Test-taking tips – to get into 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…

“It’s unethical,” said Dr. Elisabeth Krents, director of admissions at the Dalton School [private] 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.

As for parents doing more — like hiring a tutor — Ms. Commitante said she finds “anything else a little too stressful for young kids” but that “we can’t dictate what parents choose to do…”

While disgusted by that portion of a society that doles out disposable income to acquire an advantage for their kids – when they really are thinking of it that way – I can’t condemn parents who feel they’re unable to help their kids on their own. Maybe they feel they lack sufficient education to help. Maybe parents – when they’re both available – are working too many hours to have the time.

My own family taught us to read before kindergarten came along. Library time – which was a dedicated portion of Saturday – included getting advice from librarians on self-education, books to take home to guide us in learning well at the sole elementary school we had access to.

I wouldn’t call that unfair.

3 thoughts on “Test-taking tips – to get into kindergarten

  1. Passerby says:

    Well sir, the problem is clear: when you have parents that are unable to provide their children with simple lessons to encourage pre-school learning, when the aim is to get them into superior learning centers, then we have a problem, a big one.

    Parent who can’t teach simple logic, number, letters, pattern recognition? Maybe. More likely, it’s parents who would rather let high-paid tutors do the work because the cards are stacked – the professional tutors have access to the testing materials, test format, and they know what will be asked.

    Paid to cheat.

    We never had special schools when I was growing up, during the end of the Baby Boom era. Classrooms were crowded, teachers not so well paid, school supplies were bought by parents and the school texts were outdated, and often tired-looking and worn. Every year, we hauled the books home, and sent a busy Saturday afternoon, cutting and taping together new covers from our brown paper shopping bags.

    My parents valued education; we were expected to learn and do well, because that’s how you opened to Door to Opportunity. You had chores, but you also had mandatory homework time, every night.

    My mother, pulled from school at 14 to work for income in post-War Britain, knew more than enough to teach us the basics of reading, simple writing, and maths before we entered kindergarten. She was and is a lifelong lover of books, and she passed that on to her daughters as a role model. My sister and I went on to surpass our parents expectations of attending college, earning PhDs and become educators and researchers, because of this carefully instilled and nurtured Love of Learning.

    My authoritarian father, while having a college education, was a not a reader. He did not inculcate a love of books and learning in his sons, and they are not readers either. Both went to college, but one has never used his degree for gainful employment, and the other got his degree purely to get into his profession of law enforcement.

    I believe my sister and I, with our voracious reading habits during youth, had an edge that still serves today. We had a love of learning of many things.

    The more you learn, and can cross links ideas and facts like nodes in a large and varied network, the more tightly it will become integrated into memory and preserved, as the brain shuffles stored long term memory to conserve space and facilitate retrieval over time. The more nodes, the easier it is to become facile at pattern recognition, at creative problem solving, and churning out innovative ideas. The brain keeps growing and evolving when you exercise it heavily each day.

    Tutors can’t teach a love of learning. That has to come from the parents themselves. They are the role models that influence their offspring’s attitude towards learning. If parents hang up their mental hats and refuse to crack a book after finishing high school or college, it’s not surprise that they are unwilling to prepare their children, as my mother did, at the table, nightly, after dinner – a labor of love.

    Shortcuts don’t you get you ahead as much as think they will.

    • Mr. Fusion says:

      With all due respect, with all that education you haven’t learned to stay on topic. Of all you wrote, there is maybe two paragraphs relevant to the topic.

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