Back to school just got checked off the list and now it is time for families interested in exploring private/independent school for the 2018-19 school year to start thinking ahead to next school year.
The Fall is the time of year all the Seattle area independent (private) schools host their open houses for prospective families for the 2018-19 school year.
Independent school review tends to occur for the main entry years (the year the school starts with a new class) which are: Pre-K, Kindergarten, 5th, 6th, and 9th grade. Applications are accepted for all grades, but the open house and classroom visits tend to focus on the entry years.
Independent school application deadlines vary by school, but most preliminary applications are due by late fall with completed applications including essays and testing submitted by early January. Decisions are made in late February to early March and waitlists are kept until the new school year.
Exceptions may be made for families just moving to area and I remain in contact with admission directors all year. Some schools “save” a spot for a qualified new to the Seattle area family vs going to their waitlist over the summer months.
One part of the application process is admission testing and the Seattle area schools require students to sit for one of the two nationally recognized tests for students in grade 2 and higher: Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT). Seattle area independent schools seem to be split 50/50 with schools preferring the SSAT and others affiliated with the ISEE. Some of the schools are flexible and will accept either test, but you must get approval from the admissions director to submit the non-preferred test. Both tests have testing dates across almost all 50 states and you do not have to sit for the test in the same state as your application school (s).
The ISEE and SSAT share several similarities, but they are different tests and have different grading systems. Both tests are roughly the same length and feature five comparable sections in verbal skills, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, math achievement and writing. Each verbal section contains out-of-context vocabulary questions; the other half of the ISEE is in-context vocabulary, while the SSAT instead tests analogies.
The SSAT is known for utilizing unconventional word problems, analogies, and various types of passages from nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. The ISEE is viewed as the straighter forward test, focusing more on the depth of its content (especially in mathematics) than on the creative presentation of its questions and tends to stick to more contemporary language.
Another big difference, and one that is very important for your child to understand, is the ISEE has no penalty for an incorrect answer. The SSAT assesses a ¼ point penalty for an incorrect answer verses receiving no penalty for a skipped question.
The SSAT and the ISEE also include a non-graded essay section. The completed essay is provided to the school for evaluation and, at times, comparison to the student’s application essays. The purpose of the essay allows schools to see the quality of writing in a timed format and without parent/tutor editing that may occur in the student’s application essays.
Both tests have three levels depending on the age of the student with an elementary, middle and upper division test. SSAT scores range from 470-770 for middle school and 500-800 for the high school level exam. It is my understanding the SSAT Board provides subscribing schools with an applicant student’s rank vs the past 3 years of applicants’ scores. The ISEE scores use a percentage and a stanine score of 1-9. For both tests, you will also be provided a percentile based on your child’s score and it is important to keep in mind, this percentage only represents students who take the test – not the entire student population.
The score is one metric to measure a student, but it is also a metric that can improve with additional study and practice. Online practice tests are available for both the ISEE and the SSAT and there are many private tutors and tutoring centers to assist with test preparation.
My client families have found that some tutoring paid off when tackling new subjects in math by providing familiarity with the concepts and easing the anxiety of sitting for a standardized test.
Both tests may be taken numerous times and you do not have to submit the score for each sitting. SSAT testing is available monthly during admission season and the ISEE may only be taken 1 x during each test period – one time in Fall (Aug-Nov), Winter (Dec-March) and Spring/Summer (April-July) with the parent deciding which score to submit with the application.
Accommodations are offered for learning differences and must be requested in advance. Accommodations include additional time, use of a keyboard vs hand writing for the essay piece and use of a calculator for the math portions of the exam.
Schools are looking to build a community and a cohesive class. The application will include student essays, interest surveys, current and former teacher recommendations and several values based questions to be answered by the parents. It is important to remember; this test is only a part of the admissions process.
If you have questions about Seattle area independent schools, please reach out and I would be happy to speak with you about the broad range of independent schools available in our area and review the application process in more detail.