College & Workforce Readiness

College Board Attacks ACT’s Live Teaching Prep Service

By Catherine Gewertz — April 19, 2016 2 min read
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The College Board has lashed out at its rival, ACT Inc., saying its plan to add live teaching to its online test-prep service is more about money than public service, and accusing ACT of trying to “replace” classroom teachers with long-distance instruction.

The accusations were sparked by ACT’s announcement Monday that it had teamed up with Kaplan Test Prep to add a live-instruction element to its existing lineup of test-prep services. The new service will cost less than $200, ACT said. The existing service costs students $39.95 per year.

ACT and the College Board are in an increasingly pitched battle for shares of the college-entrance-exam and test-prep markets. But the College Board’s reaction to ACT’s announcement marked a sharp change in tone and substance. In the past, each company has assertively promoted its own products and services without criticizing the other’s. Monday night, that changed.

While the test prep the College Board offers in partnership with Khan Academy doesn’t include a live-teaching element, it offers “far more opportunities for direct live instruction... than what ACT is offering,” spokesman Zach Goldberg said in an email to Education Week. Since it’s free, teachers can and do integrate the Khan Academy lessons into their daily work, he said.

“At the College Board, we build the capacity of existing teachers rather than replacing them from afar,” Goldberg wrote.

ACT and College Board: Fighting for ‘Game Changer’ Status

Launched last June, the College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy was designed to make test-prep services widely available to students who can’t afford the typically expensive courses offered by private tutors or by test-prep companies such as Princeton Review and Kaplan. It’s been a “game-changer,” he said, with more than 1.2 million students using the service.

The College Board went on to cast itself as the leader in creating test-prep access for low-income students, and to criticize the financial motives behind the ACT/Kaplan partnership.

“We are gratified that others are trying to follow our lead, but free for all is very different than free for some,” Goldberg wrote in his email, an apparent reference to ACT’s plan to grant fee waivers to low-income students for its test-prep services.

“A partnership between two nonprofit organizations that generates no revenue is very different than a business venture with a commercial test-prep company that also runs for-profit colleges. With this partnership, ACT effectively puts schools, districts, and states in the awkward position of becoming sales leads for Kaplan test-prep services.”

In its response to the College Board, ACT did not counterattack, choosing only to defend its new service.

“We all share a common interest in helping students succeed,” ACT spokesman Ed Colby wrote in an email to Education Week. “Our approach to doing so is to make the highest quality preparation available for the lowest possible cost and for free for low-income students.

“We created ACT Kaplan Online Prep Live in response to what parents and students have told us they want—and this is something that has not existed before. At the end of the day, our focus is on providing students with the best programs available to help them improve their readiness for college and career, and we believe our program will deliver the combination of premium quality, value, and accessibility that students and parents seek.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.