Tips for the Admissions Test ... to Kindergarten
Kayla Rosenblum sat upright and poised as she breezed through the shapes and numbers, a leopard-patterned finger puppet resting next to her for moral support.
But then came something she had never seen before: a visual analogy showing a picture of a whole cake next to a slice of cake. What picture went with a loaf of bread in the same way?
Kayla, who will be 4 in December, held her tiny pointer finger still as she inspected the four choices. “Too hard,” she peeped.
Test preparation has long been a big business catering to students taking SATs and admissions exams for law, medical and other graduate schools. But the new clientele is quite a bit younger: 3- and 4-year-olds whose parents hope that a little assistance — costing upward of $1,000 for several sessions — will help them win coveted spots in the city’s gifted and talented public kindergarten classes.
Motivated by a recession putting private schools out of reach and concern about the state of regular public education, parents — some wealthy, some not — are signing up at companies like Bright Kids NYC. Bright Kids, which opened this spring in the financial district, has some 200 students receiving tutoring, most of them for the gifted exams, for up to $145 a session and 80 children on a waiting list for a weekend “boot camp” program.
These types of businesses have popped up around the country, but took off in New York City when it made the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, a reasoning exam [i.e., and IQ test], and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, a knowledge test, the universal tests for gifted admissions beginning in 2008.
Kayla’s session at Bright Kids was an initial assessment; her mother, Jena Rosenblum, had not decided whether to put her through a full course of tutoring. She was considering it at the suggestion of Kayla’s preschool teacher. “Even though we live in the West Village and there are great public schools, obviously, any opportunity to step it up a notch in caliber, we would like to try,” Ms. Rosenblum said.
Melisa Kehlmann said her main concern was that her 4-year-old son, Adrian, would be shut out of the well-regarded but overcrowded schools in her Manhattan neighborhood.
“It’s quite pricey, but compared to private school, which averages about $20,000 for kindergarten, the price is right,” she said of the tutoring. “I just want the opportunity to have a choice.”
Private schools warn that they will look negatively on children they suspect of being prepped for the tests they use to select students, like the Educational Records Bureau exam, or E.R.B., even though parents and admissions officers say it quietly takes place. (Bright Kids, for example, also offers E.R.B. tutoring.)
“It’s unethical,” said Dr. Elisabeth Krents, director of admissions at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side. “It completely negates the reason for giving the test, which is to provide a snapshot of their aptitudes, and it doesn’t correlate with their future success in school.”
No similar message, however, has come from the public schools. In fact, the city distributes 16 Olsat practice questions to “level the playing field,” said Anna Commitante, the head of gifted and talented programs for the city’s Department of Education.