03/08/2012 01:51 pm ET Updated May 08, 2012

The SAT Detective: Mom on a Mission

This week the New York Post featured a story about a mom who had taken the SAT seven times in an effort to better understand the process of standardized testing and the implications for her own children. It featured the methods she had used to master the test, her failed attempts to attain a perfect score (although she hit an 800 on writing and was in the 99th percentile in reading), and the whopping $10,000 she allegedly spent in the process. Whether or not she actually spent that much, the quest to ace admissions can be an expensive journey if you buy into every opportunity that claims it has the answers.

I wasn't shocked to see this story because I met Debbie Stier, a true SAT detective, last year when I interviewed her on my podcast and for my book COLLEGE BOUND AND GAGGED: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind. The former publishing house powerhouse had a clear and fascinating mission. She wanted to see what it would take to get a perfect SAT score. That's how her was born. 

Read a few months of Debbie Stier's blogs and it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't an overbearing parent trying to give her kid an edge. Part journalist, investigator, business woman, and parent, Debbie Stier's trying to figure out what piece (if any) of the multi-billion dollar test prep industry will level the playing field for teen test takers including her own children. Over the last year, it's been her full-time job to participate in a process that many parents push on their teens, but never truly understand. And guess what? Times have changed. This isn't your 1979 SAT experience.

Debbie Stier has been up close and personal with the most popular test prep programs. From Kaplan to Kumon, she's been armed for SAT success by the deemed experts. Her meticulous blogging chronicles her lessons, results -- successes and failures, frustration, anxiety, and parent-child bonding. Her son beat her math score. He was thrilled and she couldn't be happier. Mother and son shared some laughs over the SAT. Really? Really! I'd call that -- "Mission accomplished!" So would she.
Do I think she's crazy? No. While I'd rather have a root canal than sharpen my No. 2 pencils and tackle what she's chosen, I'm fascinated by those who tackle challenges and share information that might help other people.

Is the amount of money and effort she's spent on prep over-the-top ridiculous? I don't think anyone should have to take out a loan to get a college-bound edge, but it's happening in some homes. She has spent money to investigate and analyze standardized test prep in an interesting and personal way. It's her job. No, it's not a randomized scientific study, but her insights are making the test prep industry sit up and take notice.

At this moment, Debbie Stier doesn't have a perfect score, but she understands the score better than most parents. I'm betting her project leads to insights that will help strengthen learning and save families money on their college-bound journeys. Wouldn't that be nice!