› Kindergarten Testing – To Prepare or Not to Prepare? That Is the Question
Kindergarten Testing – To Prepare or Not to Prepare? That Is the Question
posted by Karen Quinn, The Testing Mom - March 6th, 2011
Listen to the 30 Minute Mom radio show where Karen Quinn interviews Dr. Kim Har, an expert in educational testing. Dr. Har has a PhD in education from UCLA and she’s the Director of Early Childhood Education at Aristotle Circle, one of the premiere test prep companies in New York City.
Here’s the transcribed version of the radio show if you prefer to read it instead.
30 Minute Mom – Kindergarten Testing: To Prepare or Not to Prepare?
Karen Quinn:Welcome to The 30 Minute Mom on WebTalkRadio.net. I’m Karen Quinn, mother of two and your host. Like you I am too busy with real life to read all of those advice filled parenting books. On this show we talk to experts and parents who have gone before us for insights and advice on how to make the hardest job in the world just a little bit easier.
If you want to know a little bit more about me, you can check out my website KarenQuinn.net where you can read my personal blog, or visit TestingForKindergarten.com or TestingMom.com where you can learn about the work I do with children.
Today we’re going to talk about the testing that takes place with very young children for admission to private schools and gifted programs, or even public schools. To prep or not to prep your child, that is the question of the day.
I first became involved with the issue of testing when my son was three. He wasn’t developing the way that his older sister had. I noticed he wasn’t looking me in the eye, and he wasn’t speaking that much. In fact, I thought that he might be Autistic. I was very worried.
I took him to a developmental pediatrician to be evaluated. The doctor told me that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that his delays stemmed from the fact that he couldn’t hear because of all the ear infections he’d had as a baby. They could fix that. The bad news was they had given him the intelligence test he’d need to get into school next year, and he’d scored abysmally. He was like in the 34th percentile. I was told to start looking for special ed schools for him and that he probably would not be able to catch up.
I called my mom, who happens to be a PhD in early childhood education. I asked her if this was true. Was Sam doomed at three? She told me no, that he could definitely catch up. With her guidance we mapped out a program that I could do with him every day to build the skills he would need for kindergarten and for testing.
Every night I worked with Sam. To him we were just playing. But in reality everything we did was selected to develop the abilities he would need for testing and for school. A year later Sam took the test again and I will never forget the call that I got from the director of his pre-school. She said to me, “Sam’s results are in and you’re not going to believe this, but he got the highest school in the class.” He was in the 94th percentile.
Sam was admitted to our first choice school and now he’s an honors student in high school. This was the experience that got me very interested in testing. In fact, I now have a website TestingMom.com that helps parents get kids ready for testing. I am a huge advocate of preparing children for testing, not only because it helps kids score better but it really helps them to succeed in school.
On today’s show we are so lucky to have with us Doctor Kim Har, and expert in educational testing. Dr. Har has a PhD in education from UCLA and she’s the Director of Early Childhood Education at Aristotle Circle, one of the premiere test prep companies in New York City.
Kim, thank you so much for being here today. I want to welcome you to the show.
Kim Har:Thank you Karen for having me. I’m very excited to share all of our information with all of the parents out there.
Karen Quinn:Me too, me too. Here’s what I’m hoping that our audience comes away with today. I want them to understand why kids are being tested at such young ages these days, and what our kids are expected to know. Then, how we as parents can help children do their best on these tests without really stressing them out.
We might want to start with the first question. Kids are being tested younger and younger these days. Why do you think the schools feel it’s necessary to give kids a test before they admit them, whether it’s to a private school or gifted program?
Kim Har:Yes. That’s such a good question. It’s such a loaded topic, as you know. We see this not just with kids in early childhood and at the youngest grades, but we see it even in pre-school here in New York City and kindergarten, all the way up to college.
In general everything’s getting so much more competitive. More children are applying to more schools. With the proliferation of test preparation and the resources that are out there, I think that parents are becoming more and more aware that this is something for which they can prepare their kids and help build their confidence in that way.
It’s just sort of spreading. Whether it’s locally, let’s say for instance in New York City whether it’s happenstance of how the city’s school system works or whether it’s outside. In other areas where maybe it’s word of mouth, it’s definitely spreading. I think parents are becoming a little more anxious. Schools are administering these tests to try and whittle down that there are so many more students applying and how can they possibly pick the ones that might be the best fit for that school.
Karen Quinn:It’s happening not just in New York City, although New York seems to get a lot of press about it. I know that it’s happening all over the country, in Chicago, Houston, and Miami. We get calls from parents all the time who are asking about this.
Kim Har:Absolutely. I think one thing that’s important for parents always to remember, just like anything else it’s only one piece of the puzzle. It’s not putting all your eggs in one basket. A child’s test scores are just one part of their admissions application. It’s not a life or death situation. I think it shouldn’t be causing all this anxiety. It’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Karen Quinn:What kinds of things do they expect? We’ll talk a little bit about the younger kids, because I think a lot of parents think, “What could you possibly ask my four year old? What could my four year old need to know?” What kinds of things do they expect younger children to know for these tests?
Kim Har:That question is really interesting because you’re exactly right, there’s only so much that a three, four or five year old knows, right? If you look at all these different exams, whether it’s one of the younger Wechsler exams such as the WPPSI or if it’s the Stanford-Binet, or if it’s an achievement or aptitude or ability test, like the Olfat which is commonly administered around the country, you will find a lot of overlap and a lot of similarity because there are only so many things you can do with a four year old, right?
Kim Har:For instance, something that’s fairly common that you’ll see across all of them are what you can call visual analogies where you’ll have a box of four objects. The point is you look at the objects in two of the boxes and you’re supposed to infer what the relationship is between those two items. In the other little boxes typically one of them will be filled and one of them will be empty. Then there will be four or five separate choices. Children will have to pick one of those choices that best fulfills that relationship, that analogous relationship.
It’s developmentally appropriate in that it’s using images particularly for fairly young children. Again, you’re seeing that a lot of these different tests do rely on a lot of common testing formats and question formats because there are not a whole lot that a four year old can be expected to do.
Karen Quinn:Right. That might be a test, like you were just saying. With what you were just describing, it might be like a hat is to a head the way a glove is to a hand.
Kim Har:Exactly. They would have to point to the picture of the hand, fulfilling that same relationship.
Karen Quinn:That’s actually expecting a child to really think about something versus a lot of the tests will ask, “Do you know the colors?” or, “Do you know numbers?” and that kind of thing, right?
Kim Har:Yes. Sure. Some of the tests will have constants like that. For instance, there’s the Bracken School Readiness Assessment which is just that. It’s a school readiness assessment. It doesn’t really test reasoning as much as it will test a child’s learned knowledge – their basic numbers, their colors, their shapes.
Then yes, what we were describing with the hat to the head and the mitten to the hand. This is definitely more of a reasoning skill where kids have to detect a relationship and then apply that same relationship to a different object and really problem solve.
Karen Quinn:Right, and then there’s pattern types of questions that they get asked.
Kim Har:Yes. There is a lot of patterning that is also very common across all the tests. Let’s say you have a series of four or five different boxes. The four or five boxes together might look like a shape of a jigsaw puzzle and one of them will be empty. You have to find the right piece to fit that empty box.
Or, it could be a pattern where something increases by number. Something changes by a rotation. Something changes position or an image or geometric figure is manipulated in some way. Children have to detect what the pattern is from box to box to box, what is happening, and then pick the correct option choice for that one box. There is a lot going on, a lot.
Karen Quinn:Wow, I think – but I guess I should ask you this question – to me if a child has at least practiced some of these types of questions before, are they likely to do better when they’re tested versus if they do go in and see those questions for the first time on a test? I know when I sent my daughter in for testing we did nothing. Of course, my son, I worked with him and you heard about that. How much does it help to do a little practice?
Kim Har:Absolutely. Of course, every child is different and that’s going to change whatever outcome any child may have. At the very minimum, what I firmly believe is let’s say you have a child that’s naturally brilliant and they would be scoring wonderful scores on these tests anyway, at the very minimum what it’s going to help a child do is just be comfortable with the types of questions, and visually with what the format of the questions look like.
When they get into that testing room and they see that piece of paper and they see the boxes and get oriented in some familiar way, at the very least they are going to say, “I know this, I can do this.” They have that internal confidence, as opposed to going in and perhaps being a little anxious, not knowing what to expect. That could possibly affect their confidence and how well they do.
Karen Quinn:Right. Are there things besides we’ll talk a little bit about the commercially available stuff that parents can work with, but what about just in the course of everyday life. What kinds of things should parents do that would prepare them to do well on tests and also obviously that will help them be ready when school starts?
Kim Har:Yes. Absolutely. The nice thing is, as we were just mentioning, so many of these tests have a lot of overlap, particularly for the younger kids in terms of the types of reasoning skills that the kids will have to do such as classification, identifying similarities, analogies, patterning and things like that. The thing is, as you just mentioned, these are all things that are not just important to do well on a test.
These are skills that any kindergartener or pre-schooler is going to be working on in their classroom. These are very basic reasoning skills in your early childhood developmental trajectory.
I would encourage parents to think of it not just as preparing a child for a test, but really just supplementing their development and their learning overall. There are so many different things that parents could be doing around the house. I’m sure a lot of them are doing it anyway.
The main thing that I always tell my families with what they can do around the house, really the language is so key. It is a completely integral part of children and developing their cognition and language and verbal reasoning skills. Parents should be talking, talking, talking, using very detailed language, using very mature language, asking lots of questions to their kids, and encouraging them to really engage in very detailed problem solving throughout the day. Just asking questions wherever you see fit.
If you’re walking down the street and you’re at a crosswalk, ask why we have crosswalks. What would happen if we did not have crosswalks? What kind of situation would that be? What do the crosswalks actually do for us? What do stoplights do? Questions like this where kids have to think and problem solve. Using really rich language like that, these are things that are going to help them build those reasoning skills and those logic skills that they are going to use, for sure, on these tests.
Karen Quinn:I’m always talking to parents. I agree with you 100% that talking to your kids all the time is probably the most important thing that you can do in every way.
Karen Quinn:Also I think reading to your kids is very helpful as well in building language.
Kim Har:Absolutely. Language in general, I agree with you. There are more specific things that you can do that are, perhaps, more targeted. Let’s say you’re helping your four year old get dressed in the morning and it’s cold outside. Your child puts on a coat. Well, talk about what is a coat? It’s a type of clothing. Why do you wear a coat? What would be another type of clothing that you might wear to help keep you warm if it’s cold outside?
Kim Har:All of these things as well, yes it’s building the language, but it’s also infinitely building those categorization skills and those relationship skills that kids are going to need, again, not just on a test but in school and in everyday reasoning skills as well.
Karen Quinn:It helps them learn about their world and that’s really what the test is all about. It’s all about the world that a four year old or five year old or six year old is likely to know.
Karen Quinn:I want to just get to the commercially available test prep materials but first I want to remind everyone that you’re listening to The 30 Minute Mom on WebTalkRadio.net. We are talking with Doctor Kim Har, Director of Early Childhood Development at Aristotle Circle. By the way, if you like what you’re listening to, please tell your friends. To do that you can go to WebTalkRadio.net, click on “Shows” and then click on The 30 Minute Mom where you can send a link to the show via Facebook, Twitter, or you can email it to all of your friends with young children who would enjoy listening. I just want to remind you of that.
Now just let me ask you a little bit about how there is a lot of commercially available test prep materials these days. They weren’t there when my kids were little. If you have workbooks or you have practice test questions, what do you think are the best ways to use them with young kids?
Kim Har:I think this is really important to talk about. I think that the most important thing that I would perhaps want to convey here is that all of these test prep materials are fantastic in the sense that I think they help to relieve parents’ anxieties as well because they give you information about the test, they describe what the testing situation is like, and they visually show you what does this type of question look like. What does the visual analogy look like? What does this picture classification look like? Visually parents have an idea and kids become used to the typical format of these types of questions.
I think the thing to keep in mind is that there’s no test prep material out there that is exhaustive or is an exact replica of any given test. When parents purchase or use these test prep materials they really should not 100% rely on them, but perhaps just use them as springboards or sources of inspiration where they’re given examples of the types of things their kids will see on the test. They can further supplement, as we were just discussing with what are the ways that parents can work on these skills at home. They can then supplement with their own activities with their kids at home.
For instance, one of the things that I’m working on right now is one of the admissions tests, the WISC for older kids. We’ve been actually getting some phone calls from parents who are purchasing it. As an example, there’s one sub-test on the WISC that’s called Information. I find this subject very interesting because it is very, very different in that it’s really not a reasoning test. It’s not a logic based test. What it’s doing is measuring children’s learned and acquired knowledge. Literally we will see questions about geography, politics, physics, science and so on.
We just came out for a workbook about this. It includes quite a few practice questions and parents have been calling asking, “If we do this, is this enough? Will my child ace the test?” What I try to tell them is we are showing you the types of things that are on the test, but again this is not the test. This is not exhaustive. As you can see from the workbook, it’s so broad. There are so many different subject areas that kids may be asked about.
I’m hoping what they will do is once they go through the book and see the types of things that are on the test, that it will inspire them to do more on their own. It’s super easy to do this. Read a newspaper article every day or randomly stick your finger in a page in your encyclopedia every day and read about something new.
Karen Quinn:I agree. I think it’s so funny because I’ve had people call me before when a child’s had problems, say, with the math section of a different test. They’re having trouble answering the questions, and they just want more questions because their child’s having trouble with the math. I’ve had to say to parents that what they really have to do is take a step back and say, “My child’s having trouble with addition and subtraction.”
That’s something that you’ve got to do at home and you’ve got to work on at home because you can do millions of test questions but unless you’ve exposed your child to the underlying ability or skill that they need, they’re not going to do well when they’re tested.
Kim Har:Absolutely. Exactly right.
Karen Quinn:Let me ask you, when a child is tested, in general how long do these tests tend to take?
Kim Har:That actually varies. It depends from test to test. What I like to tell families is that I say that the magic number, even starting with the young kids that are three, four and five, the magic number is about one hour. Again, this varies from test to test.
For instance, if you’re looking at a formal intelligence battery or a modified IQ test, the scoring on these may vary depending on how many questions a child is getting right it keeps on going. Once the child starts getting questions wrong, then it would be ended. Then there are other tests, perhaps school yearly assessments or, for instance, the SATs, that aren’t administered individually. Whether or not the kids are getting the questions right, they’re going to take the entire test.
For some of these tests, let’s say for instance the OLSAT test and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment combination for gifted and talented here in New York City, it takes about an hour. Kids are allowed to have breaks but they have to go through the whole thing in one sitting. It’s hard for a four year old or someone that young to really keep it together for one hour. It’s tough.
Karen Quinn:That is hard. What if you have a child who has a difficult time sitting still and you’re trying to prepare them? Are there little tricks to helping a child build up their test taking stamina?
Kim Har:Sure, absolutely, especially for the little ones. I think that half the battle is to keep it fun. Kids learn through play and exploration and by doing things that are interesting and engaging. If you sort of take these different reasoning skills that you’ll find in the materials and manipulate them into fun games, let’s say with flashcards that you purchased a set of flashcards and you’re doing these classification things, if you keep it fun and engaging this will help them stay focused for longer.
What you want to do is get a baseline reading for how your child is doing. Let’s say you’re working on the flashcards and they seem to be done at five minutes, that’s your starting point. You’ll want to do one week of five minutes of flashcards every day. Then the next week you bump it up to ten. Then the next week you bump it up to twenty. And so on.
The most important thing is being consistent and doing it regularly because if it’s this inconsistent thing where let’s say you do five minutes here and then a month later you’re doing five minutes more, they’re back to square zero in terms of building up their stamina.
Karen Quinn:So it’s like working out. You have to do it a little bit at a time.
Kim Har:Yes. Also the main thing is you want to follow your child’s lead. If you’re sitting down with your four year old and doing flashcards and they’re going 30 minutes, go 30 minutes.
Karen Quinn:Go with it. I love your advice about keeping it fun. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the test prep workbooks that I know you helped develop at Aristotle Circle. You make them a lot of fun. The pictures are pretty. They’re very engaging, and you have all of these little monsters running around on the workbook page, which makes it a fun workbook. I love that about your workbooks. I think they’re great.
Kim Har:Thank you. That’s really great to hear. Anecdotally we get great feedback. If I can just mention this, this is really funny. At a recent seminar in Tribeca that we did a few months back, a parent came up to me and he said, “I have two girls at home and I purchase every single one of your workbooks that you come out with, as they come out. My younger daughter loves them so much that she’ll do them on her own without even knowing what the questions are. I have to hide them from her.”
Karen Quinn:That’s great. I think they’re very attractive. I think they’re wonderful. I do, I recommend them to people all the time because I think they’re so well done. I wanted to just ask you though, because we don’t have a lot of time left. I wanted to know what the biggest mistake is, when you see children being tested, that you see children make that parents might be able to help their kids avoid if they knew their kids were making these mistakes?
Kim Har:Sure. I would say perhaps the most important one that I think that parents are not aware of is that sometimes what happens is kids will go into the testing room with the tester and maybe they’re unsure or they’ve had very little practice. Maybe as a result they don’t have great confidence in the testing situation. They’ll be asked a question and maybe they’ll say, “I don’t know,” or they won’t even try to take a guess.
The thing is that giving no answer and giving an incorrect answer are both scored the same way. Kids might as well just take a guess, whether or not they think their answer is correct. A lot of people don’t know this. Also what I think might contribute to the kid saying, “I don’t know,” is that standardized tests tend to be similar in that testers are not allowed to give feedback as to whether a child is answering a question correctly or not.
You can imagine that for a kid who has never seen these question formats before, they’re looking at the question and they give an answer. Then they look to the tester for some sort of signal. “How am I doing? Did I get it right or not? How do I know how to answer the next one if you don’t tell me?” As that goes on you can see how kids may infer that they’re getting things wrong, perhaps, and really their confidence may go down.
What parents can do to help combat this is get them used to this type of feedback at home. Say you’re working with the practice workbooks, or say you’re doing different activities, it’s important to help them get used to not hearing that feedback of, “Oh, that was 100% correct,” or anything like that. Instead, what parents can do is really give feedback for effort and focus. This is really all they’re going to hear from the tester. It’s things like, “I love how you’re trying. Wow, you really stuck with that question for so long. That’s really great.”
Karen Quinn:Then if they don’t know the answer or say, “I don’t know,” they’re very worried about that. Again, it’s one of the things you can’t do at the last minute. You have to build up to it over a long period of time, just like the test stamina.
Kim Har:Absolutely, yes. It’s not an overnight process.
Karen Quinn:I wanted to also ask you about, and I mentioned this before that I love the test prep workbooks that you all do at Aristotle Circle, can you just tell us a little bit more about some of the different workbooks you have before we close up?
Kim Har:Sure, absolutely. I’m happy to. Right now we offer such a huge variety. It’s really exciting. We currently have test prep materials for what is called the WPPSI which is an intelligence test that’s administered here in New York City and also all over the country. We definitely get phone calls from everywhere else. This is a very common intelligence test and this particular test happens to be the admissions criteria for the Independent School Association here in New York City for kindergarten admissions. We offer a thorough selection of workbooks that cover those.
As I mentioned previously, we also are almost finished coming out with the workbooks for the older children, let’s say for admissions between first and fourth grade, which is the WISC. Those are coming out as well. We also have workbooks that are fantastically colorful for public school gifted and talented programs. Here in New York City children take the OLSAT test and the Bracken test. These two tests are national, standardized tests and they’re used very frequently. For instance, the BSRA test is one of the school assessment tools that’s used for the No Child Left Behind act. If a child is going to a school that is currently receiving funding from that act, chances are they’re going to be taking the Bracken test at some point.
We have fun activities for the Standord-Binet. Some other things that I’m working that I’m really excited about are some different kinds of games and vocabulary flashcards, and lots of different things.
Karen Quinn:I review everything on my site. I review all the test prep material that’s out there. I’m always giving Aristotle Circle the best reviews. I just love everything that you do. I just think they’re so colorful and fun, but yet they’re so good. It’s great material. If anybody wants to look into getting test prep workbooks and materials for their kids, for any test, I would always check out Aristotle Circle’s site because you’ve really developed some amazing materials. It’s really, really good stuff.
Kim Har:Thank you so much. It really means a lot. You’re such an authority on the topic. I really appreciate the feedback.
Karen Quinn:I would love to keep talking. I have so many questions I didn’t even get to. But we’re out of time. It goes so fast, doesn’t it?
Kim Har:It does.
Karen Quinn:It really does. Thank you so much for coming on today.
Kim Har:Thank you. It’s my pleasure, I really enjoyed it.
Karen Quinn:It’s our pleasure to have you. You were great and you gave us a lot of good information today. This is Karen Quinn on The 30 Minute Mom on WebTalkRadio.net and we’ve been talking today with Doctor Kim Har, the early childhood testing expert with Aristotle Circle. Again, if you want to look into the wonderful workbooks that they have at Aristotle Circle, just check out their site AristotleCircle.com and as I said, I’m always reviewing workbooks and theirs are always at the top of the list. They’re just wonderful.
I hope you’ll join us next week when we talk about something that has enormous impact on your child’s development. That is summer programs. That’s right. The experiences you give your child when they’re out of school in the summer can shape their character and even their career choices. We’re going to talk more about that next week.
Until then, I am Karen Quinn wishing you all the best for your parenting success.