The ISEE Test For Private Middle & High School By Launch Education Group

All You Need to Know About the ISEE in Five Minutes By Launch Education Group


Are you and your child applying to private middle school or high school for fall 2011 admissions? Do you find yourself staring bewilderedly at the application request for your student’s recent ISEE scores?


Sure, you may have questions – but you are not alone: every year about 45,000 kids take the ISEE, which means your questions have been considered, asked, and answered before. Short on time? Look no further – in just a few minutes you will understand the basics of the ISEE.


  1. The ISEE sounds familiar. Has my child taken it before?

Unless you have applied to private school in the past, your child has not taken the ISEE. However, it is likely that you have heard of the company that makes the ISEE – the ERB. The ERB is responsible for the CTP (“ERBs”), an exam administered every year in private school to test student performance against “advanced” grade standards. The ISEE is based on similar expectations.


  1. I went to the ERB website to register my child for the ISEE, and it asked me what grade we are applying for. Why?

There are three levels of the ISEE: the Lower Level, the Middle Level, and the Upper Level. The level your student will take depends on the grade your student is in. However, the ERB has clustered certain grades: students in 4th or 5th grade take the Lower Level exam, those in 6th or 7th take the Middle Level exam, and students 8th grade or above applying for any grade in high school take the Upper Level exam.


  1. Does this mean that my 8th grader is taking the same test as a 9th grader? That’s not fair!

Correct. But your 8th grader’s performance will only be calculated and scored in comparison to that of fellow 8th graders.


  1. How are the tests scored?

There are five sections on the ISEE: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, Mathematics Achievement and an Essay. Each student’s raw score (per section) is calculated based upon the number of questions answered correctly (there is no penalty for an incorrect answer). Each raw score is then converted to a scaled score between 760 and 940 (according to the “three year rolling norm pool” for that section) and then converted in to a percentile (ranking) that appears in the form of a stanine (a number from 1- 9).


  1. I’m confused. What is considered a “good score”?

Since scores are evaluated in various terms of “comparison,” we encourage students to simply do their best to achieve their potential. Each school accepts a range of stanine scores, but most admissions counselors I’ve asked want everyone to remember that ISEE scores aren’t the only factor considered in the admission decision – schools are building classes, and they emphasize that test scores are just one of dozens of factors they look at when considering a student for their school.


  1. My child is nervous about the exam. What can I do?

As with any new experience, familiarity breeds confidence. We recommend having your child take practice tests so that he or she will know what to expect on test day – everything from how much time is allotted for each section to when they can take bathroom breaks.

Since the ISEE is standardized, with studying and review, students can become familiar with the types of topics the test will cover, improve their knowledge base, and practice efficient test-taking strategies (like ways to derive the correct answer choice without taking the time to “solve” the question). The more comfortable students feel with the task at hand, the more they will feel like they can put their best foot forward.


Unfortunately, the ERB has only published one real ISEE from each level, which makes the “test-day” experience difficult to match. That said, since rehearsing what will happen on test day is a key component to any student’s preparation, Launch Education Group has created two practice exams based on the published ISEE exams from the ERB to provide more opportunity for practice. Princeton Review and Kaplan also offer practice exams, although they have not been updated for the new ISEE format.


  1. When is the test? Can my child take it more than once?

Testing this year starts December 4th. Most schools recommend taking the ISEE as soon as possible, but there are test dates offered throughout the early spring. Check with the schools on your application list to make sure the test date you have selected is within the deadline. Students can only take the ISEE once every six months. Therefore, plan accordingly!


For more information about Launch Education Group, visit,

Good luck!

Fast Forward: Harvard-Westlake School’s Annual Report

My family received the Harvard-Westlake School’s 2009-10 Annual Report. We don’t have any connection to the school. We got it because we contributed to a memorial fund for our friends, Scott and Jody Siegler’s amazing daughter, Julia Siegler, who was tragically struck by a car and killed while trying to catch the bus this past February. The cover photo, above, shows Harvard-Westlake students joining hands in honor of Julia and another student who died.

Here are a few highlights from the Annual Report:
  • Heritage Circle- $50,000 and up. Number of donors: 49
  • Community Circle- Under $1,500. Number of donors: 596
Here are some of the college matriculations for Harvard-Westlake Class of 2010:
  • Arizona State (1)
  • Carleton College (1)
  • Chapman University (1)
  • Columbia University (11)
  • Duke University (3)
  • Earlham College (2)
  • Harvard University (7)
  • Indiana University (1)
  • Kenyon College (1)
  • NYU (12)
  • Northeastern (1)
  • Northwestern (4)
  • Pepperdine (1)
  • Princeton (5)
  • Stanford (9)
  • UC Berkeley (1)
  • UCLA (6)
  • Yale (8)
Percent of students receiving financial aid: 17%

Not mentioned in the Annual Report, but possibly of interest. Thomas Hudnut, former President of Harvard-Westlake is married to Dee Dee Hudnut, Admissions Director at the Center For Early Education. As many of you may know, The Center is known as a “feeder” school to Harvard-Westlake. 

Look On The Bright Side. Really? Yes!

As I write this, I’m fully aware that you may find the title of this piece, “Look On The Bright Side” slightly annoying. At this point in the admissions process, you’re probably thinking, “it’s easy for her to say” or “how can I look on the bright side when I’m anxious and filled with uncertainty”? If @#&$!*! is all you can say, I totally get it.


Perfectly imperfect is how I see the admissions process–no matter what the outcome, this phrase seems to apply. I’m comfortable saying “look on the bright side” because I’ve been there. I was the mom applying to private elementary schools a few years ago. I rode the daily roller coaster of emotions. I was thrilled to submit written applications. I was nervous about parent interviews. I was dreading the testing days.


Similar to white water rafting, this process can jolt even the most steel-nerved parent. Ups and downs, and a stomach-turning ride of a lifetime that you just wish would end soon. So, if you find yourself feeling like you’re upside down in the middle of the river, you’re not alone. You have to be able to turn the boat over and start back down the river.


We talk about keeping your stress under control during the admissions process in Beyond The Brochure. Its an important part of getting to the end to get that “fat envelope” or acceptance letter (s). Here are some tips for anyone driven to distraction by this unique, anxiety-producing process–that is to say, all of us:


  1. The key to making it through admissions processes is to pace yourself. You need the endurance of a professional marathoner. Staying power, as they call it.
  2. You need to be really organized. Both of these things will benefit you and help you stay calm.
  3. Be prepared for your parent interviews. Do your homework about each school.
  4. Ask for help if you need it. See our blog interviews with top educational consultants (see links below).
  5. Ignore the endless preschool rumors and gossip.
  6. Be confident about what your family has to offer each school
  7. Be willing to re-set your expectations about a particular school if necessary
  8. Try not to care what anyone else thinks about where you apply or where your child is accepted. You may never see that parent again after you leave preschool!
  9. Aim high. This is your child’s education that will last him/her a lifetime.
  10. Look on the bright side! The outcome can be well worth all your efforts for your child and your family!

Guest Blogger Jenny: Waste Not, Want Not?

So here I am again, in the plastics section of the market, selecting more small, single sized, “reusable” plastic containers. It’s my third such trip in the last month. And it’s all for the sake of the environment.


How can buying plastic be good for the environment? Great question! There were many changes that came with switching from public to private school, but one of the most unexpected changes was the school’s “Waste-Free Program.” This program demands that the campus be as “waste-free” as possible. That means nothing disposable should be brought to campus. That’s quite a change from public school, where (although I didn’t purchase them), Lunchables were popular and the school sold Sun Chips.


“Waste-Free” sounds reasonable enough, in theory. In practice, however, the logic gets way fuzzier. The idea of a “waste-free” lunch was easy enough: Anna* buys her hot lunch on campus every day, and the catering company takes care of the waste part. That’s been a welcome relief; if your kid hates sandwiches and longs for hot food, the private school’s hot lunch program is a dream come true (and, serving salads and fruit, way more nutritious than you might think).


No, it’s the snack that really screws the whole plan up. Think about it: most “snack” food is either pre-packaged or is easy to stuff into little plastic baggies (hey, I’d even opt for a paper bag). But when a school institutes a “waste-free” policy, the kids are told they can’t throw anything away (a friend’s daughter even freaked over taking a banana, because, after all, she’d have to throw the peel away). Thus, those little individually-sized reusable plastic containers come into play. And that would be fine, if kids (at least my kid) didn’t lose the little individually-sized plastic containers at a shocking rate (many parents experience the same thing regarding those $20 a pop SIGG bottles). How often are these containers “reused?” I’d say the record is about five times, before vanishing into the same parallel universe that houses single socks and lost ballpoint pens.


Far be it from me to deride the school’s excellent intentions. And they are excellent; who wouldn’t want less waste and less trash on campus? The school has done an admirable job recycling plastic bottles and sending the proceeds to a Global Buddies Program in South Africa. You can’t argue with such laudable goals.


Yet, every morning when I ponder the snack supply, and often realize once again that the container supply is back to zero, I’m fraught with the anxiety of the absurd. Send my child to school with no snack and leave her with plummeting blood sugar. Send my child to school with a snack in the verboten plastic baggie, and have her risk reprisal. And then there’s the irony when I do have the right container: that every time my kid misplaces her plastic snack container, that’s more plastic tossed into the world that won’t get reused or recycled. It’s transformed from “waste-free” to “waste-ful,” in an instant.


So be aware: private school sometimes means dealing with policies and practices that, while well intentioned, aren’t always effective. In the end, I guess it’s better if Anna ends up hyper-conscious about waste and recycling, rather than oblivious.


Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Guest Blogger Jenny’s "LA Times" Letter To The Editor

Jenny’s insightful letter to the LA Times editor was published today in response to the paper’s editorial, “Don’t Expect Miracles” from Sunday’s edition.

The trouble with charters

Re “Don’t expect miracles,” Editorial, Oct. 17

I was saddened to hear of the Inner City Education Foundation’s troubles. I don’t know if charter schools are education’s magic bullet, but I do think that our schools could vastly improve by applying some charter school teaching and operational methods to our public schools. By bypassing union and district restrictions and instituting innovative teaching methods, many charter schools really do thrive.

ICEF became too big too fast. The larger an educational system becomes, the more alienated it seems to be from its actual purpose of educating our children. Breaking up the Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller districts, renegotiating with unions for reasonable terms and creating true neighborhood school districts might deliver the results charter schools strive for.

Although I believe in the concept of excellent public education for all, I gave up on L.A. Unified recently; I switched my child to a private school.

Jenny Heitz

Los Angeles

To read the Times editorial, click on the link below:,0,2237517.story

Our Wildwood School Tour, Parent Interview and Visiting Day

Our family has always had a deep respect and fondness for Wildwood School. After all, Anne, my step-mom and co-author was the head of its elementary school for four years in the nineties. So, when it was time to apply to schools, Wildwood was at the top of our list. So you may be wondering why we didn’t send our daughter there. I’ll explain.


Our Wildwood tour was led by a parent. She was professional, friendly and understated. We toured the classrooms, the most amazing library where we heard a short talk from the impressive librarian and the science lab, which I still remember vividly because it was so fabulous. Everything about the tour was low-key. No over the top statements made by the mom leading the tour, like we found at some schools. The campus was remodeled and is sparking clean and gorgeous. The classrooms are big, bright and inspiring. We were impressed and decided to apply for our daughter.


The parent interview was interesting. We were interviewed by an administrator from the middle school, I believe, who was filling in at the last minute for somebody else. She was very nice, but mostly listened to us tell our family’s story. She took extensive notes. It was a good thing this was one of our last interviews, so we knew that when she didn’t really have questions for us, what we needed to do. The parent interview was matter-of-fact, since we were not interviewing someone from the lower school. It wasn’t stressful, but it did seem a bit perfunctory. Still, we felt confident that our family ties to this school would be helpful.


The visiting day started early…at about 9:00 a.m. My daughter was getting overly excited as we waited with a few other families. My husband took her for a walk around the campus. A little while later, the head of the lower school came over to welcome families and take the kids for their visiting day activities. The parents waited in a conference room. There was a group of moms from Venice who all seemed to know each other. I don’t know why this always causes me anxiety, but it did. We waited for an hour, possibly a bit more. I was getting a stomach ache. I really wanted to go home.


My daughter came bouncing out of the classroom where the visiting day activities took place. “I think she had a good time”, the head of the lower school said to me. With that, we said thank you and went home.


Then came the really difficult part. Our daughter was accepted to Wildwood. We felt lucky. We loved the school and its teachers, its campus and the entire program. I was overcome with anxiety, emotion and indecision. It was a choice between The Willows and Wildwood. I knew we would take the weekend and make our decision by Monday. It was an agonizing weekend. I spent hours on the phone with Anne, who would have been thrilled to have her granddaughter attend Wildwood. My husband weighed in, but really left the decision up to me. Back and forth, my thoughts racing. Willows or Wildwood? Willows or Wildwood? The schools are very much alike in a lot of ways, which just made it harder to decide. But, there was one factor that caused us to choose The Willows. In LA, you can’t ignore geography. None of the Wildwood families lived in– or even near– Hancock Park where we live. The school was very honest about this reality. I really wanted a community of parents who lived near me. Wildwood seemed to draw families from from the Westside. The Willows has families from Hancock Park, Miracle Mile and other neighborhoods near us. In the end, this was thedeciding factor.


So, who were my daughter’s best friends at The Willows for the first few years at the school? A classmate who lives in Bel-Air and another who lives in Brentwood. Not exactly close to Hancock Park! The classmate who lives on our street, one block away? She and my daughter aren’t even friends. Go figure.



P.S. A few months ago, I went to a parent education evening at the Center For Early Education. Landis Green, Wildwood Head Of School, was a panelist. He created quite a buzz! He’s super-smart, funny, articulate and a very impressive educator. I left thinking, “note to self: apply to Wildwood for high school for my daughter”.


Please join us! Beyond The Brochure book signing and discussion at The UCLA Family Commons, Wed. Oct. 27

If you’re thinking of sending your child to one of Los Angeles’ wonderful private elementary schools, please join us on Wed. October 27 for a FREE book signing and discussion with the authors of Beyond the Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles!


“This is the only book I know of that walks you through the entire process step-by-step. It covers which schools to apply to (and how many), what to expect from your child’s test and interview, how to approach the parent interview and, most importantly, how to figure out which school would be right for your family.”


“I only wish that Beyond the Brochure had been around a few years ago, when my oldest daughter was in preschool and I was figuring all this out on my own. It would have made a stressful and sometimes overwhelming experience a lot easier for this Santa Monica mom.”

– Kelle (Parent at Carlthorp School and Community Outreach Manager, UCLA Family Commons)


Where: The UCLA Family Commons, 1221 2nd St. Santa Monica. 310-395-5650 or No RSVP needed. Just come and bring a friend!

Guest Blogger Jenny: How Does A Private Elementary School Handle Bullies?

Bullying is getting a ton of press these days, mostly due to the use of the internet (whether on social networking sites or live streaming video) to harass victims, sometimes, it seems, to death. In those cases, “bullying” seems a bit too mild a term for what occurred; complete invasion of privacy, harassment, and true criminal intent fits the bill a bit better.



The type of behavior our kids experience on the playground is usually of a lesser grade, more in line with what we once experienced at school ourselves. Kids get shoved off of playground equipment, excluded from games, called names, are ostracized for unique physical traits, and have their names mocked. Though highly unpleasant, this seems to be a childhood rite of passage, and I’m not sure anyone escapes unscathed.



My daughter got her first true taste of bullying in first grade, and she got it right between the eyes. Some fourth grader terrorized her on the playground, demanding her immediate removal from the monkey bars (she did not back down). This went on for weeks until she finally asked for help. Although the threat of physical violence seems bad, the worst was coming. The girl terror in her classroom, run almost solely by a very manipulative and obviously miserable little girl, was highly exclusionary and very sophisticated. My child could easily defend herself against a physical bully and win out (a decent life lesson), but she had little to no defense against the whispering rumor mongering wretch who made her whole year miserable.



This happened at a public school, and when I approached the teacher to complain, she just looked tired and replied she was late for a meeting. Some conference with the girl’s mother and the teacher happened eventually, but the girl terror pretty much lasted the entire year. I had to promise my daughter she would never, ever again share a classroom with that girl. A girl who, much like the girl bullies portrayed in the NYT article Christina previously posted, seemed old for her age, wielded a cell phone at six, and emulated teenage behavior.



Keep in mind: bullying behavior creates more bullying behavior. Kids learn it from somewhere, and most bullies were victims themselves. I watched this in action during her third grade year, as most of the class (my kid included) teamed up against an overweight girl who had often bullied others herself. It might have been payback, but it was still unacceptable. Thankfully, the teacher called the entire class to task, and everyone learned something, except the victim herself, who kept calling herself the victim even as she continued to shove my daughter off the ends of benches. Whatever.



So, that’s my experience with bullying at a public school. What would private school be like? I had no illusions that it would be a bully free environment; I went to Crossroads starting in 8th grade, and the social bullying was tremendous. And Anna* had been left with the impression that all kids were mean, so the idea of being the new kid, and thus an easy mark, weighed heavily upon her.



I’m happy to report that, at least at Mirman, bullying appears to be non-existent. Anna’s transition into the social scene has been pretty easy. There are some kids there who do appear to have poor social skills, and are less than diplomatic about wanting a turn on the monkey bars, but there seems to be none of the Lord of the Flies atmosphere of 3rd St. Anna has been included in impromptu recess theater performances and older girls teach her new gymnastic bar tricks every day. If someone gets a wrong answer in class, it isn’t an opportunity for humiliation.



Anna informed me (and this just might be Mirman student rumor mill) that some upper school students were busted for bullying, and were actually suspended. I’m not sure if this is entirely accurate, but the information certainly reassured her that she was safe from harassment at her new school. The kids at Mirman might be precocious, but they’re not particularly sophisticated in a pop culture way. The nastiness, disrespect and sarcasm of “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life” (shows my daughter is forbidden to watch) just doesn’t gain any points in the Mirman environment.



Mirman has a Character Counts education program, with six pillars: caring, citizenship, fairness, respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness; students voted to add cooperation, perseverance and friendship as well. If a school truly pushes this agenda, it doesn’t make for an easy bullying environment.



Plus, The Mirman Parent/Student Information Manual states very clearly: “The school does not condone physical/verbal/cyber harassment of bullying of any kind. Such actions are considered suspendable offenses, Extreme offenses may result in explusion.



So, since I can only speak for our limited time at the Mirman School, I’m curious: what do other private school parents deal with in terms of bullying (The Willows has a similar policy on its campus). Do the other schools have a definitive policy with genuine follow through? Have there been cases of outrageous bullying at your school? And, if so, how did the school deal with it?



In some ways, I worry that the extreme zero tolerance for bullying of any kind might just infantilize our kids. Learning to defend oneself from nonsense is a good skill to have; learning to ignore the malicious whispers and persevere builds great character. But, when bullying becomes almost organized on the playground and entrenched in the social scene, it leads to a break down in the natural order of things, and fosters an entire bullying environment where nothing is off limits. In the end, it’s another one of life’s delicate balancing acts: allowing enough adversity to build valuable life skills, while squelching the truly evil stuff before it poisons everything. And that’s the challenge all schools face when it comes to bullying.


Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She has been published in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.