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To (NYC Test) Prep or Not to Prep?

Prep early, prep often!
Prep early, prep often!
Author's personal photo

In New York City, children are tested early and they are tested often. Some preschools require IQ tests for 3 year old applicants (despite those results being notoriously unreliable). All public, gifted K-5 programs and most private ones require a whole battery of tests (see: What Qualifies a Child as Gifted in NYC), and then there are entry exams for public and private middle schools, not to mention the infamous Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) which, as of now, is still required (though the mayor is doing his best to get rid of it). Plus, don't forget enrichment programs like the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth or Stanford's on-line Education Program for Gifted Youth.

As a result, every NYC parent, at one time or another, is faced with the question: To prep or not to prep?

The NY Gifted Education Examiner interviewed Karen Quinn, who literally wrote the book, "Testing for Kindergarten" and what you can do to get your child ready for the litany of exams. She, obviously, belongs in the yes, definitely prep those tots camp.

Douglas Morse, the writer/director of the movie "Kindergarten Shuffle," about the process of getting his son into a citywide gifted public school said, "Our son was not prepped for the Stanford Binet or the ERB administered test. He scored extremely well. We decided to order the KTSS (Kindergarten Test Study System) before he took the OLSAT. He had missed the Hunter cut off by a single point (as depicted in the movie) and I didn't want that sort of thing to happen again. I do feel that tutoring can unlevel the playing field and perhaps place children into programs that aren't right for them."

While this is a common sentiment, it is also extremely unlikely. For one thing, there is nothing special about an NYC Gifted & Talented classroom. They still follow the same curriculum as the General Education classroom (the Citywide schools are one year ahead in the general curriculum). And what is considered "gifted" work in NYC is par for the course in the suburbs, and far behind what kids of the same age are learning in Europe and Asia. If your child can be tutored into a Gifted program, it stands to reason that they can handle the work in one. (On the other hand, the test is highly verbal and favors precocious talkers. It in no way measures whether the anointed children will be able to handle complicated math work in middle school, and a certain number of kids leave G&T programs as a result. Then again, as indicated above, IQ scores at the age of 4 are predictive of nothing whatsoever. A random sampling of children would produce the same Bell curve of results by third grade.)

So, on to the big questions:

Are children being prepped for school admissions in NYC? Absolutely.

Is that prepping successful? More often than not, yes.

Should you prep your child? That is up to you. (As an experiment, I had my 4th grade son take the SCAT test for admission to Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. A Google search will turn up dozens of testimonials swearing that there is no way a child can take the test - which is above grade level; 4th graders are administered the one for 6-8 graders and so on up the line - without extensive prep. Said testimonials primarily come from test prep companies, and the parents who used them. I did not prep my son. He qualified for CTY in both the math and verbal sections, anyway. Along the same lines, his older brother got into Stuyvesant High School without paid test prep, either. He studied on this own, using only test prep books. A quick Google search will reveal that's allegedly impossible, too.)

Before you decide one way or the other, ask yourself what you are hoping to achieve with the test prep, why you want your child in a gifted program, how hard you are willing to work for it... and how much you are willing to pay.

Test prep isn't cheap.

However, one organization is looking to make it a little more reasonable. Bright-Kids, which offers test prep for all ages, including G&T admissions, the SCAT and the SHSAT, has a scholarship program "to promote participation of those students who show great potential to succeed, but whose families do not have the financial means necessary to purchase tutoring services. By reducing the cost of our 8 session Gifted and Talented Bootcamp, Bright Kids hopes to provide scholarship recipients a chance at academic success regardless of their current socioeconomic status. Eligible children will be able to participate in our 8 session Gifted and Talented Bootcamp at a reduced cost. The 8 session Bootcamp includes an initial diagnostic, individualized one-on-one tutoring in our downtown office, and preparation books for supplemental practice. Families must contribute at least $250 per child. The scholarship awarded covers the cost of the 8 session bootcamp package less the cost of the initial diagnostic ($250 per child). Any additional sessions not included in the scholarship award can be purchased at a discounted rate."

If you are thinking of getting your child tutored and want to learn more, click here.

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