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Academy Seeks to Level Uneven Test Prep Field
elizabeth whitton 12 opinioneditorial editor volume 86
December 15, 2009

Academic Dean Peter Warsaw said the current test prep situation “presents a confusing landscape. What do scores mean when they are unevenly influenced by test preparation? And what if anything should secondary schools do to level the playing field?”

Many families provide their children with an edge by paying for test prep or tutoring. The reliance on tutors and outside help for test preparation is becoming more and more common in the school community at Deerfield, resulting in discussions among Deerfield administrators to decide whether this issue is truly an example of social injustice and, if so, what would be the most appropriate solution.

Both Head of College Advising Martha Lyman and Mr. Warsaw are aware that tutoring is happening on campus, whether the school wants it or not.

The presence of unauthorized adult tutors on the Deerfield campus is actually more than just an internal ethical issue. Inviting unvetted strangers onto the campus and into Deerfield buildings violates Massachusetts state law.

Mr. Warsaw noted that last year, Deerfield interviewed four vendors who proposed various solutions. The Academic Approach offered free online tutoring to all sophomores and juniors. This plan failed to gain traction with most faculty for logistical reasons, though Mr. Warsaw explained that the Academic Approach’s grammar program, designed to help students master grammar concepts using an online program designed by teachers, has been taken on by various English teachers on campus.

English teacher Mark Scandling was one of the faculty members who chose to take part in the pilot program last year.

“My students found the drills useful, and I have one section of sophomores who are using the service again this year,” Mr. Scandling noted.

Mr. Scandling believes that extensive reading remains the best long-term way to ensure success on the verbal section of the SAT’s, and that all his colleagues in the English department incorporate vocabulary drills, grammar instruction and practice on timed essays which help prepare students for standardized tests.
This year, the school is paying for online SAT tutoring through Academic Approach for twenty to twenty-five students as a pilot program.

Deans and college advisors will evaluate these students’ results to determine the effectiveness of the program.

Akilah Ffriend ’10 explained her perception of SAT tutoring, “I feel that tutoring is a form of social injustice, though I also believe that preparation is necessary for some students to receive the scores they want. A plan that offers free help to students would be a great opportunity.”

Ms. Lyman believes that colleges usually know when students use tutors.
“Admissions officers read your entire application and gauge whether or not all the pieces add up,” she said.
“What is the fairest response to this situation?” asked Mr. Warsaw. There may not be just one solution, though Mr. Warsaw explained, “Embracing SAT prep seems to be the lesser of the evils.”
He noted that Deerfield is not unique in facing this issue. “Almost every school is at this same place. SAT prep is here whether we want it or not. Now we must decide if we want to accept it,” he said.