As their parents sat anxiously in a waiting room, five children were sharpening their test-taking skills in a tutoring center in TriBeCa, underlining words that might hold clues to the answers and crossing off the illogical multiple-choice options intended to trip them up. For homework, there were more practice problems, the New York Times reports. The tutoring business has come a long way from Stanley Kaplan’s basement in Brooklyn, and test-preparation courses for college or private school admission are practically a rite of American education. But in New York City, where even seats in public schools can be the rewards of a Darwinian contest, the industry has found a whole new lode to mine. The students in the Manhattan center, all high achievers in their elementary schools, were practicing for the state standardized tests that begin this week, exams that for years had typically been overlooked, if not ignored, by the parents of top performers. But competition for top middle schools has intensified as more families choose to remain in the city and others find themselves unable to afford private schools, and performance on fourth- and fifth-grade standardized tests is crucial to getting into one of those schools…

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staff and wire services reports