Test prep for pre-schoolers in New York City costs $145 an hour! Four year olds whose parents want to enroll them in the city’s public gifted pre-K program must score above the 90 percentile cut-off, and well-to-do parents are sparing no expense to prep their children to focus on a stranger’s questions for an hour. Copies of the test’s questions are on sale online, and several prep groups have developed materials that mimic the questions. In the mean time, rates of enrollment for minority students are dropping.
There are several things wrong with this picture. First, the test rations a false scarity. At this age, every public pre-school program in the city should be offering “gifted” curricula and experiences to all four year olds. Why does one have to be “gifted” to experience the wonders of Monet? Children thrive when learning challenges. These challenges should not be withheld from the education a large segment of children based on Klein’s mandate of a cut off score on a single test! Or is it teachers are not up to the task?
The remarkable experience of the Perry School, a public inner city preschool established in the 1960s to raise the IQ scores of poverty based, inner city youth in a Michigan city, might prove instructive to parents feeling desperate about their preschoolers future. This famous study followed successive classes of Perry students for three decades, tracking them against a similar cohort of students from the same city with out preschool experience. At every point, by every measure, during elementary school, high school, adult life, and career matrices, the Perry students consistently and widely out performed their peers, from homework to home ownership.
Yet their preschool experiences never raised their IQ scores. Their gains showed up in their achievements–not in their test scores. It seems the experience of exposing young children to structure and learning in a peer community with good teachers and strong parent involvement and effective school leaders has as a greater effect on life achievement than testing and selecting for “innate” or developmental skills or school pedigree.
Another famous assessment study involved marshmallows. Young students were given the choice of having a single marshmallow right away or waiting for an unspecified period and having two. The children who were able to wait 15 minutes years later scored an average 210 points higher on the old SAT. (See Southern Perlo blog, “Test Prep for Preschool,” http://bit.ly/9BXGSJ.)
A NYT article earlier this year contained a quote that goes to the heart of adult hand wringing over pre school testing: “Modern parents are destroying their children.” Outdoor exercise, walks in the park, visits to the library, trips to the museum, even a virtual tour of the Times lens blog can instill the inner drive that sustains lifelong learning and the joys of high achievement; it’s not something open only to a few, pre-ordained by a test score and poured in by the right school.
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