…what’s it all about?
If you’re applying to preschool in Dallas for the first time this year, you may be surprised to find that the process is quite extensive. This is especially true at private schools like Hockaday, Greenhill, and ESD that continue through high school because if you’re in at age three then you are there for the duration. There can be many changes in a child from preschool to elementary school age that are very difficult, sometimes impossible, to predict. For example, many learning disabilities like dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, and ADD/ADHD are usually not diagnosed until 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd grade. Schools want to ascertain as much information as they can from their youngest applicants to try and pick up on any issues that might later result in the school not being a good fit for that child. In essence, they want to save everyone a lot of heartache down the road.
The Collaborative Academic Testing Service was formed in response to concerns of “overtesting” by private schools in the Dallas area. Children applying to multiple schools were taking the same test at each school, which was costly and time-consuming for parents, tiring for the kids, and worrisome for admission committees as children who repeatedly take the same test get a “practice effect” (improved scores due only to repeated exposure to the test). The CATS is not the name of the test, but instead is the group that does the testing. The test given is a cognitive test, and the fee is $275. Children work one-on-one with a licensed psychologist for 30 minutes to an hour. A brief report of the scores is later sent to you and to the schools your child is applying to. There is no prepping that can (or should) be done for this test. The best strategy is to make sure your child is well-rested and has had a healthy snack or meal beforehand.
Preschools often have a group testing day where they ask applicants to come for a couple of hours and spend a morning in a classroom setting. Typically, you wait in a designated spot until a teacher comes and greets your child and escorts her down to the classroom. That can be a very stressful moment….will your child go? Refuse to go? Throw a tantrum? Believe me when I tell you, these teachers have seen it all and more. So don’t be mortified if the unexpected happens. Try to stay calm and encourage your child, but if it doesn’t work they will usually let you try again another day.
Once in the classroom, the teachers follow a typical preschool morning schedule; circle time, centers, snack time, etc. Usually, one teacher will take a child aside and do some informal testing while the other works with the class. Overall, they are looking for school readiness (i.e., can your child sit still and listen during circle time, share a toy at center time, grip a crayon, etc.).
Besides the basic application and fee, some preschools require a parent interview where they ask you about your child and your interest in their school. Given how competitive school admissions in Dallas have become, I encourage you to think about applying to at least 3 or 4 preschools. There is a spot for every child…sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find it.
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