By Sandy Eiges
For some, the very word “testing” can strike terror. I know it did for me. Nevertheless, testing is often a fact of school life. When it comes to applying to private schools in the L.A. area, it is very likely that the schools you’re applying to will require ISEE testing for grades 5-12. For middle and high school, even progressive schools will require the ISEE as part of the application process.
The ISEE is the Independent School Entrance Exam. This exam is one of the exams administered by the Educational Records Bureau – the ERB. Students in most private schools take ERBs every year. These students will be more familiar and comfortable with the format of the test than public school students. While they are the annual test given to private school students, ERBs are not the same as CST or STAR testing done in public school.
Nor is the ISEE the same as the ERBs. The ISEE is a much more difficult exam, with four scored components and one unscored section. The scored sections are: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension and mathematics achievement. The unscored section is a personal essay of 4-5 paragraphs. Unscored, yes, but the schools you’re applying to will see it.
Now I am not an expert on testing, and certainly not on the ISEE, but when I see the words “The ISEE is a much more difficult exam…” I start to think – test prep. The schools will tell you that tutoring is not necessary, or that they would prefer it if your child didn’t get tutoring. But for students for whom this type of test is totally unfamiliar, not even giving them a glimpse of what they’re in for seems cruel and unusual.
Preparation offers the possibility of success, and certainly of self-esteem – even if you’re at the top of your class, walking out of a test where you were bewildered by a rapid-fire battery of challenging questions in a format you don’t know, well, that’s not a recipe for a child who is going to feel good about him or herself.
Even A students with experience of the ERBs will find the ISEE challenging. The ISEE takes 2 ½ hours, with (2) five-minute breaks. Not every 5th or 6th grader – or 8th grader – has the stamina for this, and certainly not without a trial run or two. I would argue for ISEE test prep even for A students – just to figure out the pacing and a strategy for the personal essay, if for no other reason.
Sandy Eiges is L.A. School Scout and can be reached at 310.926.0050 sandy@LAschoolscout.com