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Kaplan Test Prep: An Evaluation

I just finished reading Jeremy Miller’s article in the September issue of Harper’s. It’s entitled, “Tyranny of the Test:  One Year as a Kaplan coach in the public schools.”


The focus of the article is Kaplan‘s corporate foray into the tutoring business, which has mushroomed since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which requires school districts to provide tutoring to students who continue to fail to meet expectations.  Many private tutoring companies have sprung up to take advantage of this federally mandated program, and the dollars that go with it.  The government has increased the amount of money going to the tutoring industry to $2.55 billion.


Miller was a tutor with the program, and describes his experiences in New York’s urban schools.  The gist is that the program is not helping students much–especially if you consider the return on investment our government is making.


To me, the problem is that that the tools of NCLB are blunt instruments.  Tutors like Jeremy Miller swoop into high schools with the idea of “rescuing” the failing kids by preparing them for exams, such as the Regent’s exam in New York.  The fact is, such interventions are mostly futile.


The article is a blistering indictment of NCLB.  The act is well-intentioned, to be sure, but the tutoring provision has served only to line the pockets of tutoring companies–and not to significantly raise the achievement of poorer students.


The article also serves as a reminder that the biggest players in the Test Prep industry–who help kids to score well on the ACT and SAT exams–are large companies with a formulaic approach to teaching and learning.  Kaplan and Princeton Review have a good track record in the Test Prep business, but their approach is standardized and impersonal.


In recommending test prep services for my clients, I usually try to hook my students up with talented individuals who can tailor their tutoring to the needs of that student.  While the testing strategies are the same across the board, each student’s strengths and weaknesses are different.


Individual tutors often cost more, but one should think of the cost as an investment in one’s future.  Students usually take these exams only once or twice, and if it’s worthwhile to get some help, its probably worthwhile to get the best help you can get.


Classes like those offered by Kaplan and Princeton Review are not horrendous. But like the tutoring offered in our schools that is described in Jeremy Miller’s article, cannot be fine-tuned to the needs of individual students.  If you think it’s ridiculous that we, as a nation, are wasting our money on NCLB tutoring, it’s may be worth considering whether your investment in these test prep juggernauts is worth the price.


Mark Montgomery

College Admissions Counselor




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  1. Students and tutors must understand how students think. See “Teaching and Helping Students Think and Do Better” on amazon.

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