Streams

School Admissions? Even the Experts Are Overwhelmed

Thursday, February 23, 2012 - 10:33 AM

It is by now documented fact that winning admission to a New York City private school, or getting into one of the city's public gifted-and-talented programs, or even securing a spot at a popular neighborhood public school, is no fun. It takes time, epic organizational skills and a load of cash if you choose to prepare your children for whatever battery of tests they will have to face.

Even the experts get overwhelmed.

Bige Doruk, founder and chief executive officer of Bright Kids NYC, a tutoring company that prepares children for admission tests like the E.R.B. (for private school) and the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or OLSAT, (used for public gifted-and-talent placement), has to wait until April to find out if her 5-year-old son scored high enough on the OLSAT to win him a place at the district gifted-and-talented school that his older brother attends.

“It's very stressful,” she said. “It’s a lot of time and effort.”

Ms. Doruk’s son is now enrolled at a public school downtown. He is young for his grade, and Ms. Doruk wanted to make sure that he had options come September.

Those options, she explained, were threefold: keep him at his current school; apply to private schools, where he will have to repeat kindergarten because of his age; or apply to the gifted-and-talented program his brother attends.

Two of the paths required planning. On the private-school front, Ms. Doruk selected three schools -- many fewer than the 8 to 10 that most families choose. That meant three applications, three tours, three interviews, three play dates. And he had to take the E.R.B.

To gain entry to the public gifted-and-talented school, her son had to prepare for the OLSAT, where he needed a score of 90 to receive priority for admission over children with adequate scores that do not have siblings enrolled at that school (his brother had to get a 99).

Ms. Doruk is from Turkey and founded Bright City Kids three years ago, when she needed to find a school for her older son and found the kind of test prep support she wanted lacking. She has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M; and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Before founding the company, she worked as a management consultant at McKinsey. She also ran a power company that she sold.

When it came to strategizing about her son, she started by taking her own advice: prioritize. She picked the OLSAT, suspecting the gifted-and-talented school was the best option. Her son was tutored once a week for eight weeks, and then twice a week for two weeks leading up to the test.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Doruk thinks preparing children for tests that can be stressful is the right thing to do and should carry no stigma (most schools discourage prep, even though many of them have minimum scores required for entry).

“It’s about exposure,” she explained. The OLSAT has a multiple-choice format, which is unfamiliar to many 5- and 6-year-olds. The E.R.B. requires that children sit with an adult and answer questions.

(Like many others, Ms. Doruk does not believe that the E.R.B. actually tests intelligence. It is a tool, she said, that private schools use to manage admissions.)

“It tests stamina," she said. "It’s testing their ability to sit and work with an unfamiliar adult for 45 minutes.”

So far her son was rejected from two private schools and wait-listed at one. In April, she will get her son’s OLSAT scores and find out if he can join his brother -- her ideal outcome.

If he stays put, that’s also a good option. He’s grown up a lot in the six months since the process started and she wonders if having him repeat private-school kindergarten is really the best decision developmentally.

In a year’s time, it will be time to start all over again with her daughter.

“I’ve done my best, so now I have to move on,” she said.

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