To Prep Or Not To Prep: ECAA (”ERBs”) & OLSAT/BRSA
The simple answer is to prepare naturally, but don’t “over-prep.” At PwP we are all for enrichment and diversification of the learning experience. However, when it comes to preparing for an early childhood/primary entrance exam or a G&T test, we feel that tutoring and cramming undermines an assessment process that is designed to identify children’s needs and match them with the learning environments that will most benefit them.
It is not in your children’s best interest to circumvent the aims of the testing by directly assisting them in appearing to be more advanced than they really are. As the Educational Records Bureau says on their website, “If children are placed in an educational program that is misaligned with their abilities, they may experience poor academic performance, frustration, reduced self-esteem, and difficulty connecting with their peers.” We have seen this in action more than a few times.
Over-preparing your child could come back to bite you in another way. Testers are trained to spot kids who have been prepped, and admissions directors are on the lookout for children’s scores that do not match with classroom reports. Children at age 4 and 5 are known for their honest approach to life. A child blurting out, “Oh, I’ve done this before!” could bring the consequence that he doesn’t gain admission to a program to which he might have been invited without the meddling.
At PwP, we also do not want to contribute to the hyper-competitive environment surrounding these tests. The truth is that test prep often raises test performance and in many case it goes undetected by testers and administrators. So, if only the students whose families have the financial resources to be prepped, their performances may not be reflective of where they stand developmentally among their peers. Simply put, that makes us uncomfortable.
Don’t get us wrong, “natural” preparation for these tests is acceptable and even encouraged, if the focus is on learning skills for life itself rather than on acing an admissions process. These are the things that you naturally do as an involved parent throughout your child’s life that no interview coach or tutor can hope to “insert” six weeks before a deadline. Examples are encouraging your child’s curiosity, drawing attention to patterns, discussing sequence of events, using broad and stimulating new vocabulary, and meeting new people and speaking with them graciously. Also, each year the ERB puts out the ECAA Handbook and the NYC DOE puts out the Gifted & Talented Program Handbook (which addresses the OLSAT/BSRA). Both have detailed instructions on how to “legitimately” prepare as well as a practice test you can do with your child.
These acceptable forms of preparation are what gives your child the confidence that who she is will be just fine for you and for everybody else. We all know children’s assessments are influenced by an enormous confluence of factors, including everything from what breakfast was eaten to the availability of a child’s preferred color when working with manipulative tools. Assessment professionals and admissions directors understand these nuances better than anyone, which is why there is standard agreement that assessments like the ERB can only function as one part of the process of getting to know a candidate. There is a genuine match-making process occurring in each admissions office, which parents ultimately have to trust. Help them get to know your child to ensure that the school genuinely is a good fit. (This is not the case with the OLSAT/BSRA which, unfortunately, is the only criteria for entrance to New York City’s gifted and talented programs.)
If a parent still feels compelled to get “professional help,” we are willing to do a walk-through with a child so that he/she can feel comfortable and know what to expect in the exam meeting. The goal here is to provide the confidence to help the child perform his or her best on test day. But, again, providing test-specific tutoring or cramming that could add pressure for the child or diminish the accuracy of the process is something we believe does more harm than good.
Relax. Take a deep breath. There are dozens upon dozens of public and private schools in New York City, filled with well-prepared teachers who have the highest of intentions. The reality is that with patience and research you will find a place where your child can thrive no matter how they perform on these tests.