Scholastic Aptitude Test scores in Arlington County sank 14 points last school year, with minority students, particularly black students, continuing to score lower than other county 12th-graders.

In neighboring Falls Church, the scores on the two-part standardized test, which measures the aptitude of college-bound seniors to learn, rose 36 points above the previous academic year, topping scores in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

Arlington students scored 445 on the verbal test, representing a decrease of 13 points from the 1988-89 school year. The math score of 507 was one point lower than last year. Arlington scores surpassed the state averages by 20 points on the verbal test and 37 points in math, but lagged behind Fairfax County and Falls Church. About 582 students, or 72 percent of graduating seniors, took the test.

Arlington school officials were concerned about the drop in average scores, but not alarmed, because scores "have bounced up and down" for at least five years, said David Rorick, public information officer for Arlington schools. "Kids are different from year to year. I would tell a parent I would be much more concerned if they dropped three points five years in a row than 15 points in one year," he said.

Officials were very concerned, however, with the continued disparity between the performances of minority students and other students, especially on the verbal test. The disparity was greatest with black students, who as a group scored 106 points lower than the county average on the verbal test and 118 points lower in math.

Asian students scored 374 on the verbal test and 494 in math, while Hispanic students scored 365 on the verbal test and 441 in math.

"I'm not sure what the causes are," said Betty Ann Armstrong, assistant superintendent for instruction. "The economic level of families has a lot to do with it, the education of the families, {and} some of it may be that the Hispanic population taking the test is increasing and there may be language deficits there."

In the last five years, the county has developed more programs to help minorities achieve academically, but turning the problem around will take a long time, Armstrong said.

As in the past, Yorktown had the highest scores of the three Arlington high schools, followed by Washington-Lee and then Wakefield, a trend that Rorick attributed largely to demographic realities.

The average scores at Yorktown, which draws students from some of the most affluent neighborhoods in the county, were 489 in verbal and 548 in math, compared with 454 (verbal) and 496 (math) at Washington-Lee and 386 (verbal) and 468 (math) at Wakefield, schools with more socioeconomically diverse student populations.

In Falls Church, 12th-grade students at George Mason Junior-Senior High School scored an average of 466 in verbal skills, up from the previous year's score of 457, and 533 in math ability, up from 506. Eighty percent of 95 graduating seniors took the test. Staff writer Jane Seaberry contributed to this report.