Written by Nina Wolgelenter
      Making the grade   Here’s the lowdown on school admissions testing   By Nina Wolgelenter   School Testing: These words alone create anxiety in many parents. Now add the word “preschooler,” and the anxiety can turn to fear. While testing can be an important way for schools to assess potential students, it’s important for parents to understand that tests are “just one piece of the puzzle that the schools use,” according to Elaine Eichberger, Admissions Director at St. George’s Episcopal School.   Numerous private schools and some public schools in the New Orleans area require school admissions testing as part of the application process. The school testing process, performed by licensed psychologists, informs schools on a variety of aspects regarding your child’s intellectual ability, comparing their developmental age to their chronological age, whether or not they are developmentally ready to go to school, and how well they will adapt to a particular school’s education program.   “Intellectual ‘tests’ tap into only a portion of what are typically considered intellectual abilities, such as ability to use and understand verbal communication, verbal and nonverbal reasoning and problem solving,” explains Paula Zeanah, Associate Professor and Chief of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University. Dr. Zeanah is one of several local psychologists who administer the standardized intelligence tests. “It’s important that we get a kid’s performance compared to other kids of the same age. A three-year-old is not compared to a seven year old,” she says.   Many parents’ main concern is whether or not the test is an accurate portrayal of their child, particularly because kids have a knack for responding differently in a variety of situations.   “I wasn’t sure if the tests would accurately reflect their strengths,” said Heather Farnsworth of Lakeview, whose seven-year-old twins, Colin and Andrew, currently attend St George’s Episcopal and St. Andrews, respectively. Not only did she worry about whether or not the scores would follow her sons through their academic life, but she worried also about whether they were prepared.   “Young children do not know the meaning of ‘test’—but they will cue off of your reactions to the procedures. If you are anxious and worried, they likely will perceive the assessment is something to be wary of. If you are confident and positive, your child is likely to be more relaxed as well,” says Dr. Zeanah. It’s not a test you have to prepare your child for, at least in terms of academics.   When you begin the application process for school, you will be informed of the testing required. According to Dr. Zeanah, the most common test used is referred to as the “WPPSI” which stands for the “Weschler Preschool and Primary Scales of Intelligence.” Other tests may be used, depending on the child’s age, previous testing, or special circumstances. If the school of interest does not supply its own tester, it will provide a list of licensed professionals who administer the tests for you.   Several local private schools are members of ISAS (Independent Schools Association of the Southwest), which has helped streamline the testing procedure for their member schools. It’s important to keep in mind that this is an out-of-pocket expense generally not covered by insurance. Prices range from $250 - $350 per child.   Parents should talk with the psychologist administering the test ahead of time, suggests Dr. Zeanah. Naturally, all testers will poses different personalities and have different interactions with children, but the testing should be administered in a “standardized” manner.   You want your child to be well rested and well nourished, and you need to let the psychologist know of any specific concerns, strengths, weaknesses or behavioral issues. In addition, Dr. Zeanah suggests you ask questions about general procedures: If you have a shy child who doesn’t separate easily, is it OK to go in the testing room with her? Should parents stay in the testing room or a waiting area? Should you bring a snack for your child? How long does it generally take? What else should you expect?   Also, be sure to ask how you can talk with your child regarding the testing. “When the child is relaxed and confident, that’s when you get the best results,” Dr. Zeanah says. In other words, don’t be afraid to ask questions.   “We know these tests represent a snapshot of your child at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning. At 10:30 on Wednesday morning he could be totally different,” says Elaine Eichberger. Any number of factors can affect your child’s attitude while taking the test and in turn skew results, and this is something the school is well versed in. “Your child might decide he doesn’t like the person on the other side of the table,” she says, and admissions officers know this. Elaine says there are several other components that help both school administrators and families gain knowledge and feel comfortable with the process and their choices.   Most important, she says, is that they visit the school, take a tour, and have their child participate in the classroom. This helps them see how the student adapts to the environment, and allows the school to observe their basic social skills and how they react to the people around them.   “Another huge piece of the puzzle is feedback from current nursery school teachers,” Elaine explains. “After the test, you might take [the results] back to your nursery school and the teacher says ‘that’s not the child I see everyday.’” “You want to have someone the parent feels comfortable with” to administer the test, says. Dr. Zeanah. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find the right psychologist, she says. “We all have different personalities and approaches. You want someone who is familiar with the New Orleans landscape and familiar with the school’s expectations.” The psychologist will also ask for some history about your child’s growth, development, health and family, all of which will be forwarded to the school. If there is something you don’t want sent on to the school, it’s important to inform the psychologist. As for Heather, she says she is much more at ease now that she understands the process and is well prepared for when her four-year-old son Henry goes for his testing in the near future. “If you’re not thrilled with the results, don’t sweat it,” she says. “A good administrator will understand

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