Parents Spend Thousands on Test-Prep to Get Kids into 'Gifted' Kindergartens


Bright Kids NYC One of Many OLSAT Prep Firms

A whole industry of test-prep companies has cropped up around the kindergarten entrance process. Bige Doruk is the founder of Bright Kids NYC, which tutors kids and publishes textbooks of sample tests. She noted the long-term benefits of her service: "[We teach them] how to take any test, because multiple-choice tests go on and on and on in our lives."

Her company tailors a learning program to each student, working on recognizing colors, numbers, letters and patterns. Their goal is to turn 4-year-old tykes into avid test takers.

"We're in a system of tests," she said. "They younger they learn, actually, they do get better at testing."

Her own young son Finn Olsen is even preparing to take the test.

"Child number two," Doruk said, "who has ants in his pants all the time."

For private tutoring, she charges parents $165 per hour and up. Most parents who decide to go the tutoring route end up spending thousands of dollars to prep their four-year-olds.

Walcott conceded that while he believes the tests are fair, he does worry that plenty of families won't be able to afford the prep courses.

"It bothers me," he said, "But the reality is we all prepare in different ways for what those experiences will be, whether it's in a job or whether it's in school ... even at four. We are a competitive society."

Nova Hall decided to enroll her daughter in Bright Kids NYC. She was trying to get her 7-year-old son, Hayden, and 4-year-old daughter, Savannah, into the G&T program. If Savannah tested in, her brother would have a greater chance of getting in, because there are fewer available slots in higher grades.

"I think it's good that we're going to do this prep course," Hall said, "because it'll help us clarify and feel more confident."

Her husband, Jonathan, agreed.

"I just thought it would be as simple as: they take a test to see if they can handle the curriculum," he said, "and if they do well, they get offered a place. But apparently, it's not quite that simple."

Another client was Lee Berman. In his mind, aiming his daughter, Elaina, at G&T -- and giving her an advantage in getting there -- is simply good parenting.

"We wanted to be able to give her every opportunity to excel," he said. "She's a brilliant child. The school system here in New York City has a program for children who learn differently, who are able to excel above the regular standard. What parent wouldn't want to give their child the opportunity to participate in that?"

The tutoring begins with an assessment conducted in mock test conditions. Sitting still is an issue for lots of the kids.

"The biggest battle is getting them to sit and get comfortable," said Doruk. "As children like routine, every week at the same time the teacher comes. It's no different than every week there is a piano lesson."

"One of the things that we believe in is creating as many options for parents to choose from [as possible]," said Chancellor Walcott. "As part of those options, we want gifted and talented programs ... where students have to test at a certain percentile level to qualify. ... So for those students who are at the 90th percentile, they're able to qualify for a Gifted & Talented program in their particular district. Those who qualify at the 97th percentile and above, they would qualify for those few city-wide programs."

Which doesn't mean you actually get in.

Even scoring 99 percent, Walcott said, "it's still not a guarantee. There isn't a guarantee."

To see how Savannah, Elaina and Finn did, watch "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET.

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