Monday, January 31, 2011

A tales of two screenings: Part I

If the “T is for Touring” part of the kindergarten search process is winding down, then it must be time for “S,” as in “Screenings.” In the last couple of weeks, I went to a few, including language testing at SFUSD HQ and one of the student evaluation sessions at French American International School.

The two screenings were so different that there’s little point in comparing them. But given that there are lots of others out there in the same boat(s), I thought I’d post some notes on each and see what others are experiencing. The notes on language testing are below, and I’ve put the FAIS notes in a separate post.

Language testing was never part of our school enrollment plan. But it is for a good Spanish-speaking friend, who made a testing date for her bilingual son down at the EPC in the hopes of having a better shot at a Spanish immersion spot. When the day rolled around, she found herself having a slight attack of nerves (“What if he won’t talk at all?” “What if he won’t even go into the testing area?”), and I went along to keep her and her son company.

I hadn’t been to the EPC “mother ship” in person before. Wow. Even though the enrollment deadline was still weeks away, the line was l-o-n-g. And the language testing waiting room was packed, with parents and kids there to be tested in many languages, including English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Cantonese.

Even though the testing waiting room was packed, though, the process seemed efficient. My friend’s son was called for his test right at the appointed hour. And he was called alone. Parents can’t go into the testing room with their kids. A big heavy wooden door without windows opens up. A tester comes into the waiting area, calls the child’s name, and escorts them right through that door. Many kids went in calmly (including my friend’s son, much to her relief), but some were very upset and didn’t want to go.

My friend’s son was in there for a little more than an hour, when his mom was called to join him in the testing area. One tester evaluated his English (94 out of 100) and another assessed his Spanish (91 out of 100). Since he did well on both, the second tester told his mother that he would fall into the “bilingual” category, which is helpful in winning a spot in Spanish immersion programs.

She asked what was covered on the test, but the evaluator didn’t want to share too many details. Later, in that scatterplot four-year-old kind of way, her son recalled that he had to “say name some easy pictures,” do some coloring with crayons, and answer “lots of questions.” He remembered only one, which he said was asked in Spanish – “Who brought you here today?”


  • If you are getting language testing, prepare your child to not only be separated from you, but be separated rather quickly by someone he/she doesn’t know.
  • The testing is neither quick nor simple. While we were waiting, we did see some children come and go within 40 minutes. But for many, it seemed to be about an hour. And the testing material seems to require genuine conversational ability, not just saying or recognizing individual words.
  • You can also prepare your child to have some fun. Every child who completed the testing came out of the testing area proudly waving a picture he/she had colored.
  • Language testing or not, give yourself a decent amount of time to get your enrollment form turned in. When we left the testing area, in the late morning, the enrollment line was out the door and stretching into the hallway.

If you’ve done language testing with your child, how’d it go? And if you’ve already turned in your form, any suggestions on better times hit the enrollment line? Like Helga, I’m waiting to finalize and submit our list until after the February 1 school board meeting.


  1. We went for a Mandarin screening last month. Didn't go well. My daughter, who speaks fluently at home with her dad, was totally upset by the whole process and refused to say a single word the whole time.

    Needless to say, we didn't pass, in any language, and I'm worried that getting to a Mandarin program on the English track won't happen because of the competition to get in.

    Anyone got $250K they can spare for CAIS?

  2. Thanks for the post. Am confused about the language testing. I was under the impression that testing takes place after we indicate an alternate language on the application. Are people electing to get tested earlier for any particular reason? And as a follow up to that question, does anyone know which is the best category to fall under for applications to the SI programs? Native English or Bilingual? Or does it depend on the school? I haven't been able to get much info on this and would appreciate it if anyone has any insight!

  3. Ugh ugh ugh. Got all the way down there with documents in hand only to be told that if you present home and car insurance/registration, the two insurance policies can't be from the same agency. NOWHERE on their literature does it say this. I heard the woman behind the counter tell another man that he had to present the WHOLE insurance policy, not just the cover sheet, which also isn't indicated in the description of required documents. Then I ran into a friend who had also had his documents turned away.

    My advice: go early in the day for the shortest waits, and earlier than Feb. 18 because you may be turned away. Bring 5 or 6 kinds of documentation, the harder-core the better.

    This did not endear SFUSD to me, to say the least.