Posted: October 09, 2014 by Sophia Hollander

How Education Officials Created a Hybrid Test for Students

There is little consensus about which exams are most effective at identifying top students, educational experts say.


That is why officials at the Educational Records Bureau say they tried to create a hybrid test, that would assess students’ reasoning skills and knowledge.


The Educational Records Bureau, commonly known as ERB, shared details about their iPad test with The Wall Street Journal, including a video showing sample questions.


They began developing the new test, known as the AABL, several years ago, after schools in New York and elsewhere began requesting a test that was quicker, less expensive and more fun than their previous test, which cost $568 for younger grades and lasted up to 75 minutes. The test was administered one-on-one by a trained examiner and individual reports for each child took up to three weeks to deliver.


“We went back to our ERB drawing board,” said Denise Mutlu, vice president of assessment development at ERB. The iPad format made the assessment feel more like a game, they decided. Electronic administration also slashed the cost to $65, the time to 50 minutes or less, and the turnaround period for reports to three to five days.


They enlisted children’s authors and illustrators to design imaginative graphics that evoke classic picture books.


In the seven-minute training video, a group of cheerful animals, including a bespectacled owl and a crocodile chef brandishing a spoon, wave hello from within an iPad screen.

Sample questions include simple associations. “Day goes with sun; what goes with night in the same way day goes with sun?” a voice asks as animated pictures appear on the screen of a bright window next to a sun, and a dark window next to a blank. Children must identify a picture of the moon and drag it into the empty box.


Some questions appeared to have slightly confusing imagery. A giraffe lounging on a beach gazes at four possible choices pasted into the sky: a banana, an apple, a plate, and a muffin. “Touch the one that is different” directs a voice. The answer is the plate.


In another question, “mama and papa owl are taking their children to the zoo” the voice announces. Children are instructed to select the most appropriate vehicle for the family trip. But a car or minivan isn’t an option; instead the correct answer is what appears to be a large private gray van or shuttle bus. The other choices are wagon, bicycle and motorcycle.


Children are asked to select rhyming words, identify specific letters and numbers onscreen, fill in number patterns, associate sounds with words and do simple arithmetic.


The math and early literacy questions are the primary difference from the previous kindergarten admissions test for the city’s private schools, the Early Childhood Admission Assessment (commonly known as the ERB).


The AABL test is unique in that it includes assessment of reasoning and what is known as achievement, or knowledge, Ms. Mutlu said.


“We’ve often seen one or the other,” she said. In addition to assessing reasoning abilities, “we want to make sure that students are prepared to do well in the curriculum,” she said.


ERB officials said they started field-testing the exam in spring of 2013 and have since tested it with nearly 14,000 students across the country, aged three to seven (they learned that children should be a minimum of age 4 four to take the test). All questions will be replaced every year to reduce its vulnerability to prepping.


No matter what tests their children take, parents shouldn’t panic, said Lillian Issa, deputy head and admission director at Marymount, which is using a different iPad test this year.

“I think all of us in admissions will have to reinforce that in our interviews¬–to just reassure parents we know what we’re doing, not to worry,” she said. In fact, the year-long exploration of early childhood education and assessment has already benefitted admission directors, she said. “People are better informed.”