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NASSP To Promote Company's Practice SAT Tests

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The National Association of Secondary School Principals is teaming up with a leading test-preparation company to offer students practice tools for the SAT, ACT, and Preliminary SAT exams.

The diagnostic tests, developed by Kaplan Educational Centers, are designed to predict a student's score on the actual exam and pinpoint the skills he or she needs to work on. The cost is $30 per exam.

Principals whose schools participate will receive a summary of the test results, allowing them to gauge their students' academic strengths and weaknesses, said Timothy Dyer, the executive director of the NASSP, an organization based in Reston, Va., that represents more than 46,000 principals and vice principals.

"This is a great service for kids, and it gives principals a chance to have another piece of information on how to guide the student on what types of courses to take," Mr. Dyer said.

But while the partnership may provide test-takers with useful information, it will also open the doors for Kaplan to sell its products to students with school approval, some observers noted. Students who take the diagnostic exams will come away with a packet of coupons offering discounts on Kaplan test-preparation courses, books, and software.

"This is big, big business," said Robert Schaeffer, the public education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass.-based group that is a leading critic of most standardized testing. "It gives them direct access to pitch their products in public schools."

Detailed Analysis

Kaplan officials acknowledge that their partnership with the NASSP will give the New York City-based company an earlier introduction into secondary schools.

"We've lowered the bar in the marketplace, opened it up to a larger number of individuals," said Joe Scherer, the executive director of Kaplan Learning Services' K-12 partnerships. "This way we're not waiting for the students to come to us during their senior year."

But Mr. Scherer added that Kaplan's diagnostic tests will benefit students and principals.

The NASSP has offered its own practice test materials for the SAT and the ACT--the two most widely used college-entrance exams--as a service to principals for years. But those materials don't include the type of analysis that Kaplan can provide, Mr. Dyer of the principals' group said.

"This analysis will say, 'You failed to master quadratic equations, this is what you need to study,'" Mr. Scherer added. "It does much more than just report the score."

And while an SAT-preparation course at a Kaplan center can cost close to $700, the diagnostic tests are priced low enough that they may be a service to students who might otherwise take the test cold, Mr. Scherer said.

This is just one of a number of business partnerships the NASSP has entered into over the years, Mr. Dyer noted. Such arrangements support the organization's basic philosophy that "education is not just a school matter, it's a community matter," he said.

Individual principals will decide when and where to administer the diagnostic tests.

The NASSP will promote the partnership with Kaplan by detailing the arrangement in internal publications. Kaplan will also be present at the organization's annual convention in San Diego in February.

State Tests Eyed

In addition to its practice tests for college-entrance exams, Kaplan is working on similar diagnostic tools that could be customized on a state-by-state basis for various tests of basic skills at different grade levels.

Schools or school districts might choose to pay for such practice tests if they're concerned about how their students will fare on their states' standardized exams, Mr. Scherer said.

Though Kaplan's plans for such tests are still in the works, they may be ready next spring, he added.

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