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Why do we take ERBs, and what do they tell us?

By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon

November 30, 2020

Many of our faculty have administered the ERB quite a few times over their years at Rossman. They have gotten to know the detailed set of directions read before each testing section quite well. These typically conclude by saying that we cannot answer questions about the test during testing and encourage students to ask any questions before starting. This year, one student quietly raised a hand and asked his teacher, “I do have a question. Why do we take this test?” Thankfully, our Rossman faculty understand the importance of answering that question. Ever wondered this yourself? Below I will explain a bit more about the purpose of ERB testing and what it can — and cannot — tell us about our students.

What is the ERB test and how is it administered?

The formal name for the assessment is the Comprehensive Testing Program (CTP-5), and it is designed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB). The test is taken each year by all Rossman students beginning in second grade and is intended to evaluate their understanding of reading, listening, vocabulary, writing, and mathematics. The number and type of subtests vary slightly by grade level with second grade students taking four subtests, third grade students taking five subtests, and our fourth through sixth grade students taking eight subtests. All subtests are multiple-choice. 

At Rossman, we test school-wide over the course of a week. Scores are received back from ERB after winter vacation and are typically distributed to families in advance of February conferences.

Though some schools take the CTP-5 in the spring, Rossman opts for fall testing, allowing us to receive our scores back during the school year. This enables us to utilize the data to improve responsiveness to student needs within the same school year.

Why do we take the ERBs, and what do they tell us?

There are several reasons we take the ERB at Rossman:

  • The test provides valuable insights into our students that inform how we can best support them. By identifying areas of relative strength and weakness, we can better tailor classroom instruction for each student. The data we receive back from ERB offers deeper analysis of performance in different strands within each subject area. For example, in reading comprehension, a student may perform well on questions relating to vocabulary in context and explicit information, but may need additional support around information that is implicit in the text.

  • Student performance not only holds us accountable for addressing student needs, but also for continual review of our curriculum. This way we evaluate our program to determine if there are areas that require our attention.

  • Five years of testing helps to tell a story over time about student progress. By tracking a student over time, we can celebrate successes and strengths, and ask questions and provide support where necessary. During the secondary school application process, this story also helps inform part of a school’s understanding of a student.

The significant caveat we must consider is that the ERB scores provide a snapshot of a student on a given day. Though a student’s performance can provide us with valuable information, we also must be mindful of the limitations of this data. It is important to consider the limitations of a student’s response to a set of 40 questions. This is yet another reason why we like to review student data over time. 

What don’t ERBs tell us?

Quite a few things. CTP-5 scores tell us nothing about creativity or innovative thinking. They tell us nothing about a student’s ability to collaborate or their leadership qualities. And ERB scores tell us absolutely nothing about one of our most essential Rossman values —character. A standardized test does not speak to kindness, honesty, respect and responsibility, though we believe these qualities to be as essential as a student’s academic performance. Scores are just part of a much larger data set we use to understand our students.

This year in preparation for “ERB season,” I thought it might be interesting to take a walk down memory lane and review my own ERB scores from elementary school. What did my data tell me? I was not a particularly strong tester in second and third grade. Thankfully, with time, practice and instruction, my scores started to improve and by sixth grade, my scores were solidly competitive. 

Did these scores inform my school experience? My family and teachers likely spent time considering them and determining how best to support me. Did they shape the person I am today? Other than informing my current work with students and families around testing, probably very little. What I can say is, it is nice to be able to look students in the eye during testing and say, “I had to take this when I was your age. Just do your best.”


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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