, and his ultimate choice, you are teaching him how to think through, analyze and answer test questions. Later, when he is actually tested, he will know to go through this process in his head. He will not rush to mark an answer!
Many tests, such as the OLSAT and CogAT, have subtests that require children to listen carefully to questions, remember them, and then answer them. In going through this process, you might discover that your child isn’t hearing the entire question. Maybe she isn’t paying attention, maybe her mind is wandering, but she isn’t focused! Once you discover that, tell her to “put on her listening ears” each time you read a question. Concentrate on getting her to focus and then go through the analysis described above. Even if you only work with a few questions this way, you will be teaching your child the skill of listening to, analyzing, and choosing answers to test questions. This will help her when it really counts!
Finally (and this is “advanced” test taking when it comes to younger children), when your child isn’t sure about the answer, you want to teach her how to eliminate answers that are definitely incorrect, and then choose between the answers that seem possible. When you are talking through your child’s analysis of a question, talk to her about how she is sure that these two answers are wrong, so just focus on the ones that could be right. Still not sure? Make your best guess! By learning to block out the options that are definitely wrong, this will help her focus and increase her likelihood of doing well.
Yesterday, I received this note from my friend, Andrea Bardach, a New York City mom. We’ve known each other since our kids were little and one of the things we shared (and commiserated over through the years) was the fact that both our daughters struggled with learning issues. The problems weren’t apparent when our girls were very young. So, like most NYC parents, we wanted them to go to the “best” school we could possibly get them into – Spence, Dalton, Trinity – these brand-named schools were at the top of our list. In her note to me, Andrea makes the point about how important it is to find the RIGHT school for your child vs. the BEST school you can get your child into. Here’s what she said:
“Karen…I am very interested in what you are doing regarding academic testing for children. It is about time and my only wish is that your book and materials had been on the market 18 years sooner.
We adopted our daughter at birth. She developed at a normal pace, has always been healthy and beautiful. She was particularly active. We moved from England to New York City when she was two years old. I immediately located all my contacts who could help me get into the ‘best preschools.’
Our daughter wound up at the premier preschool in the city and during the last year took the ERB’s to get her into the right kindergarten. The test results were mixed, very good in some areas and not so good in others. In fact all the private schools suggested that she wait another year before starting kindergarten. She did get accepted at 3 schools the second time around, but half way through kindergarten we were told to have her tested.
The story goes on and on but what I’m trying to say is that for many, many years our daughter went to the wrong school for her. When she became a teenager the mis-match became even more obvious.
If I were able to do it all over, I would have loved to have had your materials. Many well-intentioned professionals never told us that the mainstream education we were providing our daughter was not in her best interest. Many well-intentioned professionals gave us some questionable advice including not changing to what would have been a better school for her. I believe that our daughter was not ever, with possibly one exception, in the right school for her. I hope that you will be able to help others…not to mention that amazingly large amount of money that they could save.”
I certainly hope that your child doesn’t end up struggling with learning issues. But what I want to say to you now, as you begin your search for the right kindergarten, is to really put your energy into looking for what feels like the best possible FIT for your child. Don’t be swayed by what you hear on the playground about THIS being the BEST school or THAT being the BEST school. There IS no BEST school. There is only that school where your child is so comfortable and at home and in the right place that he is learning and thriving and enjoying every day in the classroom. If you can find that, you’ve given your child the best gift you can give him. How do you know if you’ve found the right fit? I offer many checklists on my site to help. But the most important thing to look out for is a deep feeling in your heart of being “home,” a knowing that this place and these teachers and administrators are “just right” for your child and family – The old “Three Bears” test.
I hope that the school you find this year turns out to be the right school for your child and the place she can stay for her entire education. Wouldn’t that be amazing (and easy)! But I caution you that as your child grows and matures, you will learn more about her, the kind of student she is and how she best learns. A time may come when you will need to look for a different school for her. If that happens, it’s okay. You’ll be able to find a better fit. Your child’s school years will be a journey for you and for her. Education is a big part of it. So is her social and emotional development. As carefully as you may have charted the course, be prepared to adjust mid-voyage should you encounter unexpected turbulence or storms. Children change as they grow up. With that, your expectations and dreams for your child may also have to change. When my daughter started school, I dreamed of Harvard for her. Later, I just hoped she would graduate from high school. Now she is thriving at a marvelous acting conservatory in NYC. With flexibility and an open mind, you can help your child get the perfect education for her.
Thank you Andrea for this timely reminder. It’s not about the BEST school. It’s all about the RIGHT school. It’s about knowing and doing right by your child, even when it doesn’t match what you originally thought you wanted for her.
The statistics are in. The New York Times reported today that the 12,454 students who took the gifted and talented test for admission to New York City’s gifted and talented kindergartens, 3,542 scored in the top 90% or above. That’s a 10% gain over last year. What is even more striking is the 33% jump in students scoring above the 97th percentile – 1,788 versus 1,345 last year. These bright children will now vie for the 300 seats in Manhattan’s most elite programs such as Hunter College Elementary, The Anderson Program and the Lab Program, making competition for seats fiercer than ever.
What happened? How did so many children get so much smarter in the course of a year? The Times article suggested that increased test preparation may have played a role. Bright Kids NYC, which tutors children for the NYC admissions tests at $145 a session reported that 80% of the 120 students for whom it had results had scored 90% or above and 60 children had scored in the 99th percentile. Their results support the fact that you can prepare for IQ tests and when you prepare, it works.
Unfortunately, preparation comes at a price that shuts many bright kids out. Let’s say a child takes 10 tutoring sessions at Bright Kids NYC to get ready for gifted and talented testing – that’s $1,450. Even if they give some sort of discounted package deal, that’s still a lot to swallow. On the other hand, it’s a small price to pay to get your child into one of best public school programs available. Tell that to a single mother who has been out of work for a year.
These days, kindergarten test prep guides are available at prices ranging from $60 to $500. Aristotle Circle makes a comprehensive $500 workbook parents can use to prep kid for the WPPSI-III (ERB) and they are working on one for the OLSAT (these are the tests Manhattan kids take for private school admission and gifted and talented qualification). According to the company, we “developed this workbook to help level the playing field…”. I’ll be the first to say that they did an excellent job with their WPPSI guide and I can see it was expensive to produce, but for $500, there is no playing field being leveled here (except maybe between the rich and the very rich).
Given the upswing in scores, it’s clear that kids who aren’t prepped for testing will be at a disadvantage in years to come. How fortunate for regular parents everywhere that a $15 book is coming out in July that explains these tests in detail, takes parents through them section-by-section, and shows them how to get their kids ready for testing without hiring tutors or buying high-priced workbooks. [full disclosure: I wrote the book - it's called Testing For Kindergarten, so what I just said was completely self-serving. Please forgive me.]
I’m not going to address here whether I believe that 4-year-olds who score in the top 90th or 97th percentiles are truly gifted and deserve the privilege of admission to the best school programs the city offers (though I don’t and I don’t – that’s another blog post). This is a philosophical discussion that must take place, but not when you have a child starting kindergarten next year. Parents have to be practical. Who among us doesn’t want the best school options we can provide for our little ones? The school board tells us the hoops our children have to jump through in order to qualify and we do what we can to help them meet the criteria. In New York and around the country, IQ tests are the flawed but pivotal hoops.
New York City officials acknowledged that test preparation may have played a role in the score explosion. Still, they said they were confident that most children who passed belonged in accelerated classes. In the Times article, Anna Commitante, who heads Manhattan’s gifted and talented program said, “The city may very well think about something different” after next year, when its contract with the testing companies expires.
So that’s their evil plan to foil prepping parents! Change the tests the city relies on to admit kids and no one’ll be ready! Trust me, if, next year, the moment a new test is announced – any new test – fancy pre-schools and tutors everywhere will start teaching to that test faster than H&M rips off the latest designer fashions.
Here’s the thing. The reason IQ tests have been relied on for so long as a key factor in making admissions decisions is because these tests assess whether or not a child has the abilities that educators believe children need to be successful in school. There are 7 of these abilities; they are language, knowledge/comprehension, memory, mathematics, visual-spatial, cognitive and fine-motor skills. No matter what testing instrument a school district decides to rely on in the future for gifted and talented admissions, every child will need these same 7 abilities to ace the test and (later) succeed in kindergarten and elementary school.
I’m all for getting kids ready for testing and school. The sooner you start, the better. In my opinion, the key is to understand the 7 abilities kids need for testing and school success. Internalize these as deeply as you already have the 5 food groups. If you know the 7 abilities that well, you can easily and naturally instill them in your child in the course of everyday living – no tutors or workbooks required. Do this and your child will test well and (most likely) go on to become an excellent student. If you start doing this when your child is just a toddler and later, your school board decides to change its admissions criteria, it won’t matter. Your child will be ready.