LJWorld.com weblogs Southern Perlo

Test Prep for Preschool?


http://worldonline.media.clients.ellingtoncms.com/img/blogs/entry_img/2010/Apr/09/NS.jpg If the current national political litmus test is the healthcare vote, then the most important national social marker for the future success or failure of the emerging generation is the preschool application.

The current generation of five-year olds are not yet touched by daily macro-economic discussions about job numbers, stimulus spending, federal deficits, interest rates, economic growth, banking collapse, or mortgage refinancing. And they too young to run the gauntlet of emerging adolescent tragedies like teen bullying and gang beat-downs, rampaging flash mobs, or suicides and murders.

But many 4 year olds face the daunting task of scoring well on an hour-long $510 intelligent test, the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment (ECAA), in order to qualify for admission to a preschool or kindergarten of their parents choice. The test, and the entire admissions process, is a much bigger deal than knowing your colors and counting to twenty.

To cite one NYC admissions consultant, “For the 21st century parent, test prep for 4 year olds is rampant.” Many of the highly sought schools also require an admission essay—written by the parents!

The admission tests include matching shapes, numbers, visual analogies and concept groups. An example: zippers, eyes, locks—things that open and close. The Educational Research Bureau (ERB), an 80+ year old organization, dominates the world of preschool admission testing. ERB offers several instruments, including one computer-based assessment that changes the learning style and level of following questions based on the child's previous answer. While testing is secure, pirated copies of the WPPSI-III, a widely used test administered by ERB, are being sold on the internet for $3,000.

Bright Kids, a NYC based service, offers tutoring and test preparation to 4 year olds at $145 a session. They have a waiting list. One of the main skills taught? Listening skills. Young students must understand the question to answer accurately. They must listen attentive to strangers for the hour it takes to complete the individual tests. The stakes are high: as many as 70 preschoolers maybe vying for each admission slot at high demand pre schools. Nationwide, nearly 55% of 4 year olds are enrolled in preschools. Aristotle's Circle, founded by an MIT grad in 2008, has a comprehensive program of advisers, tutors, and a preparation book that parallels very closely the items on the actual testing instrument, developed in part by psychologists who had experience with the real thing.

A year's expense for a 3 year old may cost more then a year's tuition at an elite college. In NYC, tuition routinely runs $15 – 20,000 a year, with some schools topping out in the $28 – 35,000 range. (Tuition assistance is rarely available.) Even radical activist, Angela Davis' old pre school is charging $29,150 a year. And at Horace Mann, the former pre school of NY Governor Elliot Spitzer, the cost to follow his early foot steps is $34,050.

If parents change their minds after signing an attendance contract, in some cases, schools will hold them responsible for the entire year's tuition. One NYC couple forked over $20,000 to their initial choice private school after deciding to send their pre preschooler to a highly ranked public program after their child was accepted; the school held them to the conditions of their contract.

To navigate the admissions process, consultant firms like Manhattan Private School Advisors are signing up new parent clients at $18 – 24,000 a year. And if your child is lucky enough to complete preschool, don't forget the sterling silver preschool ring (which can be kept in the adult's jewelry box.)

Even the most careful parents are not immune from the horror stories. An annual favorite is school staff serving kids anti-freeze as Kool-aid as one Arkansas school did in 2009. And in Florida, a 4 year old pulled a baggie of pot out of his backpack, showing it to classmates as his brother's. The school immediately banned backpacks.

The remareable experience of the Perry School, a public inner city preschool established in the 1960s to raise the IQ scores of poverty based, inner city youth in a Michigan city, might prove instructive to parents feeling desperate about their preschoolers future. The study followed successive classes of Perry students for three decades, tracking them against a similar cohort of students from the same city with out preschool experience. At every point, by every measure, during elementary school, high school, adult life, and career matrices, the Perry students consistently and widely out performed their peers, from homework to home ownership.

Yet their preschool experiences never raised their IQ scores. Their gains showed up in their achievements, not in their test scores. It seems the experience of exposing young children to structure and learning in a peer community with good teachers and strong parent involvement and effective school leaders has as an greater effect on life achievement than testing and selecting for “innate” or developmental skills or school pedigree.

Another famous assessment study involved marshmallows. Young students were given the choice of having a single marshmallow right away or waiting for an unspecified period and having two. The children who were able to wait the 15 minutes years later scored an average 210 points higher on the old SAT.

A NYT article contained a prescient comment that goes to the heart of the pre school testing fury: “Modern parents are destroying their children.”

Thanks for reading. /wr

(All photos, fair use,)


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.