Anxious parents preparing their 4-year-olds for the city's competitive Gifted and Talented kindergarten programs have a new tool for coaching their children this year: a practice test complete with the multiple choice bubbles, analogies, and word problems the youngsters will face on the real thing.
The practice test goes with the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, which the Department of Education will be using as a part of a new citywide testing process for public school Gifted and Talented programs. All applicants will take the same two tests that will be administered at locations around the city, and all parents who apply will receive a copy of the practice test, a schools spokesman, David Cantor, said. The new system is part of an effort to make the application process more equitable.
"It's kind of a frenzy," a parent of a 3-year-old boy, Renata Kadoe, said at meeting on the Upper West Side last week for parents applying to Gifted and Talented Programs. Her son will not be taking the test until next year, but she is already preparing him by using educational games and puzzles. She was eager to hear more about a practice test. "I'm asking if there's a way to pre-test him."
Previously, many school districts and programs around the city used tests like the Stanford-Binet IQ test, which is administered by a psychologist as an interview. Parents have been preparing their children for IQ tests for years, a school admissions consultant, Robin Aronow, said, but there has never been widespread access to a practice booklet like the one available this year for the Olsat. Last week, there was a brief stir among some Upper West Side parents after a rumor circulated that only children enrolled in nursery schools that ordered the practice test would have access to it.
Educators had mixed opinions about whether giving practice tests to parents will be helpful.
"If it leads to parents talking to their children and having conversations, instead of doing things that are so terribly off, instead of thinking they have to teach them letters and numbers, it might be a relief to parents," said the head of West Side Montessori School, Marlene Barron, who hasn't seen the practice test yet.
"I don't believe that children can be prepared for these kind of tests. I think developmentally they can do it or they can't do it," said the director of a nursery school called 43rd Street Kids, Nancy Lilienthal, who has a copy of the practice test. "Prepping your child for anything at age 3 is so anti-child."
The practice test has 12 questions that include analogies, word problems, and comparisons. Children do not have to read to take the test. Instead, testers read a question to children and they have to choose among a row of pictures. The testers, who will be public school teachers that receive special training to give the test, will then help children fill in bubbles under the answer they choose.
The Olsat is used in school districts around the country and has also been used in some city districts in the past. The practice test is not available to parents yet, but educators who have seen it say they are worried the test could be confusing.
"The basic reasoning skills they're asking for are way beyond most children," said Ms. Lilienthal, who said she was particularly confused by an analogy question that asked children to match the relationship between a banana and a bowl of bananas with an egg and four choices that included a fried egg, a chicken, a basket of eggs and an egg carton. The correct answer is the basket of eggs.
In one question on the practice test, children are told that a girl in the pictures has been asked by her father to help make the house look new. The four answers show the girl planting a garden, cooking, washing a car, and painting a wall. Ms. Lilienthal said she herself had vacillated between planting a garden, the wrong answer, and painting a wall, the right answer.
"The answers to some of the questions are not immediately obvious, even to some adults, and do require the person who is being tested to ascertain the relationship among the pictures presented in the question and the pictures among which an answer may be chosen," Ms. Aronow said, adding that parents would probably do better by leaving the practice test to nursery school teachers.
"The best preparation for any IQ test is just to do what most New York City parents do," she said. "Talk to your kids, read to your kids, play games with your kids, explain how things works, expose them to new experiences at museums or parks."
Karen Trott, who lives on the West Side and has a 4-year-old daughter who will take the Gifted and Talented tests this year, said she would probably use the practice test to help her daughter prepare, even though she doesn't agree with the testing format. She believes a standardized, multiple-choice test is not a good way to accurately reflect the intelligence of small children.
"I just hate it. I've looked at the test and I haven't shown it to my daughter, I still haven't decided and I haven't hired anyone to teach it to her," she said. "But everyone else is going to run out and do it, so you feel foolish not to."
The tests are expected to be available by the end of this month.