Editorial: Good Riddance, E.R.B.

Subjecting 4-year-olds to a serious academic examination, the results of which could well determine their entire life’s narrative (well, at least some parents think so), may not meet the accepted definition of insanity. But it’s pretty darn close.

Luckily, common sense is about to prevail in several elite private schools. They are expected to announce that they will drop the preschool exam, which is administered by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). A group that represents many of the private schools, the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York, has decided that test-prep classes and coaching have distorted the original purpose of the exam.

The Association is working on an alternative means to select youngsters for admission to elite, private preschool programs. Hopefully, the new method will include that vastly underrated quality known as simple human judgment.

The city’s private schools have every right to construct an admissions process that includes some evaluation of a potential student’s abilities. Testing and assessment are a critical part of today’s educational landscape. It won’t be the last admissions test that would-be Dalton students will face.

And let’s remember, too, that exams are not limited to the academic world. Any current or would-be police officer, firefighter, sanitation worker and other civil service employees have to pass a qualifying test before they’re cleared for employment.

But there is something just a little creepy about subjecting 4-year-olds to rigorous exam preparation classes as if their entire future is dependent on getting into their parents’ preschool of choice. A new admissions process is in the works, one that will seek to assess noncognitive skills and may include written evaluations rather than rely on cold, unforgiving test scores. That’s a step in the direction of sanity.

Of course, much of the preschool anxiety won’t be eliminated even after the private schools come up with a new—and more humane—admission process. New York parents will still be New York parents, and, as long as they are obsessed with certain brand-name, private preschool programs, their children will continue to bear the burdens of high expectations.

Those burdens can be heavy, indeed. If the new admission process helps to ease the life of a few thousand toddlers who have better things to do than attend test-prep classes, well, that can’t be a bad thing.