There is more than a 600-point discrepancy between the average SAT scores of students attending private and public schools in Richmond, which is something Liam Mulcahy wants to change.
The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a standardized test designed to evaluate high school students on their college readiness. The 2400-point test has three sections, critical reading, math and writing, each worth 800 points.
According to data provided on both the Collegiate School’s and Richmond Public Schools’ websites, the average student’s SAT score was 1898 and 1232 respectively in the 2013-2014 academic year.
Mulcahy, a Richmond College senior, started The SAT Initiative, a student-led project in which Richmond students will tutor public high school students for free at Huguenot High School, Armstrong High School and Richmond Community High School in preparation for the Nov. 7 test.
Mulcahy said he hoped to help close the gap in test scores between the city’s public and private high schools. His ultimate goal is to raise each student’s test score by at least 300 points. Richmond Public Schools’ average is in the 21-percentile nationally, he said.
There is also nearly a one-to-one correlation between racial demographics and SAT scores in Richmond, excluding the three specialty schools, Mulcahy said. This correlation could be linked to poverty in many of the areas around these schools. Poverty is such a big issue that many of these high school students receive free or reduced-price meals, which also means they qualify for a free test, he said.
“This isn’t really about blaming people, it’s not about blaming society, it’s not about blaming the rich,” Mulcahy said. “It’s just acknowledging that there are people out there that weren’t granted the same opportunities that we were, who weren’t born into prosperity by any means, and we’re kind of giving them a sense of new hope.”
Mulcahy worked in Washington, D.C. over the summer where he donned a suit and tie while walking past homeless people every day, a notion that bothered him, he said. He decided to try and alleviate some of the inequality in his university’s community as a result.
A group of volunteer Richmond students will drive to each high school twice a week leading up to the test. There, Richmond students will ensure the high school students are signed up for the test, administer practice tests in each section, evaluate areas of weakness, and then seek to teach general concepts and tricks for each section, Mulcahy said. He is also working on creating booklets for students to take home for additional practice and review.
“We are technically a tutoring program,” Mulcahy said, “but the biggest thing I’m looking for is people that have the right attitude and really truly believe that we can change these kids’ scores, and ultimately we can change their life.”
Sophomore Troy Springer joined the initiative to help create an equal opportunity, he said. He was fortunate enough to grow up in an area where a public school education was strong enough to prepare students for college.
“But in the city of Richmond, that isn’t the case,” Springer said. “You can’t be born into a bad family, live in a bad area, and have the resources available. Regardless if you take advantage of them or not, you don’t have the resources available to you to even make something of yourself to be successful, that’s the saddest part.”
The current economy requires students to acquire some form of higher education in order to get a stable job, Springer said. Helping students improve their SAT scores would give them a better shot at earning college admissions and scholarships so they can better their situations and eventually their own communities.
Senior Angelo Suggs, Richmond College Student Government Association president, is helping Mulcahy brand and spread the word about the initiative.
The SAT Initiative could have a humbling effect on Richmond students, Suggs said. While most students at Richmond have had supportive mentors on their path to Richmond, many of these high school students in the city do not have the same resources. If more Richmond students were exposed to these environments, then it may make them more appreciative of all the opportunities available to them.
This involvement in the community may also help break down the notion of the Richmond bubble, a notion that Richmond students have little to no involvement in the greater Richmond community, Suggs said.
In five years Suggs hopes the project will expand so the high school students would come to Richmond’s campus, he said. Actually being on campus and seeing what the future could bring may inspire high school students to break down barriers between them and higher education.
Ultimately Mulcahy, wants this initiative to be the student body’s initiative and continue to assist in the public school system long after he graduates, he said.
“Poverty and inequality puts a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” Mulcahy said. “and we shouldn’t let that bad taste deter us from taking initiative and doing something about it.”
Contact reporter Ellie Potter at email@example.com