Latest Aristotle Circle News
Feb 2, 2014
Services gear up for demand from parents eager to get their kids into private school. Aristotle Circle's Suzanne Rheault was early to recognize the demand for help in preparing youngsters for the ERB. Photo: Buck Ennis Aristotle Circle was a pioneer in the test-prep field when it published the first book on the exam to screen young children for the city's elite private schools, administered by the Educational Records Bureau. The test is commonly known as the ERB. Chief Executive Suzanne Rheault, a mother of two in Manhattan and former Wall Street analyst, felt strongly that children needed a way to prepare. The response to her book, published five years ago, was overwhelming: Its first five print runs sold out. Since 2009, Aristotle Circle, based in Manhattan, has sold more than $1 million worth of copies. In 2011, the firm received $2 million in funding from venture-capital firm Rho Ventures. Ms. Rheault expects the firm's revenue, which she declined to disclose, to double this year. "Before our book, the ERB was an absolute black box," said Ms. Rheault. "There weren't any samples, and children would go in and would have no idea what matrix reasoning or coding meant. " New approach Now the landscape is about to change for Aristotle Circle and test companies like it. In September, the Independent School Admission Association of Greater New York said that it would no longer recommend the current ERB entrance exam for kindergarten and first-grade applicants after this year. The test, taken from the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, measures children's vocabulary, verbal comprehension and other capabilities. In a letter, ISAAGNY said that its decision to abandon the ERB test was based in part on "the increased prevalence of test prepping, [which] has tainted the results. " ISAAGNY, which represents approximately 130 independent and private schools in the area, is expected to recommend a new protocol in late March, according to a spokeswoman for Dr. Patricia Hayot, chair of the ISAAGNY board and head of the Chapin School. Although local test-prep companies expect some schools to continue using the ERB's existing exam, the major players are already gearing up to release new offerings, once ISAAGNY makes its new recommendation. "No matter what they do, the test-prep companies will be right with them," said Emily Glickman, head of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting in Manhattan, which advises families on getting into private school. Tutoring companies predict that ISAAGNY will require some other screening for private-school admissions, and that parents will—as always—want to make sure their children are prepared for it. "If they implement a new test, we'll market a new book," said Ms. Rheault. Early-childhood public-and private-school tutoring represents only 25% of total sales but is one of the fastest-growing segments of the business. Making moves Aristotle and Bright Kids New York City, another trailblazer in early-childhood test prep, are the main players in the market, but more businesses, including Testing Mom and the Ivy Key, are capturing their share. Bright Kids, which has three Manhattan locations and expects to expand to Brooklyn and Queens this summer, has already issued about 80 books focused on early childhood, including some focused on the ERB. Chief Executive Bige Doruk—an engineer and mother of three who founded the profitable firm four years ago—expects that any change in the testing protocol will be good for business. "Whenever there is a change, there is anxiety," said Ms. Doruk. "And parents tutor more to prepare for the unknown. " With early-childhood offerings representing 50% of sales at the firm last year, Ms. Doruk is ready to tweak her offerings as soon as the ISAAGNY makes its recommendation. "There are only so many questions you can ask a 4-year-old," says Ms. Doruk. "Whatever [ISAAGNY] puts together, we will draw new books from our content -library to help children prepare for the test. " A version of this article appears in the February 3, 2014, print issue of Crain's New York Business.