An article in today’s Inside Higher Ed reports that Princeton Review has pulled back from its claims that its test prep courses improve scores on SAT and ACT tests.
An investigation by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has put pressure on Princeton Review to change its focus “in the direction of quality of programs and the student experience,” according to a spokeswoman.
Pressure has also come from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, as well as Princeton Review’s biggest rival, Kaplan.
Not only do these inflated gains in scores bother me, but I also find it troubling that high schools across the country welcome both Kaplan and PR into their buildings to offer test prep courses. Families shell out hundreds of dollars for these courses, but students benefit little from the classes. (I presume that the schools get a small share of the course fees for their willingness to allow Kaplan or PR to market directly to their students). It’s all a bit unseemly.
That said, some students can and do benefit from rigorous test preparation work. Like any test, you can prepare yourself. You can go over the content of the test, you can practice, and you can hone your test-taking strategies. I have seen scores of some of my students increase considerably after working with a private tutor.
And these increases do matter, as NACAC has pointed out in a recent study of the use of these tests in admissions offices. Even though everyone–including college admissions people–loves to bash these tests, the fact it that they are being used as competitive credentials.
So I’m happy that Princeton Review is revising its marketing messages. But I don’t anticipate that the test prep industry will disappear anytime soon. For that to happen, it would take an Act of God for selective colleges to renounce them entirely.