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MAY 2007

Helping Students Climb the Learning Curve:
From Base Camp to Summit with Kaplan’s Tutoring Company, SCORE!

By Emily Sherwood, Ph.D.

“Congratulations! You’ve made it to the top of SCORE! Mountain,” exclaims the cartoon mountaineering figure at the end of SCORE!’s newest workbook series for students from Kindergarten to Grade 6, aptly titled Mountain Challenge.. “You deserve a fun break from studying. Go visit a friend and have some fun!”

With a succession of carefully selected, age appropriate learning assignments followed by immediate positive reinforcement as each imaginary base camp is reached, SCORE! is rolling out the latest in its arsenal of tutoring tools, a sequence of motivational workbooks that hits book store shelves this May. The workbooks are the newest product in a plethora of rapidly growing educational services that SCORE! has become famous for since the company was started in 1992 by Stanford Business School graduate Alan Tripp, who began the fledgling operation by opening storefront tutoring centers in California. Tripp was guided by a vision and a passion to create “a place where students of all abilities could come and get education without any shame…where education was delivered in a very positive environment…and where kids could come to re-equate education with fun and really develop a love of learning,” explains SCORE!’s Executive Vice-President of Operations, Beth Hollenberg.

Success breeds success, and in 1996 the international test prep giant Kaplan, Inc. acquired SCORE! in an effort to “develop a tutoring arm and do something for younger children,” describes Hollenberg, who joined the company in 2000 after obtaining a law degree from Stanford University and serving as an attorney for the 2000 Democratic National Convention Committee. Tripp’s seminal vision was clearly prophetic: in just 15 years, SCORE! has grown exponentially to embrace 160 locations in 11 states, 26 of them in New York City (they’re in all five boroughs), 14 in New Jersey and two in Connecticut. Central to SCORE!’s mission is its accessibility and affordability to all socioeconomic groups: “We serve kids in the Bronx and in Beverly Hills,” says Hollenberg proudly.

Parents bring their children to SCORE! for both enrichment and remedial help, depending on their needs. Some parents are more concerned about college; others are just focused on getting their children into high school. Sometimes there is pressure around high stakes testing, but almost universally parents are “looking for a partner to help them navigate the educational system…to make sure that they are on top of their child’s education,” notes Hollenberg. 

Following careful student assessments and a discussion of goals with the family, SCORE! offers a choice of two instructional models for children from pre-kindergarten through tenth grade. The Advantage Program provides a computer-based reading and math curriculum for students called SuccessMaker; students work at their computers on an individualized curriculum, supplemented with direct instruction by academic coaches. The staff-to-student ratio is about one instructor for every five or seven students, at a cost of $20 per session: “You can get a month [of the Advantage Program] for about what it would cost to go out to dinner, a movie and have a babysitter,” says Hollenberg. SCORE!’s second instructional model, the more intensive, Personal Academic Tutoring Program, is a pen and pencil-based curriculum, taught with a more intensive teacher-student ratio (usually 1:3 or less). Typically focused on one academic subject only, this option costs about $40-$50 per session.

Fundamental to SCORE!’s educational philosophy is “a very rich motivation and reward system,” says Hollenberg. Upon mastering various skills, students earn score cards which can be redeemed for gift certificates and books. There’s also a goal program that rewards completion, helping students to set and pursue academic goals: students attain bronze, silver, gold, and even “top of the mountain” goals when they complete a certain number of sessions, advancing them up a wooden mountain to the summit. Goal attainment is not taken lightly at SCORE!: “There’s a goal celebration. Children bring their parents, family members, friends, and everybody has cameras. All activity in the center is stopped. The students look up from their computers. We introduce the student and we say what his or her goal was, and everybody claps,” explains Hollenberg. The student gets a token reward, often a T-shirt, but most importantly, s/he gets to give everybody in the center a score card of their own.

For a lot of students, it’s the score cards and goals that keep them coming back to SCORE! But for others, according to Hollenberg, “it’s about  going somewhere where someone knows your name. They know what subjects you like, what subjects you don’t like, they know if you had a soccer game, they know your friends…We become a big part of a family’s life.” Not bad for a company that started out with a dream and a storefront.#



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