by Karen Fried, co-director of The K&M Center
This is a common voice mail or email message that I receive, along with the following questions and answers:
How do I Interpret the ERB Results?
Students attending independent schools have been taking the ERBs, the standardized test administered by the Educational Record’s Bureau. This can be a dreaded time because students with learning differences often don’t test well. Having to apply unsteady skills like reading and focus to an unfamiliar format often leads to scores in line with their weaknesses rather than their strengths. Additionally, many of our students are so thrown by the test, that they don’t accurately gauge their performance. We get nervous when we hear, “That was easy, I think I did great!”
This is a topic I discuss with parents frequently. While multiple-choice tests aren’t necessarily a valid indicator of many students’ actual abilities, they are a reality when applying to independent schools and colleges.
This is so confusing! How do I interpret the scores?
There are two categories I suggest as areas of focus:
These are the norms that compare your child’s performance to other students in their same grade from public and private schools throughout the country. This a wide range to draw from, including differing urban and rural areas as well as socioeconomic status.
The scale is 1-9
These norms are typically more generous than the Independent School Norms. These are the Norms taken from students at Independent Schools that typically have enriched curriculum and you will notice your child’s scores are lower in that column.
Some schools also report School Norms – this provides you with the score your child has received relative to his/her peers in his own school.
How can my child be getting all excellent scores on their report cards and lower scores on the ERBs?
The ERBs measure how a child performs using a paper and pencil, or on the computer, under time pressure on a typically unfamiliar task. Additionally, many children are not exposed to multiple-choice tests. Grade reports are the results of the total performance of a child over the school year and a more accurate reflection of how they are performing on a subject.
What if my child did not perform well on all/some of the subjects?
Standardized test scores can be a “red flag” for underlying difficulties that a student might be masking in a classroom. Poor test performance overall, or in one area that hasn’t yet been identified is cause for discussion with your child’s school.
There was NO change from last year. Shouldn’t the scores be improving?
Not necessarily. The grade level demands also increase with your child’s age – if they are remaining consistent, this can be a good sign that their skills are remaining at grade level.
What if the scores have gone down?
A weaker score from one year to the next can be the result of anything from a bad day on the part of the student, to a sign that the course was poorly presented in school. I’ve seen this happen when there was a substitute teacher in the middle of the year and there was a disruption in the coursework for the students.
First, take note whether your child had a good night’s sleep that day, went to school having had a good breakfast, was upset about something, before investigating other options.
I had a discussion about the ERBs with a family who asked excellent questions, which I answered below:
1. My child performed poorly on both math and reading. Is there a relationship between the reading and math troubles?
There can be. Students who have trouble at the symbol level of reading, may also struggle with making meaning of numbers. Often students need a “story behind the numbers” to perform computation tasks.
Also, students who are poor readers have similar difficulty comprehending word problems.
2. How do you evaluate her poor performance given her progress in educational remediation?
Students can make great progress with educational remediation, yet still have difficulty transferring those skills to a new format like a standardized test.
3. What is the difference between how she’s taught and the format of the test?
Many independent elementary schools emphasize critical thinking and include a high level of student and teacher interaction throughout the school day. The ERBs lack that interaction, and require the students to independently interpret each test item without any feedback. Additionally, this school administered the ERBs on the computer.
4. How will you be helping her?
We use these test results as one more way to assess progress. In this case, it is helpful to see which skills she has mastered and could successfully apply to the ERB format and where she was particularly challenged. Her plan will include a review of the weaker areas demonstrated on the test, as well as strategies to approach objective tests.
5. Is there anything we can do at home?
The short answer is YES. However, we want to make sure your child is open and not resistant to working with their parent(s).
In general, we recommend building students’ strengths, as well as weaknesses. Skills such as vocabulary and basic math skills can be reinforced at home.
6. How do you explain the gap between the Auditory and Reading Comprehension tests?
For 3rd graders, the Auditory Comprehension test is presented orally, so the students who have difficulty reading will often perform better on that test than the Reading Comprehension.
7. How do schools weigh the standardized tests/ERBs results for admissions’ considerations?
Of course, this question is best answered by the admissions’ reps at the independent schools. Our experience is that some schools do review the ERB tests as well as the ISEEs (Independent School Entrance Examinations). The amount of weight placed upon the scores depends upon the type of school, as well as the other qualities the students possess.