By Sarah Vander Schaaff

What does it take to get into college? For that matter, preschool?

Two recent stories in The New York Times address changes in the admissions process for some schools and both look at efforts to take the focus off standardized tests.

First, there was the attention-grabbing headline: “Private Schools are Expected to Drop a Dreaded Entrance Test.”

The test, as the story states, is “commonly known as the E.R.B.” and the organization that is dropping it when a contract expires next spring is the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York, which represents 130 schools.

E.R.B. is shorthand for many things. Officially, it stands for Educational Records Bureau, a company founded in 1927.

Today the E.R.B. provides an achievement test taken by students in independent schools and a tool used by some schools in the admissions process, known as the ECAA (Early Childhood Admissions Assessment.)

This admissions assessment has produced an industry of test-prep, tutoring, and, as described by the NYT story headline, parental dread.

I asked an admissions director to explain the connection between E.R.B.’s tests.

“ECAA is touted as an admission test – however the problem arises in that form of the test being compared to the E.R.B. often used internally by schools for their current kids. I know that some schools will use the same version in order to make the comparisons more appropriate – but then you are into a non-admission test being used for admission.

Clinical child psychologist Wendy Matthews, on the team here at Mindprint, said the E.R.B. is standardized on a much wider sample of the population than the one applying to independent schools.

“With training, it is possible for the applicants to hit the test’s ceiling, or nearly do so. With so many applicants submitting scores at the top, it is virtually impossible to distinguish one from the other.”

If it’s college and not preschool that occupies your thoughts, then yesterday’s story, “Didn’t Ace SAT? Just Design Microbe Transplant Research” in The New York Times might have caught your eye. The article features the announcement by Bard College that it is adding a new option for the application process, one that can replace the standard submission of SAT and ACT scores.

New this fall, Bard describes its Entrance Examination as allowing, “…motivated students to gain admission through an essay test, engaging applicants in a process that more closely mirrors actual college coursework. The examination is composed of essay questions in three categories: Social Science, History, and Philosophy; Arts and Literature; and Science and Mathematics. Applicants are required to complete four of 21 questions with 2,500-word essays.”

According to the college’s site, applicants who earn a B+ or higher on their essays will be offered admission to the college.

The Times story suggests that Bard’s additional entrance exam may keep the already competitive college appealing, while other institutions spend money on marketing or campus “amenities.”

Still, they say, Bard may be anticipating a possible trend.

Citing the advantages of coaching and other inequities, the National Association for College Admission Counseling has, the story states, “called on colleges to consider eliminating the SAT and the ACT from their admissions requirement.”

I know.

I’m not sure what to do with my number two pencils, either.

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