But it appears there is one way test prep succeeds: It increases a child’s overall anxiety level about the test and the kindergarten admissions process as a whole. And that anxiety is unlikely to go away, even if the ERB gets eliminated.
“It makes me really sad that four-year-olds are getting this kind of tutoring,” said Dr. Nancy Close, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Yale’s Child Study Center, who never recommends test prep at the preschool level. “I wish parents could feel more confident in the way they are parenting, whether reading to their children, or helping them develop socially, all of the intangibles that a child takes into a testing situation.”
Close says that the ERB and other developmental assessments like it are a rather benign experience for most toddlers. The ERB, administered to an individual pre-schooler by a child-studies expert, takes around 45 minutes and has two parts: the verbal, which covers vocabulary, similarities, and listening comprehension, and “the non verbal” where a toddler interacts with pictures and blocks. Afterwards, a child is compared to students his or her age, by both year and month, in the national population. A parent receives three percentile scores, one for each section and one overall test score.
The problem, according to Close, isn’t the test itself, but the fact that children have great radars. They are fully aware and sensitive to an adult’s reaction to the admissions process, and when a parent gets fixated on a particular school, they too can feel quite anxious about it.
Launa Schweizer, a humanities teacher at Brooklyn Heights Montessori, and a former lower school head of one of New York’s leading private schools, agrees that the ERB test itself isn’t the root of the problem.
“It’s the cost, the stress, and the potential for people to try to game the system,” Schweizer says. And since the city’s private schools are already very tight and the parents who apply to them tend to be high powered, these factors are amplified.
Take the parents who consider a 99 in each section of the ERB a “status symbol” or the wealthy couple who celebrated their daughter’s high scores with a catered bash for her preschool friends in the Hamptons. It’s hard to believe these New Yorkers will suddenly become rational, well-adjusted parents because this particular admissions test has been phased out.
Indeed, there is already trepidation about what exactly will replace the ERB. After all, it’s not as though there’s any indication that New York private schools are overhauling their admissions standards or revamping private school culture. Without a relatively non-threatening, single, streamlined exam, private schools may subject their youngest applicants to multiple tests, each a different procedure. Where previous children had to sit through one ERB assessment, they’ll now be stuck going through the rigmarole eight or ten times, depending on how many schools their parents apply to (fast-forward to a world of school specific test prep and ten “mini-ERBs”).