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News Firm To Buy Test-Coaching Centers

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A major news-industry conglomerate, the Washington Post Company, plans to step into the field of education by buying the nation's best-known test-preparation firm. And part of the deal may involve broadening the activities of the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Centers to include tutorial courses in the basic skills for elementary-school students.

"The bricks and mortar are in place, [the company] regularly hires teachers in com-munities where it has centers, and it already develops curriculum materials," Richard D. Simmons, president of the Washington Post Company, said last week. "All the elements are there for an expanded role in this area."

The Kaplan centers have become nationally known among students and educators as the places thousands of high-schoolers turn to for coaching to improve their scores on college-admission tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Mr. Kaplan, who founded his family-run business in 1938 out of what he described as a "love for teaching," said that details of the company's planned expansion into basic-skills instruction have not been worked out yet.

But instruction is tentatively planned, he said, in reading, writing, arithmetic, and problem solving for students in grades 4 through 8 at each of the company's 124 permanent centers.

Supplemental Courses

The Kaplan courses would be designed as supplements to regular school instruction and would be offered after school and on weekends, according to Mr. Kaplan, who will continue to head the company once it becomes an independent subsidiary of the Washington Post Company.

Mr. Kaplan said the basic-skills courses would be staffed in the same way as the organization's test-preparation courses--with a mixture of public-school teachers and instructors drawn from other fields who work full and part time. Curriculum materials, he added, will probably be developed in part by "research teams" that the organization has in each subject area and would most likely include some of the materials the organization uses to prepare students for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and the sat

A final decision on the new project will be preceded by studies of its potential profitability, Mr. Simmons said.

Sales of $35 Million

Mr. Simmons said the purchase of the Kaplan firm by the Post company, which includes among its holdings The Washington Post and Newsweek and which made a net profit of $68.4 million in 1983, is expected to be completed by the end of this month. Both companies have declined to disclose the sale price.

Last year, Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Centers grossed $35 million in sales by offering instruction on a variety of topics to 88,000 students at its 124 permanent centers and 250 temporary ones, according to Mr. Kaplan. The firm, he said, expects enrollment to reach 97,000 this year.

The Kaplan company is best known for its preparation courses for college, graduate-school, and professional-school admissions tests, including the sat, the Graduate Record Examinations, and the Law School Admission Test.

But it also has a growing roster of preparation courses for licensing examinations in such fields as accounting, nursing, dentistry, and medicine. In the last few years, it has also developed "self-improvement" programs such as speed reading and instruction in English as a second language.

Kaplan fees range from $50 to $1,800 for yearlong courses that ready students for professional-licensing tests. The average fee is $350 for courses that prepare students for college and graduate-school admissions tests, the firm's most popular courses, Mr. Kaplan said.

The firm's management and "basic approach and policies will remain the same" under the Post company's ownership, Mr. Kaplan and Mr. Simmons said. They noted that, in addition to the planned expansion into the area of basic-skills instruction, the Kaplan firm plans to use the Post company's resources to expand its test-preparation business into overseas markets and to develop ways of using the computer in test preparation.

"We will be looking for software that uses a problem-solving approach to using computers in test preparation," Mr. Kaplan said, "not just electronic page-turning."

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