Test Prep companies

Image: The Christian Science Monitor ArchiveWhen College Board President and CEO David Coleman announced major changes to the design of the SAT on Wednesday in Austin, Texas, one particular initiative made waves: the new partnership between the College Board and the non-profit, online-based Khan Academy to “provide the world with free test-preparation materials.”

Explaining the need for such a venture, Coleman took aim at the multi-billion dollar private test prep industry, saying it “drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country.” He charged the companies with “intimidat[ing] parents at all levels of income” into paying exorbitant fees for coaching and tutoring.

Companies like Kaplan and Princeton Review, as well as smaller boutique test prep businesses, can charge more than $1, 000 per course. Private tutors often charge more than $15, 000 a year. According to the College Board, the industry is largely built on teaching kids “tricks” and gimmicks to outsmart the test, as well as other skills and facts that even Coleman now admits have been disconnected from what kids learn in school.

Part of Coleman’s SAT overhaul will scrap esoteric vocabulary and the non-evidence-based essay, with the goal of making the test more tied to schools’ curricula so that any student who studies hard can be sufficiently prepared for the test.

The College Board “is really making a concerted effort to rethink the SAT…so that [students] don’t need the tricks and tips that the test prep industry is based around."

Khan Academy, which has been providing free prep videos for the SAT and other tests since 2006, will now be directly working with the College Board on their test exercises and instructional videos. Khan will offer something called a “personal learning dashboard, ” a way to tailor prep content to the knowledge gaps of a specific student. Coleman said that this initiative, coupled with a more transparent test free of “a sense of mystery, ” will help combat the persistent correlation between one’s family income level and their score on the SAT.

“If there are no more secrets, ” Coleman said, “it’s very hard to pay for them.”

Many interpret the changes as a genuine effort to “thwart test prep firms, ” but some experts are skeptical about whether that will happen. Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the watchdog organization FairTest—a vocal critic of the SAT—thinks test prep agencies will just find new ways of promising students a leg up.

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