Study finds college prep test courses has only small effect
NEW YORK (AP) – Preparation courses for college admission tests have only a small effect on scores, contradicting the claims of a multimillion-dollar industry, an independent study concludes.
The study, reported in the current issue of Chance, a magazine of the American Statistical Association, found that the average gain from coaching was no more than about 20 points on the 1,600-point SAT test, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The author, Derek Briggs, a doctoral student in education at the University of California at Berkeley, based his conclusions on an analysis of data in a national survey by the Department of Education, which follows a representative sample of students from eighth grade through high school and beyond.
Briggs’ study also found that students taking the ACT, a test used by many colleges that do not use the SAT, produced similarly small improvements in English and math.
Each year, 2 million high school students take the SAT and 1.8 million the ACT. An unknown number take both. Ten percent to 12 percent of them sign up for commercial coaching programs, which may cost $700 to $3,000 for a course or $450 an hour for a private tutor, the Times said.
The study supports the long-standing contention of the College Board, which sponsors the SAT, that test coaching has little effect.
But it did not differentiate between intensive and expensive preparation courses that may last for months, and short, even one-day courses. Officials of major preparation companies said this failing called the results into question. Also, the study compared students who chose coaching to those who did not, rather than randomly assigning students to one group or another.
There are big differences between test preparation courses, said Seppy Basili, vice president for learning and assessment at Kaplan Inc., a leading test preparation company.
”What we’ve seen over the past 15 years is this huge increase in weekend courses and one-day courses,” Basili told the Times. Kaplan’s courses, which cost $800, last three months.
He said the company’s own surveys showed that students’ SAT scores increased by an average of 120 points.
Though the study avoided many drawbacks of previous ones, it was not ideal because students were not randomly assigned to groups, said Dr. James Robins, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Robins also said that at highly competitive colleges, any advantage, even 30 or 40 points in an SAT score, could make a difference between being accepted and being rejected.
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