Following a nationwide trend, the scores of Prince George's County high school students on standard college entrance exams dropped last year in both verbal and mathematical skills, although the drop was smaller than in neighboring Montgomery County.

However, the average score for the 4,134 Prince George's seniors who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) last year remained below national, state and Montgomery County averages.

School administration officials in Prince George's said they have not analyzed the newest figures and declined to comment on them. School board member Lesley Kreimer said the test results indicate "quite clearly that the ability of our students to perform in school and on tests has gone down."

The average score for Prince George's students on the verbal section of the SAT was 406 last year, down three points from the year before. On the test's mathematical section, student scores also declined three points, to 450.

The highest possible SAT score is 800 on each section of the test.

In Montgomery County, where verbal scores declined nine points and math scores went down five points, school officials expressed concern.

School board president Marian Greenblatt said, "We're very concerned about such a dramatic drop, even though the scores are above the national average."

Montgomery students averaged 456 on the verbal section and 500 on the math section of the test. Nationwide, students scored 427 verbal and 467 math, decreases of two points each from the year before.

In comparison, students in Maryland as a whole averaged 426 verbal last year, a drop of five points from the year before, and 464 math, a drop of two points.

"We can't find a reason. The populations [taking the test] took the same as in the past -- similar post-high school plans, career expectations, parental income. There's no explanation there I'd want to hang my hat on," said Jim Meyerberg, coordinator of testing for Montgomery schools.

Kreimer said that although test scores in Prince George's are lower than state and national averages county students are not necessarily failing to perform as well as students elsewhere.

"We have a lot of different people moving in; the county is constantly changing. A lot of those people are from lower socioeconomic groups and have less educational backgrounds, and that shows up in our scores," Kreimer said.