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Private Schools Jettison a Key Test: Concerns That Test Preparation Rendered Results Invalid

Ohanian Comment: I would put jettisoning this test into "Good News" except there is nothing positive about the race to make sure your kindergartner is better than others. I'm only posting this because I think it's interesting that the administration of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence costs $568.

You can bet your bippy that wealthy parents will find some other way to spend $568 (plus test prep grooming) to help their preschoolers perform.

Officials at the Educational Records Bureau, which has administered a version of the test since 1966,dispute the test prep claims. They urge parents to get kids on the Pearson Path early. Four contributors to their booklet are employed by Pearson.

In 2009 revenue from fees paid for its testing programs was $14,299,243 according to its filings on its publicly available IRS tax forms 990. According to Wikipedia, the president of Educational Records Bureau received total compensation of $351,041 in 2009

by Sophia Hollander

For nearly half a century, New York City private schools have relied on a standardized test as part of their admissions process for coveted kindergarten slots.

No longer. This week, a coalition of schools said it will drop the test over concerns that the growth of test preparation had rendered its results all but invalid. In the last school year, 3,173 applicants to kindergarten and first grade took the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, which costs parents $568 for each child tested.

The decision adds uncertainty to an already fraught process for families hoping to get their children into kindergarten or first grade in some of the city's most elite schools, as a successful placement can secure a spot for years, sometimes through high school. But officials said they hoped that eliminating the test would lead to fairer outcomes.

"This high-stakes testing of youngsters under 8 years old just gives such a narrow assessment of their abilities," said Patricia Hayot, who leads the Chapin School and is the board chairwoman of the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York.

She said a task force studied the issue since last spring and members voted on it earlier this month. "At another time [the test] was probably used more successfully than today because I think the prepping industry, whether it existed at all at the time, it certainly wasn't as robust as it is today," she said.

Officials at the Educational Records Bureau, which has administered a version of the test since 1966, disputed that contention. In a letter to ISAAGNY, bureau officials expressed "concerns" over the decision.

While "coaching may be increasing," the letter said, an analysis of 25,000 test takers over the past nine years showed only "marginal increases" in overall scores and even declines in some areas.

Eliminating all standardized tests would be a mistake, said Elizabeth Mangas, vice president for admission testing at the Educational Records Bureau. "We feel an objective assessment is very valuable to provide a data point."

The decision "could create new burdens on schools, parents and children," she said, including the possibility that schools could adopt different tests, requiring families to pay and prepare for multiple assessments.

The issue of admissions tests has flummoxed the city in recent years. This year, the Department of Education introduced a new test for its gifted and talented program to measure a wider range of skills and reduce the number of qualifying students.

Many were surprised when even more students received top scores for the limited number of seats. The city announced adjustments this month, reducing the weight of the new test.

But Department of Education officials have insisted that standardized tests are essential for fairness.

In a letter to member schools on Wednesday, ISAAGNY said it won't renew its contract with the Educational Records Bureau to administer the private-school test when it expires on March 31, 2014. It said bureau officials had been invited to an ISAAGNY retreat in October to talk about alternatives, in conjunction with a new task force. Recommendations are due in late February.

Individual schools can still contract individually with the Educational Records Bureau to continue the tests.

Eliminating the test could save parents "a substantial amount of money on test prep that they have felt was necessary to keep the kids competitive," said Robin Aronow, an admissions consultant.

But she said that whatever new admissions metric is selected, "parents and test companies will find a way to find out what is going on in school evaluations and start prepping for that."

Suzanne Rheault, CEO of Aristotle Circle, a tutoring and educational consulting company, said that eliminating tests entirely would erase the schools' only independent, objective admissions measure.

"When this was put in place it was all about leveling the playing field. No matter where you come from, you have a shot," Ms. Rheault said. Now there is a "risk of going back into a world of, it's all about who you know and your connections and how your child does on a 45-minute play date."

Ms. Hayot denied that dropping the test would undermine the fairness of the admissions process. "I think that everyone has the idea that we'll be professional and always have," she said.

Friends Seminary eliminated the test for the upcoming year's admissions class, after seeing "a disconnect between those scores a lot of the time and what we would see on-site," said Harriet Burnett, director of admissions. "I said, 'This is unfair to parents, it's unfair to children, it's expensive to use, it wasn't a valuable predictor. It's just not right to put families through this.'"

Ms. Burnett said Friends didn't add any additional assessment measures to replace the test. She was on the ISAAGNY task force that recommended the change, but emphasized that she was speaking only on behalf of her own school.

Write to Sophia Hollander at sophia.hollander@wsj.com

— Sophia Hollander
Wall Street Journal





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