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  • Writer's pictureBright Kids

Demystifying the Thinking & Engagement Assessment

The Thinking & Engagement Assessment, or T&E, is a new, Zoom-based assessment that a group of private schools adopted for use during the application process for 2021-2022 Kindergarten admissions. These select schools previously brought small groups of children together for interviews and classroom time in order to gauge their personalities, learning styles, and socio-emotional development in order to create their next classes of students.

In March 2020, Winifred Mabley (Brearley) and Babby Krents (Dalton) came together to create a child-friendly virtual assessment that could be used in place of in-person admissions procedures. With decades of their own experience in the private school admissions process, they worked with a group of experts around the clock for five months in order to bring their vision to fruition. The Thinking & Engagement Assessment is the result. Now, children need only take one assessment, one time, even if they are applying to multiple schools. This new development helps to ease stress and pressure for both children and adults during this rocky application year.

How Is the Thinking & Engagement Assessment Administered?

Roughly 30 assessors with an abundance of experience working with even the shyest of four-year-olds have been trained to administer this Zoom-based assessment to New York City children. Unlike other admissions exams such as the Stanford-Binet, there is no specific advantage to testing at a specific age, given how well the assessors know and are able to interpret four-year-olds. However, if a child is an older 4, they are assessed with slightly higher expectations, given their added months of life experience. Additionally, while the assessment was created only in English, some of the assessors are multilingual and are able to speak with the child at times in a preferred language, albeit only if the appointment matches with that assessor’s availability. The adult registering for the appointment should bring this factor up at that time in order to determine the feasibility of a match.

No matter the age, assessor, or language, adults should take care to select an appropriate person to be in the room with the child during the virtual assessment. If a child is particularly attached or clingy to one adult, perhaps someone else might be a better fit so that the child can best focus on the tasks on the screen. The same goes for lovies and other toys in the child’s vicinity during the assessment--children and adults should practice transitioning those items out of the child’s possession before sitting down for the assessment, in order to ensure that the child’s hands are free and attention is focused!

Additionally, the child should practice wearing their over-the-ear headphones prior to sitting down for the assessment. They should have a pair that fits comfortably and does not constrict or press down too much on their head--that’s another common potential distraction that can easily be avoided!

During the assessment, the chosen adult should sit off to the side of the child and should demonstrate the quiet, attentive behavior that they wish the child to mimic for the next 25-45 minutes. This means no screens or noise-making activities for the adult! Given that the adult is also required to wear headphones, should any difficulties arise during the assessment, the assessor will indicate to the child to get their adult to attend to a technical or other difficulty. Otherwise, the adult should remain focused on their own quiet task, just as the child should remain focused on the assessment.

What Does the Thinking & Engagement Assessment Cover?

Over the course of 25-45 minutes, the Thinking & Engagement Assessment presents a mixture of animations and direct interaction with the assessor in order to explore a variety of developmental domains and skills, including Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning, Receptive and Expressive Language, Teachability/Traceability, as well as Memory, Problem-Solving Skills, and Motor Skills. Beta-tested with children outside of New York City, a child who had challenges with the Zoom format was able to remain interested and engaged for the duration, even asking to do it all again! In order to help alleviate concerns about specific content, Mabley and Krents reiterated that these assessment domains are not meant to be inclusive of academic learned skills, e.g. spelling, writing, operations.

What Do These Domains Mean?

Verbal Reasoning

Assesses the ability to reasonably answer a question expressed through words. Verbal reasoning includes who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, as well as classifications.

Non-Verbal Reasoning

Assesses the ability to understand and analyse visual information, such as identifying relationships, similarities, and differences between shapes and patterns, and recognizing visual sequences and relationships between objects.

Expressive Language

Assesses the ability to label objects in the environment, describe actions and events, put words together in sentences, use grammar correctly (e.g. “I had a drink” not “Me drinked”), and to retell a story and answer questions about the story.

Receptive Language

Assesses the “input” of language, or the ability to understand and comprehend spoken language that you hear or read. For example, a child’s ability to listen and follow directions (e.g. “Put on your shoes”) relies on the child’s receptive language skills.


Assesses the ability to be taught a concept and to then be able to accurately follow those instructions independently to perform the task or answer the question.

Our informational video about the T&E Assessment has further information about and sample questions to demonstrate the types of concepts covered! Please note that the questions may not always be presented in these exact formats.

Assessment Results

After administering the assessment, the assessor will write up a detailed report, including qualitative details and quantitative data, to be sent to the schools to which the child is applying. Unfortunately, these results will not be shared with families.

Quick Info About the Thinking & Engagement Assessment

  • Application Dates: Opens September 8th and closes December 18th

  • Administration Dates: September 14th through early January

  • Fee: $250, paid once (Waivers available for families earning less than $150,000/year)

  • Assessment video feed is not recorded, and adult must sign waiver indicating they will not record the video feed or the assessment content

  • Results: Not shared with families, sent directly to schools on application list

Participating Schools

  • The Allen-Stevenson School

  • The Berkeley Carroll School

  • The Birch Wathen Lenox School

  • The Brearley School

  • The Browning School

  • The Buckley School

  • The Calhoun School

  • The Cathedral School of St. John the Divine

  • The Chapin School

  • Collegiate School

  • Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School

  • Convent of the Sacred Heart

  • The Dalton School

  • Early Steps--Partnering Organization

  • The Elisabeth Morrow School

  • The IDEAL School of Manhattan

  • Marymount School of New York

  • The Nightingale-Bamford School

  • The Ramaz School

  • Rodeph Sholom School

  • The Packer Collegiate Institute

  • Saint Ann’s School

  • The Spence School

  • Speyer School

  • St. Luke’s School

  • St. Bernard’s School

  • St. Hilda’s & St. Hugh’s School

  • Trevor Day School

  • Trinity School

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