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New Gifted and Talented Test Leaves Parents Stumped

By Julie Shapiro | October 24, 2012 6:50am
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Billy Figueroa

NEW YORK — The new gifted and talented test isn't just tough for 4-year-olds — it's also stumping their parents.

The Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test — which preschoolers have to ace to win one of the city's coveted public gifted and talented kindergarten seats for fall 2013 — quizzes kids on their spatial reasoning skills, asking them to analyze complex geometrical patterns.

Parents across the city are helping their kids prepare — and must decide if they will request a test by early November — but many said they first had to teach the material to themselves.

"I don't know if I would have been able to figure it out on my own," said Monica, a Lower East Side mother who is using a test prep guide from TestingMom.com. "If you've never done it before, you can find it very difficult."

The NNAT is an abstract test that asks kids to look at a series of complicated shapes and figure out their pattern, so that they can fill in the missing piece. To solve the visual riddle, the young test-takers have to pay attention to the size and color of the shapes, how they are oriented and how they relate to each other.

"There are some questions that many adults might not even be able to answer," said Janet Roberts, director of education and product development at Aristotle Circle, a test prep and admissions company.

"It requires a lot of patience and a certain level of endurance as well. "

When parents first see a sample Naglieri test, with its rotating triangles and checkered squares, "They typically panic," Roberts said.

"[There's] a little bit of hysteria."

Aristotle Circle's NNAT preparation book sold out four times faster than any of the company's other books this fall, Roberts said.

The Department of Education decided to start using the NNAT this year to replace the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which covered basics like shapes, numbers and colors.

The goal is to test children's true intellectual ability, rather than their learned knowledge — and to make the test harder to prepare for after more than 1,600 preschoolers earned the top score on the entrance exam for this fall, the DOE said earlier this year.

The glut of top-ranking preschoolers left those and an additional 1,000 high-scoring children vying for just 300 kindergarten seats this fall.

The NNAT will comprise two-thirds of each child's score, while the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which examines students' logic skills, will make up the rest.

Radmila Gordon, a Coney Island resident, has been researching the NNAT for months so that she can prepare her 4-year-old daughter Alisa for the test.

"It's very difficult," Gordon said. "I don't know how 4-year-old kids are going to do it."

Alisa is good at puzzles and breezes through the easier questions in the NNAT practice guides, but as soon as the problems get harder, she loses focus, Gordon said.

Ella Sidorenko is having the same challenge in working with her son Max, who is just 3-years-old and will be among the youngest children in his class when he starts kindergarten next year.

"The more difficult the questions become, he gets frustrated and starts crying and says, 'I can't do it,'" Sidorenko said. "I don't know if it's fair for the children."

Test preparation experts recommend that parents start by teaching basic pattern recognition concepts with hands-on exercises, using puzzles and building blocks. Then kids can gradually move onto more complicated questions in workbooks.

Practice is very important, especially to ensure that kids understand the format of the test and what they are being asked to do, said Karen Quinn, founder of TestingMom.com.

"If a child walks in absolutely cold and sees one [of the complicated pattern questions] for the first time, I would say it's probably too hard for most 4-year-olds," Quinn said. "Some would [be able to do it], but others would look at it and it would make absolutely no sense."

Before even explaining the content that will be on the test, parents should make sure their children understand the idea that for every question there is just one right answer, and the kids should try to find that answer, Quinn said.

Bige Doruk, founder of test preparation company Bright Kids NYC, teaches children strategies like breaking down each question into parts and eliminating wrong answers among the multiple-choice options.

"They're hard because they're very visually confusing," Doruk said of the NNAT questions. "There's a lot going on."

While Doruk said she has spoken to many parents who are upset about the harder test, she thinks it's a good way to identify the children who are truly gifted.

"We expect a lot from 4-year-olds in New York," Doruk said. "The idea is that this is not for all kids. Not every child is going to do well."

Parents who want to apply for a gifted and talented program for the fall of 2013 must submit a Request for Testing form by Nov. 9. The tests will take place in January and early February, and parents will learn their child's score in April.