The headline on a Sept. 8 Style story, "The SAT, a Test of a Family's Will," perhaps needed a word or two changed.

Like Ben Gordon, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School junior in the story, my daughter Jane is an 11th-grader in a Montgomery County public school. She also is determined to get into a good college. She, too, wanted to take the Capital Educators' prep class described in the article. Call me unreasonable, I said no. The course costs $1,295.

I'm trying to do the math: A guaranteed increase of between 150 and 200 test points from Capital Educators runs $1,295; enrollment in the PSAT/New SAT Genius Course from Studyworks looks like it costs about $795; a 100-point gain from Studyworks Silver Tutorial Program rings up at $876 to $1,095; lots of testimonials and one student's reported increase of 140 points from Montgomery County Public Schools' adult education course costs $225, unless you meet the criteria to qualifiy as low-income; a private Studyworks tutor is $120 to $150 an hour; Premier PSAT/SAT Tutoring 3-in-1 Program from Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions sells for $3,699.

Jane is the oldest of my three kids; how much per point per kid can I afford and still pay that pesky mortgage and those Montgomery County taxes that are supposed to be purchasing a quality public education?

I've looked at some of the old studies that claim that SAT coaching makes little difference in test scores. But if coaching doesn't work, how can these companies boast such significant gains in scores, and why do my county schools sell a prep course?

I don't want to begrudge the Gordons their efforts and means. Still, the headline might have been more accurate if it read "The SAT: A Test of a Family's Will -- and Wealth."


Takoma Park


The story of the 700 vocabulary cards and many other aids to taking the SATs mostly made me sad for Ben Gordon and his siblings.

The teenager may get extra points on the SAT and be accepted at a college his parents deem worthy, but by the time he gets there, any love of learning and joy in discovery probably will have been obliterated by the process of cramming his head full of testable data. Charles Dickens's "Hard Times" character, Thomas Gradgrind -- a believer in the rigor of "hard facts" and statistics -- surely lives on.

As a university teacher who for 30 years has been inspired and refreshed by the antic and sometimes anarchic energy of students' curiosity and impatience to learn, I hope that when Ben Gordon arrives at the college of his parents' choice, he finds faculty who will relight the flame of learning for him.


Harrisonburg, Va.