Let me start by saying that if you have a very young child (age 4 – 6) who will be tested for school admissions or a gifted program, everything you have done with your child from the day he was born until the day he is tested has been preparing that child for testing (not to mention for school and life!).
There is a body of information and understandings that children tend to acquire by the age of 4 or 5. There are certain abilities that children gain in those years – some faster than others, of course. Everything you have done with your child – from reading to him, to talking with him, to taking him on outings, to putting him in pre-school, to giving him opportunities to play – every experience he has had contributed to what he knows and can do by the time he is tested. People who create tests know what young children generally understand, how they are able to think and what they can do and that is what the test he’ll take will cover.
In the olden days (when I was a kid), young children were tested so their teacher knew the abilities of the children in her class and could shape the curriculum accordingly. They also used the results of these tests to put children into different level reading, math and writing groups. This still happens today with kindergarten readiness testing. We do know that being placed in the lowest ability groups can have long-term negative academic consequences for children, so I would argue that you want your child to be prepared for readiness tests.
Where the stakes get really high is when children are tested for programs that might give them a better quality program than they would otherwise have access to. I’m talking about testing for gifted and talented programs or private schools. If your child does well on the test (and excels on whatever other factors are considered in making a placement decision), she will be in a class where she is surrounded by other, brighter children. She will be challenged to work harder and do better. She will have access to a deeper, richer curriculum and will learn more in the course of a year than children placed in general ed classrooms. In other words, higher test scores will entitle her to a better education.
Given the high stakes of doing well on the test for this better education, should you prep your child for the test that is to come, or should you let the chips fall as they may? Psychologists who administer tests and schools administrators will tell you not to prepare the child – just make sure they have a good night’s sleep and that they are well fed on the morning of the test. “We want them as they are,” they say, “with no preparation whatsoever so we can pick the best and the brightest from the bunch.”
That’s all well and good for the school, but not necessarily for your child.
Here’s the problem. For a 5-year-old child to do well on a test, they don’t just have to know the information the test is covering or have the abilities the test is measuring, they need to know how to take a test. Very few 5-year olds have ever taken a test before.
With young children, the test proctor will usually read a question and then show the child a series of 3 to 5 possible answers. Here’s an example: The proctor might read say, “Lana and her twin sister, Anna, were planning the activity for their birthday party. Lana wanted to have a bowling party, but Anna didn’t want to have a party where they played a sport. It took a while, but they finally agreed on what to do at their party. Point to the picture that shows what they did at their party.”
There might be 3 pictures for the child to choose from – a picture of the girls bowling, a picture of the girls ice skating, and a picture of the girls getting their nails painted.
A young child who has never taken a test before may not realize how closely they have to pay attention to what is being said in order to answer the question. A child who has a hard time sitting still can be sunk on a test for that reason alone. A young child who has never been tested before may not realize that one of those pictures is “right” and they must point to the “right” answer. A young child who has never been tested before may not realize that they have to do some reasoning in order to answer this question. They heard the word “bowling” in the question and there is a picture of the girls bowling so that must be the answer. Do you see how many ways an inexperienced test-taker might get tripped up here?
Let’s take a vocabulary test administered by a psychologist. On this type of questions, children get tend to get 1 point for a limited answer and 2 points for a more complete answer. Ask a child what an apple is and he’ll get a point for saying it’s a fruit. He’ll get 2 points for saying it’s red, a fruit and has seeds. Many shy children will answer this type of question with one or two words, limiting his ability to do well on this part of the test. Other kids, who are uncomfortable with the whole experience might say, “I don’t know” just to get it to stop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen in psychologist’s reports that the child said “I don’t know” quite often.
Another reason I strongly urge parents to do some practice for these high stakes tests is that practice will show you what your child doesn’t know. Many of these tests will ask a 4-year-old some basic addition or subtraction questions, for example. Can your child do those? Wouldn’t you like to know before your child is given a test that will impact the quality of the education he is offered? If you find out that your child can’t do simple adding or subtracting, this is something to work on together outside of test preparation.
If you read my book, Testing For Kindergarten, you know that my son was first given an IQ test at age 3 where he scored in the 37th percentile. He had a hearing problem that we corrected after that, but I was told that there was nothing we could do to raise his score in order to help him qualify for a better school. After “prepping” him for a year, he was retested and he scored in the 94th percentile. When he got to school, his kindergarten teacher couldn’t even tell he had ever been behind. My son was an honors student in high school and today he is at NYU.
So, if you ask me whether you should prepare your child for a test that will impact his educational future, my answer is a resounding “yes!” I believe you are letting your child down if you send her in unprepared for a test this important.
One more thing. A new book has just come out that I’m dying to read – It’s called How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough. He argues that abilities like grit, character and curiosity matter more than cognitive skills in whether or not a child does well in life. I made a similar argument in my own book, Testing For Kindergarten. The abilities one needs to do well in school are not necessarily the abilities that help a child do well in life. Still, I argue for preparing children for these tests. Why? It’s simple – because a child needs high test scores to gain access to the best academic opportunities. If you want the best learning environment for your child for the many years he is in school, test scores matter. With stakes this high, we have to help our kids prepare whether or not we believe that the skills they are learning to do well on the tests are the skills that are going to make them successful in life.
For 100 free practice questions, visit www.TestingMom.com.
These days, children are regularly tested to get into private school or gifted and talented programs. If you live in the NYC, the ERB or WPPSI®-III test is given for private school admissions. The OLSAT® and NNAT®2 is given for gifted & talented qualification. The Stanford-Binet is given for Hunter College Elementary qualification. But even if you don’t live in NYC, children around the country are being tested for private school admissions and gifted and talented qualification. The CogAT® Form 6 and Form 7 are commonly given, along with the ITBS® (Iowa Test of Basic Skills), the KBIT®-2 and more.
There is so much you can do to prepare your child for these tests at home. If you have some time, I highly recommend that you pick up my book, Testing For Kindergarten. It is full of games and activities that are fun for your child to do and preparatory for the most common tests that young children are given. IQ Fun Park is a wonderful game you can play with your child that will prepare him for testing. It’s actually a test prep kit, but to a child, it’s play. If you would like your child to do practice questions for the most common tests children are given across the country, TestingMom.com offers thousands of practice questions that she can work with either pencil to paper or even as games.
When you do work with your child to prepare for testing, keep it light and fun. Never talk about it as test prep. Call it special homework, brain teasers, or puzzles. Give your child brightly colored stickers for doing a good job. We find that children generally love doing this special work with their parents – it’s a bonding experience. And it is great for you because you get to see what your child is good at and what they need to work on. Once you see that, you’ll want to work on the things that give you’re your child trouble outside of the test prep situation. So, for example, if you learn that your child doesn’t know his letters or numbers during test prep, you’ll want to play fun games with him to teach him those things.
For 100 free practice questions, visit www.TestingMom.com.
Visit IQ Fun Park!
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.