MANHATTAN — Some of the city's most elite private schools will soon require 4-year-olds to take a new, harder admissions test given on an iPad and designed to assess math and literacy skills.
The educational services company ERB's Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners (AABL) will be given for the first time in October and is a significant departure from the previous, IQ-like test most New York City private schools required for the past 45 years.
While the new test is much cheaper for families — it's $65, rather than $568 for the old test, because the new test is taken by iPad rather than by a trained examiner — experts believe many parents will shell out even more on classes and books to prepare their toddlers for it.
"These are subjects that were not previously tested," said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, who advises parents on private school admissions.
"The AABL is supposed to identify a child's ability and achievement," Glickman said. "That achievement part — how much you learned — is totally new. You usually think of an achievement test as something you take in high school. It's not something you think of for preschoolers."
In the past, most private schools used the ERB's IQ test for kindergarten admission. But this year the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York (ISAAGNY) told schools they were no longer required to use that test and instead could use a different one, make admissions tests optional or ignore them entirely.
The coalition cited concerns that 4-year-olds were over-preparing for the old IQ exam.
Some consultants, though, were perplexed by the shift to the new, more difficult AABL test.
"The AABL is really requiring more from preschoolers. That is in line with what we're seeing in public schools," Glickman said, referring to changes in the Department of Education's gifted and talented admissions test. "We all know that some of the brightest people are late bloomers, yet more and more schools are rewarding the early achievers."
To prepare kids for the AABL, parents should work with their youngsters on basic early literacy and math skills, said Karen Quinn, best-selling author of "Testing for Kindergarten" and co-founder of online test prep service TestingMom.com.
"We’re looking at things like knowing letters, numbers and shapes, knowing letter sounds, recognizing rhymes, counting, adding, subtracting and more," she said.
The ERB's IQ test was more subjective, especially on the verbal section, in which the examiner could award partial credit, said Bige Doruk, founder of test prep company Bright Kids NYC.
"For example, if the question stated 'What is a mouse?' and the kid answered 'animal,' he or she would get 1 point. If the kid said 'a gray animal that is small, has a tail and likes to eat cheese,' the kid would get the full 2 points," Doruk explained.
If a child just said "animal," the tester would reply, "Tell me more," giving the child another chance to earn the full 2 points, Doruk said.
In addition to a numerical grade, the old test also included a written narrative from the examiner describing the child's behavior during the test, such as whether the toddler seemed to be focused or easy to work with.
It's unlikely that the AABL will include a report on the child, because the child will take the test independently on an iPad, Doruk said.
"It favors those with more reading skills and who've gone to more academic preschools," said Doruk, whose company began offering one-on-one tutoring, ranging from $140 to $200 a session, for the AABL about a month ago.
Horace Mann and Riverdale declined to comment on their choice to use the new test, but Horace Mann explained its rationale on its website.
"While the score report is only one element of a child’s application," the school said, "it is the only piece of the application that is consistent and objective for our applicants, who come from many schools and many different backgrounds and include children who do not come to us from formalized preschool settings."
In the past, many parents would sign their kids up to take the test in the spring and summer before applying to schools. Registration for the AABL, however, doesn't open until Sept. 15, and testing starts Oct. 15, according to the exam's website.
Some consultants raised concerns about the use of an iPad test, saying toddlers shouldn't spend so much time in front of a screen. But Doruk said her company has been using iPads in tutoring sessions for the past two years.
"Kids know how to use the iPad. They like the iPad. It's more engaging to them. It looks like a game," Doruk said. "But they still have to answer the questions correctly."