Carroll students who took the SAT during the last school year earned scores higher than any graduating class in the 25 years that the county has kept records, according to test results released yesterday.
The 18-point jump in Carroll test scores - the largest increase among Baltimore-area school systems - occurred as scores statewide propelled Maryland into fourth place among other states where a high percentage of students take the tests.
The improvements in SAT scores for Carroll's high school seniors occurred after years of slight dips and gains. The average math score for Carroll's Class of 2002 jumped 13 points from last year's average, to 539, while the average verbal score rose 5 points, to 516. Carroll's total score of 1,055 was 35 points above state and national averages.
"One year does not make a trend, but this is something we see as a positive, and we'll certainly encourage students to continue to work at it to see whether this is, in fact, a trend," said Gregory Bricca, supervisor of accountability and assessment for Carroll schools.
The SAT is typically taken by college-bound seniors and is used in the college admissions process as a gauge of students' potential for success in their first year of college. The two parts of the test - math and verbal - are each scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points.
Across the state, college-bound students followed a national trend: They improved math scores and turned in a mediocre performance on the verbal portion of the national test.
Average Maryland scores increased by three points in math, from 510 to 513, while verbal scores declined by a point, to 507. National verbal scores for the 1.3 million seniors who took the test declined by two points, to 504, while mathematics scores increased by two points, to 516. In a ranking of states where more than two-thirds of seniors took the test in 2002, Maryland's scores would be fourth from the top, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said.
In Carroll County, school officials credited staff development for math teachers and the system's emphasis on making the curriculum tougher with raising SAT scores, especially in math.
Barry Gelsinger, assistant superintendent of instruction, pointed in particular to the University of Maryland's prerequisites for admission, which include three credits of math - Algebra I, Algebra II and geometry.
By encouraging students to choose high school courses that would allow them to apply to state universities, school officials have seen students who otherwise would drop math after Algebra II continue their math studies, Gelsinger said.
The school board went a step further last year, raising the number of credits required to graduate from 21 to 25 and requiring that students also complete a career and technology program or meet the course prerequisites for University of Maryland institutions.
"It used to be that seniors thought they could skate," said Susan Holt, the school board vice president. "But no longer is a high school diploma enough for someone to be able to live or support a family in the future."
From guidance counselors encouraging students to enroll in more challenging courses to the school board adding Advanced Placement classes to the curriculum, Carroll educators have worked hard to raise expectations that students will do more than the bare minimum required to graduate, school officials said yesterday.
Across the county, combined scores for four county high schools rose significantly. North Carroll High recorded the greatest gain, a 21-point rebound (to 1,046) after a 19-point slide two years ago. Westminster High climbed 20 points (to 1,047) while Liberty High students gained 18 points (to 1,060) and South Carroll High scores rose 15 points (at 1,042).
Francis Scott Key High produced the only drop, with scores falling 3 points (to 1,048), but administrators generally regard score fluctuations of 3 points in either direction as statistically insignificant.
Century High School did not take the SATs because the school opened last year with only ninth-graders and 10th-graders. The county's seventh high school - Winters Mill High outside Westminster - opened Monday.
Sun staff writers Stephen Kiehl, Erika Niedowski, Jonathan D. Rockoff and Tanika White contributed to this article.