Howard County's 1998 high school senior class scored 10 points higher on the SAT than the previous class, averaging 1,084 out of a possible 1,600 points.
Students scored 535 on the verbal portion of the exam, a six-point improvement, and 549 on the math portion, four points higher. Howard's average was 70 points above the state's combined average of 1,014 points, and its scores were the highest in the Baltimore region, according to test results released yesterday.
"I think it's a positive reflection on our students," said school board member Linda L. Johnston.
The results reflect the scores of 1998 seniors who took the test during their high school years through March 1998. The SAT is the main college entrance exam for students in the eastern and northeastern U.S.
Howard County's SAT results have been consistently high in recent years, with scores of graduating classes increasing every year for the past five years except 1997. Last year's score, 1,074, was down six points from the 1996 average of 1,080.
"If you maintain a fairly constant score, that's good if it's a high score, which ours is," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "It's just making sure that you're not seeing a consistent drop over time. That would be of concern. We went down last year by six points, so part of this 10-point jump is to bring that back up."
Howard school officials said a variety of elements may have contributed to the increase. For example, the scores don't indicate which students were taking the test for a second or a third time.
"Sometimes it depends on how many students take the test. Obviously, the more kids that take it, you're broadening the base and the preparedness level of the kids," Caplan said. "There are just so many factors. It's hard to chalk it up to one particular factor."
The Howard County school system has not prepared a breakdown of its SAT scores by individual school, gender or race. Caplan said the school board will receive a more detailed report in the fall.
Overall, Maryland's scores rose one point in math, from 507 to 508, and fell a point in verbal abilities, from 507 to 506, while the number of students taking the test rose by 1 percent for the first time in five years.
Nationally, math scores increased from 511 to 512, the highest score in 27 years, according to the College Board, which administers the test. Scores on the verbal section remained the same as last year, at 505, so the state remains slightly above the national average on the verbal part and somewhat below in math.
Maryland's combined cumulative score of 1,014 makes it the second highest-performing state in the Mid-Atlantic, surpassed only by West Virginia, which had a combined score of 1,038. Only 18 percent of students there take the test, however.
"These scores reflect the reality of education in Maryland -- that each child can learn and excel and succeed," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
"We have certainly anticipated the problems in reading and language skills indicated," said Grasmick. "We believe that the actions we are taking today to bolster reading instruction will pay rich dividends," she added, referring to the growing emphasis on phonics in reading instruction and changes in state regulations that will require teachers to take more courses in reading.
Like other groups of Maryland students, more African-American students took the test in 1998 than in previous years. But their performance continued to lag behind other ethnic groups. Scores among black public school students fell this year from 433 to 429 on the verbal part and from 421 to 419 on the math portion.
White students' scores increased slightly; verbal rose from 532 to 533 this year, and math increased from 537 to 541. Scores for American Indian and Hispanic students also declined this year, while Asian American students improved their scores.
In the Baltimore area, Harford County students made the largest gains -- 25 points overall, to 1053 -- over 1997's scores.
Pub Date: 9/02/98