Claudia Singleton, center, the mother of a 4-year-old, at a workshop on how New York City’s top private
schools decide which students to admit into their programs.
Parents of preschoolers who are applying to New York’s top private schools are now coming face to face
with the test universally known as the E.R.B., a nerve-racking intelligence exam made more so because there
is no do-over if the child has a bad day.
Admissions consultants, preschool and some private schools acknowledge that a small number of
children every year are permitted to undergo another round of intelligence testing to supplement
their results on the E.R.B., which stands for the Educational Records Bureau, the organization that
administers the test. But for a select few students who do not score well, there is something of a
The practice is not publicized on schools’ Web sites, and the psychologists who offer the service
do not openly advertise it. Nor is it entirely clear what qualifies a child for another test,
although those who are children of alumni or have a sibling already at a school are most frequently
granted the option, according to consultants and schools.
“It is a suggestion that we sometimes make to those whom are part of our community and are looking
for advice,” said Margaret Metz, the director of admissions at the Nightingale-Bamford School on the
Upper East Side. Those families are not getting preferential treatment, she said, but simply have
access to the school staff that other families do not.
“We would be out of line to extend that kind of advice to a family we don’t know,” she said.
Private schools have always been able to admit anyone they want. But the practice of allowing a
second test has nonetheless raised concerns about fairness in an admissions process that remains as
competitive as ever, with three- and even four-child families showing up regularly at some schools’
It is also provoking more questions about the relevance of the E.R.B., a mandatory $510 examination
that is among the most nail-biting experiences in a parent’s life, and whose reliability is being
attacked because of widely available preparation materials.
“It’s unfair for one child to have more pieces in the puzzle than others,” said Martha Hirschman, an
assistant head at the Hewitt School. She said the school does not ask for additional scores. “It’s
creating an uneven playing field if you’re allowing students to have other pieces that other students
do not have the advantage of having.”
But Amanda Uhry, a private school admissions adviser, said it was just part of the game.
“These are private schools; it’s their rules,” Ms. Uhry said.
She said 2 percent to 5 percent of her clients each year were offered the option.
“Usually the people who get a retest are in some way connected to the school, or seriously a very,
very excellent candidate,” she said, like a celebrity’s child or one with very wealthy parents willing
to contribute to the school’s endowment.
It is an observation made by other consultants, too.
“This is how schools take care of their own,” Ms. Uhry said.
(Nightingale, for one, said parents who were boldface names or wealthy and who were not already tied
to the school would not be granted the option. “We wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, because you’re a big donor that
we would recommend X, Y or Z,’ ” Ms. Metz said.)
Although the E.R.B. carries great weight in admissions decisions, schools also rely on interviews,
preschool reports and, in some cases, recommendation letters, all considered important criteria at top
schools that are overrun with high E.R.B. scorers.
The Educational Records Bureau’s rules permit students to take the test only once each admissions
season, which runs from April to January. The hour long test is administered one on one by a
psychological professional and includes exercises to judge the development of a child’s verbal skills,
reasoning and other abilities. Preschool directors say that in rare cases, the bureau will grant
permission for a second test if the child is demonstrably ill.
However, the schools we serve acknowledge the E.R.B. report as their official admission assessment.”
Asked about the practice of supplementing the E.R.B. results with a second intelligence test,
Antoinette DeLuca, the executive director of the early childhood admissions assessment program at the
Educational Records Bureau, said in an e-mail: “It is subject to each school or consortium of schools’
policy as to what information is required to make an application complete.