Two Septembers ago, families of students at our suburban Chicago high school received an email from the principal detailing school performance over the previous 12 months. His note chronicled the considerable accomplishments of individual students, student organizations and school athletics. He also made special mention of the school's large number of new semi-finalists from the National Merit Scholarship program, a whopping 50 percent increase from the previous year.

While touting the new "scholars," the principal observed that the school had contracted with a local education company to coach top students on the vagaries of the PSAT, the test used to select semi-finalists. And though he stopped short of directly connecting the new program to test results, I made a mental note to check back the following Fall to see if the year's large number of scholars persisted from year to year. Call me suspicious.

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