Abandoning E.R.B. Test May Also Put End to a Status Symbol
By WINNIE HU and KYLE SPENCER
When other preschool parents bragged that their children had aced the admission test for New York City private schools with a top score of 99 in every section, Justine Oddo stayed quiet. Her twin boys had not done as well.
“It seemed like everyone got 99s,” recalled Ms. Oddo as her sons, now 7, scampered around a playground near Fifth Avenue. “Kids you thought weren’t that smart got 99s. It was demoralizing. It made me think my kids are not as smart as the rest of the kids.”
Her sons’ scores? Between them, they had one 99 and the rest 95s, which would still put them in the top 5 percent of all children nationwide.
Cough Losers Cough
A decision last week by a group of private schools to move away from the test, commonly known as the E.R.B., will spare many 4- and 5-year-olds from a rite of New York childhood that dates back half a century. But it could also bring an end to a particular New York status symbol — a child with knockout scores — and to the uncomfortable conversations that occur each year when results start rolling in.
Not likely. Whatever magically non-competitive test replaces the Wechsler IQ test for NYC kindergarten admissions will instantly become the most gamed status symbol this side of Seoul.
From the Upper East Side to Brooklyn, score-dropping in playdates and parks is common, with high marks flaunted by the parents of children who excel with 99s and anguished over by those who have to explain anything less.
... On urbanbaby.com, the Web site where parents chat about their children, the ubiquitous 99s prompted one person to question whether that score was really special since “they seem to be a dime a dozen.” In response came complaints of rampant test-prepping and outright lying.
At the other end of the scale, some parents are quick to offer excuses for a relatively low score: their child was sick, tired or having a bad year.
I had a bad decade or five.
Amanda Uhry, founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, said that one mother tried to explain away her daughter’s 68 by saying she had been bullied in preschool. “Whether it’s the E.R.B. or sports, parents see their kids as an extension of themselves,” Ms. Uhry said.
Kids actually are an extension of their parents.
“It reflects on them. They think, ‘What did I do wrong?'”
All this has led many private schools to try to discourage parents from comparing E.R.B. scores. Some have even likened it to one’s salary — the less said, the better. At the Mandell School, which has a preschool and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on the Upper West Side, administrators suspected that a few parents were actually inflating numbers in conversation. ...
Last week the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York, which represents more than 140 private schools, cited concerns that scores had been inflated by widespread test preparation and thus was no longer an accurate measure of ability. It said that it would stop recommending its members use the test as an entry requirement after next year, though a new assessment is expected to be developed in its place. Most schools in the group are expected to follow the recommendation.
The test, a version of an exam known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, consists of two sections: verbal (which includes vocabulary and comprehension) and performance (picture concepts and block design, among other skills). Students receive three percentile scores, one for each section and a combined mark; a proud parent might let it be known that their child was a “99 x 3” or simply a “99.”
The name E.R.B. is actually a misnomer; the test’s actual name is the Early Childhood Admission Assessment. E.R.B. stands for the Educational Records Bureau, which administers the test.
The bureau issued a report defending the test, saying that while scores had increased, they had done so only gradually over time. But the report also acknowledged “the alarming number of children” who score in the highest percentiles: in each of the past few years between 62 and 70 percent of the applicants to the independent schools represented by the association reached the 90th percentile, meaning they were in the top 10th of a national norm of students who took a version of the Wechsler test, and between 18 and 29 percent scored at the 98th percentile. However, the report said the average E.R.B. child was, statistically speaking, a higher performer than the average American child and that “this is not a new trend.”
Here's the E.R.B. report. The sore thumb sticking out is that the percent scoring at the 98th or 99th percentiles went from 17.8% in the middle of the last decade to 29.2% in the most recent year.
Still, among parents the coaching issue has become the preschool version of steroids in baseball, with any chart-busting score arousing suspicion. Debra Mesnick, a pediatrician whose children took the E.R.B., said she knew parents who were prepping their children even though they acted as though they were not. “There were the names of $200-an-hour tutors floating around, but people didn’t admit to using them,” she said.
... Jae Chun, a lawyer, said he would try to discreetly change the subject. “When someone told you their child scored an 80 percent, it was very awkward to say your child scored a 99,” he said. Another parent, Marie Bishko, said that parents became stressed because the E.R.B. “divides children into two piles” — the 99s, and everyone else. ...
Still, Ms. Oddo said she never talked about her sons’ scores at the time. And she was not the only one, she noted. Other than 99s, the only scores she heard were in the 70s and 80s, which were so low as to be credibly attributed to a lack of focus or just a bad day.
“People who had 80s, they always had justification,” she said. “Nobody talks about it if it’s in the 90s.”