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24th April
2003

First Published in The New York Sun, April 24, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Parents of children in New York’s best private schools are finding that they are getting less information about their children’s performance than they expected, due to a new testing policy. This has raised concerns that the private schools are falling victim to the same type of lowered expectations that afflict many public schools. The new policy comes from the Educational Records Bureau, the New York-based non-profit organization that prepares and administers tests for 1,400 private schools and suburban school districts across the country. Rather than provide percentile scores that allow parents to evaluate and compare their child’s performance in a specific way, the ERB’s CTP 4 tests for the youngest children now give results in just three categories. These are different from the tests that the ERB administers on behalf of private schools that are used for admission purposes.

The ERB describes the new policy on its Web site in the following way: “Important to note is that Levels 1 and 2 are standards-based tests that avoid undue attention to comparisons for very young children. Committees of elementary school teachers from ERBmember schools reviewed samples of papers to decide levels of student performance defined as Exceeds Expectations,Meets Expectations, and Developing. The score reports will present the percentage of local students in each of these categories, without scale scores, percentile ranks, or stanines.”
According to Thomas McGuire, the president of ERB, the change came as a result of requests from participating schools.

“We are answering their concerns that first and second grade is just too early in a child’s development to measure on that kind of scale.” Mr. McGuire noted that on all ERB tests administered after the fall of the third grade, the more specific scores are provided to parents.

Dr. McGuire also noted that more precise measures are provided to the schools and teachers, in order to use those results as a diagnostic tool to improve each child’s performance.

The ERB will not provide that information to parents. “That would require releasing specific information about the questions on the tests that could raise security concerns, Mr. McGuire said, adding that there are no plans to expand this policy to higher grades. He would not rule out future changes.

Generally speaking, progressive educators believe that providing specific percentile scores may “damage the self-esteem” of children who perform poorly. Some educators believe this type of thinking recently led to criticism of the public school superintendent of District 10 in the Bronx, who decreed that there were to be no winners or losers in the district science fair.

More traditional educators favor competition as a reflection of and better preparation for the challenges of real life.

Tests administered by the New York State Education Department and the city’s Department of Education for grades three through eight follow a pattern similar to that adopted by the ERB for the early grades.
These tests break down scores in terms of four levels. However, raw scores and ranges are also provided to parents, allowing them to deduce where their child may
rank. The city administers standardized tests before the spring of the third grade. The ERB makes tests for the lower grades available to their participating schools.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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