Baltimore County's high school seniors in the Class of 2001 registered a thumping 24-point gain in their SAT scores -- proving, officials said, that intense prepping for the much-watched national test of verbal and math skills pays off.
The county's success wasn't repeated elsewhere in the state, although Howard County students recorded a 13-point gain. Average scores across Maryland only inched upward this year, and those in most metropolitan districts were either unchanged or declined slightly.
FOR THE RECORD - Because of an error in calculating SAT scores, five Baltimore County high schools with double-digit increases were omitted from a Page 1A story yesterday, and Chesapeake High School's combined verbal and math gains were understated.
Also scoring double-digit increases were seniors at Catonsville, Hereford, Owings Mills, Parkville and Pikesville high schools. Chesapeake's total increase was 73 points.
The Sun regrets the errors.
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she knew Baltimore County was concentrating on SAT preparation, "but I was still surprised. This demonstrates that if you prepare well and rigorously, you'll usually succeed."
With nine of its 25 high schools scoring double-digit gains -- and Chesapeake High increasing by 41 points -- Baltimore County reaped the rewards of a yearlong campaign in test preparation.
"I saw a wholesale blitz in Baltimore County," said Sandra Rawlings, a state Department of Education official who is working with local officials to improve SAT performance. "They were doing a lot of in-service programs for teachers and holding workshops giving tips on how to take the test.
Statewide, students scored an average 510 on the math portion of the test and 508 on the verbal SAT, both a point higher than last year. That's four points under the national average in math and two points above it in verbal. Scoring is on a scale of 200 to 800 points.
Statewide scores have been stagnant for several years, but 5,400 more seniors took the SAT this year than in 1997, mirroring a nationwide increase in test-taking. Since the SAT is taken by college-bound seniors -- a self-selecting group -- a high participation rate tends to result in lower scores.
Even so, in 2001, Maryland was fourth in the country in math and sixth in verbal scoring among states where at least 65 percent of eligible seniors -- the Maryland participation rate -- took the test.
Racial disparities in performance persist. A record number of African-Americans took the SAT in Maryland and across the nation this year, but their scores remained well below those of whites and Asian-Americans. In Maryland, black students' scores of 430 in verbal and 420 in math were both one point higher than in 2000.
Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston attributed his district's success in part to a partnership -- one of three in the nation -- forged with the College Board, which runs the SAT. "Clearly, the hard work of our teachers, administrators and curriculum staff has had a positive impact," he said.
High schools with double-digit gains were Chesapeake, Patapsco, Kenwood, Western, Lansdowne, Eastern, Randallstown, Towson and Woodlawn.
At Lansdowne, where the math SAT rose 37 points, Principal Patrick McCusker said teachers included "SAT-style" questions in all courses, from ROTC to English. "This way, our students weren't surprised by what was in the test or by its format."
In other metropolitan districts:
Baltimore City's combined score dropped six points, from 804 to 798, declining by three points each in the verbal and math tests. Mary E. Yakimowski, the system's research, evaluation and accountability officer, said the good news is that nearly 55 percent of the city's 3,674 seniors took the test this year, a 10-point increase in four years.
"We're hoping for increasing participation and performance rates," said Yakimowski.
Anne Arundel students posted a combined score of 1,052, one point higher than last year. The verbal score dropped three points, while the math score rose four points.
Severna Park High School, with a combined score of 1,128, was again the highest-scoring Arundel school, but the most improved school was Old Mill High in Millersville, where verbal scores rose six points and math scores 21 points for a combined average of 1,049. Officials said Old Mill students, like those at Lansdowne, trained in the content and format of the SAT.
In Howard County, school officials breathed a sigh of relief after viewing the scores from the class of 2001.
After two years of disappointing results, Howard's students increased their average composite score by 13 points, bringing the county average to 1,084.
That's 66 points higher than the state average, and 64 points higher than the national average. Howard's verbal scores increased six points, while math scores increased seven points.
Howard's most recent score ties the county's all-time high from the Class of 1998, but the increase is the biggest in recent history.
"We've had a recovery to our previous levels," said the district's director of testing, Leslie A. Wilson. "But we want the kids to still be moving up."
Harford County scores were stagnant. Verbal results were unchanged at 509 and the math average increased three points to 513, said spokesman Don Morrison.