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New York Is Running Out of Ways to Separate Gifted Pre-Schoolers From Well-Prepared Ones

Actually figuring out which four-years-old are naturally smart and which have simply prepared, is harder than you might think

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Everyone thinks their kid is the most gifted kid on the planet. But actually figuring out which kids are naturally smart, and which kids have simply prepared, is harder than you might think. Especially when those kids are four years old.

The New York Times reports today that in the cutthroat world of private kindergartens, separating the truly bright kids from the kids whose parents will pay test preparation companies to train their kids for the test, is becoming increasingly challenging. The Times write:

In New York, it has now become an endless contest in which administrators seeking authentic measures of intelligence are barely able to keep ahead of companies whose aim is to bring out the genius in every young child.

The city’s leading private schools are even considering doing away with the test they have used for decades, popularly known as the E.R.B., after the Educational Records Bureau, the organization that administers the exam, which is written by Pearson.

Preparing for the Pearson test is serious business. Kids spend over an hour a week at tutoring sessions aimed to train them to do well on the test. They do exercises from workbooks at nights. And that training works. Last year almost 5,000 kids qualified as gifted and talented. That’s nearly double the number of kids who qualified five years ago.

In fact, some kids show up to the test obviously having memorized the answers. Which, when you’re a New York City academic officer, signifies a problem. Adina Lopatin, the deputy chief academic officer in the Education Department, told the New York Times, “We were concerned enough about our definition of giftedness being affected by test prep — as we were prior school experience, primary spoken language, socioeconomic background and culture — that we changed the assessment.”

Of course, it’s hard for many imagine an alternative to testing, especially when you’re dealing with a group of volatile four year olds and their even more volatile parents. The New York Times writes:

For all of its faults and susceptibility to manipulation, it also gives schools in high demand a way to say no other than “we didn’t like you, or your child,” several admissions directors said privately. A new version of the test will be used starting April 1. Records Bureau officials said they revised the test based on “best practices”; some school officials, who were granted anonymity because schools officials are discouraged from talking publicly about their admissions process, said it was in response to excessive test prep.

The good news here is that it’s hard for parents to start training their kids any earlier than they already are. Testing for intelligence might start in the womb one day, but it’s hard to force a fetus to practice test questions.

More from Smithsonian.com:

How to Tell If Your Kid Will Become a Great Artist
Have Kids, Will Travel

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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