Getting In, According to Stanley


To the Editors of The Crimson:

Color us both crimson after your February 9 article concerning a recent University survey on SAT preparation. Imagine my dismay, in the wake of a lengthy but pleasant phone call from one of your reporters, to find our 15-minute discussion reduced to the one-liner with which I ended the interview.

Yes, I did joke that the H in Stanley H. Kaplan stands for preparation. No, I never dreamed that this aside would constitute the sum and substance of my response to the survey, as reported by Mr. David P. Greene. In the interest of fair play on a genuinely important issue, I hope you'll allow me to review for your readers the three major points I raised during the interview.

1. The Whitla survey, according to the Globe, was returned by 1,409 Harvard freshman. By its very nature, this "universe" is hardly an average sampling of SAT candidates. At a school as selective as Harvard, a smaller percentage of students will seek or benefit from formal testing preparation. (If the Globe article was accurate, 200 of those returning surveys took any form of preparation.) It seems obvious that startingly different statistics would have resulted if this study had been done at the University of Massachusetts.

2. The fact that the coached sampling of 200 ended with scores that, according to the Globe, "showed no appreciable difference" from those of the uncoached, does NOT, as Harvard's Dean Fitzsimmons announced at the College Board regional meeting, prove coaching is of little value. On the contrary it suggests that those who required coaching because of initially lower scores were able to raise their scores sufficiently to be admitted to Harvard!

3. The major point I made to Mr. Greene was that the Globe's headline (Harvard Study Finds Aptitude Test Coaching a Waste of Time) was contradicted by the experience of the minority of Harvard frosh who took coaching. I added that I was delighted to learn that, while this whole group had raised their scores enough to meet Harvard's stringent standards, the students who had taken Kaplan programs showed the greatest point increases of all. (For the purposes of the survey, coached students were divided into four groups: those taking Kaplan, those taking Princeton Review, those attending other commercial courses, and those taking school programs.) The headlines not only contradicted these findings, it even opposed Mr. Fitzsimmon's own admission that coaching may indeed be advisable for test-takers who've been away from math for a while.

Thank you for this opportunity to correct the impression your article may have given readers that I regard this survey as a laughing matter. In fact, I think the debate and further studies the Whitla report should spark will promote a long overdue investigation of the advantages of test preparation. I look forward to seeing the actual survey when it is released next month and to clarification on some of its findings. (The Globe article, for example, notes that the study's respondents included 69 percent who did not take coaching and 14 percent who did. This leaves a healthy 17 percent of the paticipants unaccounted for!)

Stanley H. (the H stands for Henry) Kaplan President, Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Center Ltd.