Pilot Program Aims to Raise SAT Scores of Low Income Students

About 30 Houston high school students are going through a pilot program to try to raise their SAT scores. The program is designed for low-income students who can't afford traditional SAT prep courses. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Traditional SAT prep courses usually cost around $1500. Monica Villalpando's parents paid $900 to a mail-order company to put her sister through a discounted course. It turned out to be a scam.

"At some point it struck me that, when we were in the orientation, it was primarily Latino parents and African-American parents in that orientation. And I just felt like we were, you know, misled. You know, totally misled and obviously used."

Villalpando says the experience exposed the need for affordable SAT tutoring for low-income students. So she started Project SABER, a free SAT prep course. About 30 students at HISD's Austin High School will go through the six-week course.

"It comes down to developing the mindset, you know for taking a test like this, as well as the practice. You know, we need the practice, we need that actual working out of the problems."

Most of the students have already taken the test and scored in the 500s, landing them in the average category. Dr. Jerry Baty is a professor of mathematics at Houston Community College. He says math and reading tutors will attempt to raise the students' scores by as much as 150 points.

"We have experience in posing higher level questionings the students have maybe never thought about. Maybe we can bring them to a higher level of thinking through our teaching which they might not have been exposed to before. These instructors know what it takes to go from a 550 level, which is an average student in mathematics, to the sixth quarter to 700 level."

At the end of the semester, these 30 students will retake the test. Their scores will be compared to 30 other students who do not go through the program to determine how effective the tutoring is. Baty says a key element of Project SABER is parent involvement.

"Every one of the parents that have a student or a son or daughter that is in the program is heavily involved with this program, which is not what is usually occuring as far as my observation at some of the schools. We want that parent involvement. And I think that may in the end run, be the real difference in this program."

Project SABER is funded by members of LULAC and is being tested on LULAC youth. Coordinators hope to open it to other students next year and to expand it onto other campuses. All of the materials, tutoring and books are provided free to the students. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...