4-Year-Olds Still Prep for Private School Test, Even if No Longer Required

By Amy Zimmer on March 31, 2014 7:20am 

 A student from Léman Manhattan Preparatory School with an iPad. The Downtown private school is one of many that will make the ERB optional for kindergarten admissions based on the recommendations of the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York.
A student from Léman Manhattan Preparatory School with an iPad. The Downtown private school is one of many that will make the ERB optional for kindergarten admissions based on the recommendations of the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York.
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Leman Manhattan Prepartory School

MANHATTAN — A high-stakes admissions test for private school will no longer be required across the board as it has been for decades — but that won't stop families signing up to take it, parents and education experts said.

The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York — a coalition that counts nearly 140 of the area’s private schools as members — recently told schools that they could decide whether to continue requiring applicants to take the ERB, as it's commonly called.

The relaxation of the demand is based on concerns that youngsters were over-preparing for the $568 exam, school insiders said.

But since some schools have chosen to keep the ERB as a requirement for kindergarten admission and others are making it optional, parents are still feeling pressure to prepare their kids and sign them up for the test, experts said.

Families tend to apply to 12 schools on average since admissions rates are so low, and odds are good that at least one of those schools will require the ERB.

"Now it makes it harder for parents, not easier, because if some of the schools to which you would like to apply require it — even one — your child is going to have to take that test," said Victoria Goldman, an education consultant and author of "The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools."

Even families that only apply to schools where the ERB is optional will likely still take the test, she said, to prevent the schools from assuming the child did poorly on the test and that's why no score was submitted.

Some schools have begun announcing their decisions on the ERB, and more are expected to do so soon as they gear up for April school tours and as ERB testing begins for students starting kindergarten in the fall of 2015.

The test evaluates kids on verbal and non-verbal skills, including vocabulary and identifying patterns, in a one-to-one setting over 40 to 50 minutes.

One school that will continue requiring the ERB is the elite Riverdale school Horace Mann.

The school issued a statement on its website, explaining that the ERB score was only part of a child’s application but “the only piece of the application that is consistent and objective for our applicants.”

At Downtown's Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, the ERB will be optional starting this year, said Drew Alexander, the head of school.

"If a parent wishes to invest in the test and include [it] in their child's application, they are at will to do so," Alexander said. "However, we are cognizant of the fact that these are 5-year-old children and look at so much more than a test score during the admission process."

Like many other elite private schools that have long required the ERB, Léman also does a more qualitative assessment of prospective students, including interviews with families and recommendations from preschools. Many also observe students during a formal "playdate."

“Now the interview piece is going to be more probing,” Goldman said of the schools that are no longer requiring the ERB.

She is concerned that “a consistently inconsistent” process would be even more stressful on 4-year-olds who will likely be subjected to longer in-school evaluations in place of the ERB.

Karen Quinn, best-selling author of "Testing for Kindergarten" and co-founder of online test prep service TestingMom.com, worried that families will feel burdened by the options.

"If [parents] are applying to schools that still want the ERB, many parents will feel they need to prepare their kids for the ERB and for some kind of unknown testing — which is more prep than they had to do in the past," she said.

An Upper East Side mother of a 4-year-old boy, who plans to apply to the UN International School and the World Class Learning Academy and who asked not to be named, said she was still prepping her son for the ERB and recently bought TestingMom’s $297 IQ Fun Park.

“We will prepare for ERB as much as we can," the mother said, "by reading more books, continue doing puzzles, play the IQ game [and] hope for the best."

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