NYC Private Schools Group Recommends Dropping Admissions Test

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A student stands outside the Trinity School in New York. Close

A student stands outside the Trinity School in New York.

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Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A student stands outside the Trinity School in New York.

New York City private schools are considering doing away with a test they have used for years for kids seeking admission to kindergarten and first grade.

The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York is recommending eliminating the test, commonly known as the ERB, because it is “not necessarily effective in making admissions decisions,” according to a Sept. 18 letter to its members.

The association expressed concern about the stress the test has on children and their parents, and that many families buy preparation materials and hire tutors. It cited research showing high-stakes testing of young children offers a narrow assessment of their cognitive ability and may not be predictive of future academic success. The recommendation mirrors a movement in higher education, where some colleges say standardized tests in admissions favor affluent families who can pay for test prep.

“It’s quite a significant step,” said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, a Boston-based nonprofit group critical of standardized testing. “There is a growing recognition among selective private institutions that admission testing undermines their mission by putting an emphasis on skills that can be taught through test prep.”

While the majority of colleges in the U.S. require the SAT or ACT college entrance exam, some schools don’t, including Bowdoin College in Maine, Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Pitzer College in California.

Not Effective

The 140 member schools in the association, known as ISAAGNY, include Trinity School, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Dalton School and Friends Seminary, according to the group’s website. They have been using the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence test as a tool in kindergarten and first-grade admissions.

“While ISAAGNY believes that the WPPSI is extremely useful for a variety of purposes, such as identifying children with special needs, many within our community feel that the WPPSI is not necessarily effective in making admissions decisions -- a purpose for which it was not designed,” Patricia Hayot, leader of the group’s board, wrote in the letter.

In a phone interview today, Hayot, who is also head of the Chapin School, said the test created a lot of anxiety.

“We’re doing the right thing for children and their families,” she said.

The test, developed by London-based education publishing company Pearson Plc (PSON), is administered by the nonprofit Educational Records Bureau, or ERB, in New York.

Contract Expiring

The association’s contract with ERB expires in March and Hayot said it won’t be renewed. The two groups have been affiliated since 1966, according to ERB’s website. In her letter, Hayot said the recommendation doesn’t preclude individual schools from working with the ERB should they wish to continue using the test.

Elizabeth Mangas, ERB’s vice president of admission testing, said the group is willing to work with the association to select an instrument that best meets its needs.

“We’re test agnostic,” Mangas said in an interview. “The complete elimination could create significant burden on the schools and parents and children. We believe an objective assessment is valuable, particularly at this age range.”

In the 2012-2103 admissions season, 3,173 students took the test, according to ERB, down from 3,398 a year earlier.

To contact the reporter on this story: Janet Lorin in New York jlorin@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Lisa Wolfson at lwolfson@bloomberg.net.

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