This is the second installment of a guest post series about applying to gifted and talented elementary schools and private elementary schools in New York City.

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For almost every type of school option, a standardized "test" is required. Depending on the number and type of schools that you apply to, your child could take up to three different tests in the year. Each test has subtests, or sections, that test for a specific ability, such as verbal reasoning, comprehension, visual-spatial abilities, etc. The scores matter so much in this process (especially in the NYC G&T programs), that more and more parents are prepping their children. Test prep is such a dirty phrase in the kindergarten admissions process. It's become so common and yet, parents rarely admit to it.

Do you really prep a four year old for tests? On one side of the argument, you have parents who believe that children should not be prepped and perform on their own merits. After all, these are tests designed to weed out the gifted children, and prepping would mask the true results. And since there is limited seating for the selective programs, by prepping a child to get a high test score, your child may not truly deserve that seat. These parents would consider prepping to be equivalent to cheating.

On the other hand, how could you send a child into a new situation without any preparation? Would you not send your high school kids to SAT classes or after-school tutors? Would you not at least familiarize your child with the format and structure of the questions? And what is considered to be prepping, anyway? Do kindergarten workbooks done in preschool classes count as prepping? What about brain teasers or puzzles? I have a highly inquisitive child who has always been interested in shapes, numbers, and science. Are my attempts to explain these concepts considered to be cheating?

The bigger question is this: what do the test scores mean anyway? If my kid gets a low score, does this mean he is not gifted or smart? Or is it merely a reflection of one day of a four year old's life?

I am a parent who believes that testing at this age does not mean much. It is one day, one test, one hour. But I am also willing to give him every advantage... because what mother wouldn't? Just look at the types of test that my son is expected to take! I certainly do not agree with testing at such a young age, but my motto is "When in Rome...."

G&T Testing Process

The NYC DOE uses a combination of two different tests to assess your child for the Gifted and Talented programs: the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (OLSAT/NNAT). This year, the OLSAT is being given a weight of 1/3rd of the score, and NNAT is being given 2/3rd weight. A combination of these scores is then converted into percentiles. A score above the 97th percentile makes you eligible for one of the five City-Wide G&T programs, and a score above the 90th percentile makes you eligible for a District-Wide G&T program.* Some examples are below (source: BrightKidsNYC)

Private School Testing Process

Most NY non-religious private schools require the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence test (WPPSI), which is more commonly known as the ERB's, after the testing body. The score is reported on a percentile, but the schools and parents receive a much more detailed report on the performance of each subtest. Examples of a comprehension questions are below. (source: BrightKidsNYC)

Hunter (HCES) Testing Process

Hunter College Elementary School uses a modified version of the Stanford-Binet, which is a real IQ test administered only by Hunter-approved psychologists. Subtest scores are combined into a Sum of Scaled Scores (SSS)** and the admissions committee decides the cut-off score each year to determine which kids had a high enough score to move onto their Round 2 process of onsite observation/playdate (which is also observed by psychologists). Approximately 2,500+ kids take the test, and about 250 to 300 kids are called back to Round 2. They only accept 25 boys and 25 girls each year. (source: BrightKidsNYC)

There is a ton of material out there for test prep. Just google any one of the tests and you will see workbooks, classes, tutors, and online materials. We decided to focus on ensuring that my son had the endurance to sit through one hour of questions because let's face it - an hour is a long time to a four year old child. We also wanted to make sure that he was OK leaving with a stranger (no parents allowed in testing area). Finally, we wanted to introduce him to the format of the questions, as the instructions can be confusing the first time around. To meet these objectives, we opted for a private assessment and a few follow-ups with a tutor. We also downloaded some practice questions on TestingMom.com. We then scheduled play dates to review this material with other children who would be taking the tests so that he would feel like it was a game.

Am I ashamed that I prepped my child? No - for several reasons. First, I believe in giving him all of the advantages that we can to give him a great education. Second, I honestly believe that prepping can only raise the scores a few points.... but it can be enough to make a difference between making the cutoff for those coveted programs. Maybe I am being naive, but I think it is rare that a child who would normally score in the 70th percentile can be brought up to the 99th percentile through prepping. Parents complain that over-prepped children slow down the learning pace of the gifted class and there are definitely more than a few children who are "counseled out" of the accelerated programs within a few years. But for most children, if they are scoring in the 99th percentile, they are probably already very bright. Finally, I never focused on the actual material covered on the tests. We did a few practice tests for the format, but I was concerned about endurance and separation anxiety more than anything. If he cannot sit through 20 minutes of questions with me, how will he do it with a stranger? So we would play number or word games during dinner for 30 minutes so that he could learn to focus. Having an outside tutor review school material with him was also helpful because she could give him coping mechanisms when he got frustrated or bored, and it taught him that being alone with a new person was OK.

The stigma against prepping is so strong that few parents will admit to it. But clearly everyone does it, because test scores have been rising every year and testing prep centers are a booming business. It is definitely a controversial topic. As a parent, what would you do? Prep or not prep?

*eligibility does not guarantee any type of enrollment.
**SSS does not equal the actual IQ, as not all subtests are given to the child.