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Stanley Kaplan: Remembering a Test Prep Pioneer

He created an industry to prepare students for admissions tests in higher education. He died last month at age 90. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

Here is a question for a college admissions test. Who was Stanley Kaplan? Did he A) start a test preparation company, B) start the test preparation industry, or C) die last month at age ninety? The correct answer is D) all of the above.

Stanley Kaplan was an educator and private tutor. In the nineteen forties, he began preparing students for the Scholastic Aptitude Test, now just called the SAT.

His parents were European immigrants who did not go to college, and he himself was rejected from medical school. He thought all Americans should have an equal chance at the best colleges, not just children of wealthy families.

These days, more students go to college. Yet wealthier families are the ones best able to pay for test preparation. Many programs cost up to one thousand dollars or more, though some are available for poor families.

Parents may hate the whole idea, but they feel nervous seeing others doing it. Then, after college, there are graduate admissions tests to prepare for.

How much do American spend on this largely unsupervised industry? At least one billion dollars a year, estimates David Hawkins at the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The research company Outsell puts the amount at two and a half billion.

The two biggest providers in the United States -- Kaplan and Princeton Review -- both operate in more than twenty countries.

Thirty years ago, the Federal Trade Commission found that Stanley Kaplan's program could raise SAT scores -- but only by about twenty-five points. The association for college admission counseling recently found a thirty-point increase with Kaplan and other programs.

Still, the group says this is not enough to make a difference for most students. It might help some get into a top college, but only if they have above-average scores in the first place. The report suggested saving money by considering "less costly forms" of test preparation.

Now, more about our story last week on President Obama's nationally broadcast speech to students. We noted that many conservatives raised objections before the speech. But in nineteen ninety-one, Democrats accused President George H.W. Bush of using the last such speech for political purposes.

Then as now, Democrats led Congress. They demanded an investigation. It found no misuse of public money to support the speech.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.