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E.R.B., RIP?

Hasta la vista, E.R.B.?

At least two Manhattan private schools have announced they are planning to cease using the well-known screening test as a tool to evaluate applicants to their kindergarten programs, according to today’s New York Times. Others are thought to be re-evaluating the exam, amid pervasive concerns that parental use of private coaching firms to boost their children’s performance is corrupting the test results.

Please, please, let this be the start of a trend.

As has been well documented by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman in their recent book NurtureShock, academic testing of young children is predictive of  … absolutely nothing. Children’s brain development is such an unpredictable thing that testing at a young child at a particular moment in time reveals very little about them at all.  One statistic from NurtureShock tells the story: one third of the highest performing third graders were ranked below average by IQ tests when they took them before beginning kindergarten.

This, of course, goes against the current conventional wisdom accepted by many educators and parents alike. Standardized testing in both public and independent schools has increased dramatically in recent years. Some of this is as a result of No Child Left Behind, but it is also a reflection of the incredible competition to secure a seat for our little ones at many private schools or academically enriched programs in the nation’s public schools.

As a result, an entire parallel industry of pre-k test prep has sprung up in recent years, offering preschoolers coaching on the skills the E.R.B. and other such exams emphasize.  These services have had something of a circular effect. As more parents turn to them to aid their own children, even more parents are forced to also engage their not inexpensive services so their progeny can keep up.

Again, we are talking about expending all this effort and money for a test that appears to be almost useless at conveying much information at all about those taking the exam. As far as I can tell, these tests are predictive of exactly one thing: just how obedient or troublesome one’s child is. Of course, in a world where prescription of pediatric psychotropic drugs is soaring, that might be exactly what the schools using the test are really looking to evaluate. I’m certainly not the only person who has had this thought. Amanda Uhry, a New York based private school consultant, said something similar to the Daily Beast a few months ago.

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