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Stanley H. Kaplan dies at 90; founded test-prep company

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Stanley H. Kaplan, the founder and namesake of the nation's first test-preparation company, died of heart failure Sunday at his home in New York City. He was 90.

Kaplan started a tutoring company in his parents' Brooklyn home in 1938. In 1946, a student asked him to help her prepare for what was then called the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

"I was there at the right time with the proper educational approach," Kaplan told the New York Times in 1981. "I consider myself a poor man's private school."

By 1984, the Stanley H. Kaplan Educational Centers Ltd. had become a national chain with more than 100 centers. Kaplan, rejected from medical school, believed that students should have access to higher education based on their capabilities, not their connections.

Kaplan's prep courses helped create a highly profitable industry fueled by the fears of parents willing to pay thousands of dollars to give their children an advantage in highly competitive college admissions.

The creators of the SAT and ACT exams contend that it is more important for students to take a strong high school curriculum and as many honors classes as possible to help increase their test scores. But Kaplan and such competitors as the Princeton Review contend their own prep classes and books can produce big gains in test scores.

"In America there's nothing wrong with competition. There's nothing wrong with trying to do the best you can. And that's what I try to help students do," he told the Washington Post in 1982.

The College Board and the Educational Testing Service had maintained that coaching would not appreciably improve test scores.

The Federal Trade Commission investigated Kaplan's practices in the 1970s and found that some students could be helped.

"It was my biggest victory," he said in 2003. Kaplan called the SAT "a wonderful test, not perfect but necessary because grade-point average is not enough."

Kaplan was born May 24, 1919. He graduated from City College of New York with bachelor's and master's degrees.

He sold his business to the Washington Post Co. in 1984. He remained with the company until retiring in 1994 to concentrate on charitable causes.

He is survived by his wife, Rita, and daughters Susan B. Kaplan and Nancy Kaplan Belsky. Kaplan's son, Paul, died in 1991.

news.obits@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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