Test Prep Firms and the Laws of Attraction

(By Julie Zhu -- Montgomery Blair High School)
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dear Extra Credit:

I think it's fairly certain that high schools sell the names and addresses of their students to test prep firms. We got a steady onslaught of mailed materials [for test preparation] in my daughter's name well before she signed up for the PSAT, SAT or ACT.

Who is pocketing the money from the test prep firms? If students' names are being sold for marketing, they should at least get the money and a chance to opt out. I'm curious about the types of goodies the prep firms are offering schools to get these marketing targets -- reduced prices for on-site test preps, free admission for low-income kids, etc. Is money changing hands? Do the school boards watch this? And if the SAT and ACT companies are selling the names, I don't recall any disclosure or permission asked of the students. Why do they get to sell these names without compensation to those affected?

Margaret Engel


Schools that sell students' names and addresses to test prep firms would not only deeply annoy many of us parents, but as I understand it, would also violate the law. Such information is covered by privacy laws, with the only exception being the military, which Congress has authorized to collect such information for recruiting purposes if a parent does not object.

I asked Carina Wong, spokeswoman for Kaplan Inc., the moneymaking part of The Washington Post Co., how test prep companies such as hers get such a reputation.

She said: "We gather a large amount of our information from students who register on our Web site and come to our live events [SAT practice tests, college admissions workshops] around the country. We also acquire contacts from a number of sources -- data providers, student-oriented Web sites, online retailers, teen and parent publications. The student information we acquire from these parties is widely available to direct marketers, and anyone who chooses to opt out can easily do so. In mailing to these lists, we comply by the strict code of ethics and privacy policy of the Direct Marketing Association, of which we are a member."

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