Private High School Entrance Exams: SSAT, ISEE, And HSTP

Most people are well aware of the important role the SAT and ACT play in the college admissions process. What many people do not realize, however, is that to gain entry to select elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as to some Catholic and boarding schools, there is another set of rigorous and competitive assessment tests that are a crucial part of a student’s application to these institutions.

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Getting into selective programs requires serious commitment from students. Applicants must show their strengths through essays, extracurriculars, service projects, and the dreaded standardized tests. Most people are well aware of the important role the SAT and ACT play in the college admissions process. What many people do not realize, however, is that to gain entry to select elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as to some Catholic and boarding schools, there is another set of rigorous and competitive assessment tests that are a crucial part of a student’s application to these institutions.

The three most common tests are the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), the High School Placement Test (HSPT), and the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). Most boarding schools require the SSAT, while some independent schools are willing to accept either the SSAT or the ISEE. Catholic schools often have a set assessment day where they administer the HSPT when students are required to take the test “on site.” In addition, some Catholic schools in New York City require students to take the Test for Admission to Catholic High School (TACHS) exam. Because each school has its own admissions criteria, it’s wise to contact each one to identify which tests are required and at what point the test results should be submitted.

Importance of the Tests

Parents are often concerned about how the assessments will be used in the admissions process. Kristin Ryder, Admissions Director of Graland Country Day School in Denver, Colorado, shares, “By viewing the scores, we are able to see every child in a snippet. These scores do not rule kids in or out; however, we are using them to gauge their strengths and weaknesses.” Kristin went on to say, “We are looking for these scores to align with the other elements of the application, including the teacher recommendations, parent interviews, and essays.”

Preparation for the Tests

Admissions teams want to see students in their current academic state of performance, and are looking for applications that look consistent across achievement measures. Although some of the assessments can be taken twice, it is not “best practice” to sign middle or high school students up for multiple assessments. That said, test preparation can play an important role in helping students feel more confident about their knowledge of the content and test taking skills.

Debates persist about how and why we assess students in America. The reality for those applying to private schools is that these rigorous tests are here to stay and are an important factor in getting past the “gatekeepers.”

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Laura Barr, M.Ed. founded e.Merging Educational Consulting, is a parenting coach and mother of 4.