The overall SAT score for Howard County students dropped for the second consecutive year - this time by 10 points - causing school officials to worry that a trend is surfacing.
This year's composite score was 1071 out of a possible 1600, according to results released by the school system yesterday. Last year's overall score of 1081 was 3 points lower than the year before.
School officials said they are concerned about the drop but need more time to assess what is happening and how it can be corrected.
"This is two years in a row that we've dropped," said school district spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "We want to go up. You expect every once in a while that that's going to happen. Two years in a row is of more concern to us."
The county's verbal score dropped 4 points, from 534 to 530. The math score fell from 547 to 541.
Caplan said the county is particularly concerned about the dip in math.
"We have already taken steps within the last year to make sure our resources are really focused in the area of mathematics," Caplan said. "But it's still too early to draw any conclusions. We need to take some time and see."
Howard's Class of 2000 performed well above the state and national averages on the college entrance exam. The county's combined average score was 52 points above the national composite of 1019, and 55 points above the state average of 1016.
Maryland's Class of 2000 performed slightly better than the previous year's high school graduates on the SAT, but the latest round of test scores shows large swings among school districts across the state.
Some of the biggest changes included a 42-point increase in Charles County's scores, while the average score among Harford County's graduates dropped 16 points. Scores declined in all but one other Baltimore-area system that reported scores yesterday.
For Maryland as a whole, the average math score rose 2 points in 2000, to 509, while the verbal score remained unchanged at 507, the College Board reported yesterday.
"I'm thrilled at the Maryland scores," state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said. "But I'm concerned about any jurisdiction in the state of Maryland that has a substantial decline. If it's a point, that's understandable. More than that is reason for concern."
The SAT is typically taken by college-bound seniors and is used in the college admissions process as an indicator of how well students will do in their first year. Each portion of the test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800.
Howard was among five of six Baltimore-area school systems that released their students' average scores yesterday, and all but Anne Arundel County showed declines.
In Baltimore County, educators were left wondering why scores dropped 11 points - declining 8 points on the verbal portion, to 496, and 3 points on the math, to 501.
Baltimore educators also were disappointed with the city system's fifth consecutive year of declining scores. This year, the verbal score dropped 8 points, to 408, though the math portion rose 2 points, to 396.
Anne Arundel County's Class of 2000 had the same overall SAT score as the past two years - up a point in verbal, to 520, and down a point in math, to 531. County educators were pleased that the average combined score of black students rose 15 points, up to 913.
Harford County school officials speculated that their SAT decline might be related to the increasing number of high school seniors who take the exam, from 1,280 in 1999 to almost 1,400 in 2000. The math score in Harford was down 7 points in math, to 510, and verbal declined 9 points, to 509.
Carroll County school officials refused to release their systems SAT results until tomorrow.
Howard's overall performance was among the highest in the region, topping that of Anne Arundel County (1051), Baltimore County (997) and Harford County (1019).
Girls score higher
The Howard scores reflect the performance of seniors who took the test at any time in high school through March of this year. More girls took the test than boys, and, as usual, scored slightly higher on verbal sections but slightly lower in math. Overall, males did better than females on the test.
African-Americans performed the lowest (913); Puerto Rican students scored highest (1156). Asian students scored an average 1135, and white students 1106.
Howard's highest scorers came from households where parents earned more than $100,000 annually, reflecting a nationwide ratio between family income and test scores.
Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke was unavailable to comment yesterday on the district's scores.
District Testing Director Leslie Wilson said that although the test is a predictor of how well students will do in college - not a direct reflection of the county's curriculum - the falling scores are worrisome.