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 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. So many parents — some wealthy, some not — are now shelling out hundreds and even thousands of dollars for tutors and for courses like the eight-week Saturday morning boot camp in TriBeCa. And that is on top of test preparation that almost all elementary schools now provide in class.
“This is just us wanting to kind of ease the pressure of the test,” said the father of a third grader enrolled in the TriBeCa program, run by Bright Kids NYC. The program costs about $550 for eight one-hour tutoring sessions. He asked to remain anonymous because he feared his decision to pay for tutoring would reflect poorly on his daughter’s school, the Lower Lab School on the Upper East Side, which like most schools makes its own efforts to prepare students for tests. “I think a lot of families are tutoring in some way,” he said. “Everybody we know does something.”