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.