Average scores on college prep tests in Prince George's County went up by the slightest of margins this year, but the man responsible for improving test results said he's still not satisfied.

The average combined math and verbal score on the Scholastic Assessment Test in the county was 889 this year, up one point from last year's average.

The national average this year was 1,016.

Although the Prince George's gain was modest, it came as more students than ever took the exam--4,331 this year, compared with 4,130 last year.

Still, instruction chief Leroy Thompkins said he expected better results.

"I anticipated much more than that, actually," said Thompkins, who will continue to oversee the department until Suellen Skeen, one of Superintendent Iris T. Metts's four new deputies, reports to work later this month.

"We do have to make greater gains," Thompkins said.

Thompkins was perhaps basing his hopes on the fact that the school system has made a major push to improve scores in recent years. All 20 high schools offer SAT-preparation courses either before, during or after school--and some offer additional classes in the summer, Thompkins said.

Still, Thompkins said there was some news that he was excited about. Although the average scores in the period from 1996 to 1998 held steady at 889, during the period from 1993 to 1995, the average scores went down five points. And in the period from 1990 to 1992, the scores went down five points.

"Hopefully, we have at least stopped the bleeding," he said. "Now we have to focus on how to turn [the scores] upward."

In the Washington area, Montgomery County posted an average combined math and verbal score of 1096, the highest in the region and in county history. Fairfax nearly matched that at 1094, down one point from last year. The District's average rose three points to 813, though that remained the lowest in the area.

In Prince George's, on a school-by-school basis, Eleanor Roosevelt High once again had the highest combined score average in the county at 1076, up six points from last year. The county's largest school also had the most test-takers: 534.

High Point High made the largest gain, averaging 894, 38 points higher than last year. Frederick Douglass High also improved by a significant margin, up 33 points to an average of 920.

Frederick Douglass Principal Susan DePlatchett said that in addition to an SAT class, which is optional for students, she requires that every student do an SAT preparation exercise once a week during study hall.

"We stress the fact that the SAT is not owned by the math and English departments," she said. "It's a total commitment."

Forestville High had the lowest average score in the county at 725, a decline of 23 points from the year before. Bladensburg High had the largest drop, falling 37 points to an average of 749.

School board members said they are counting on Metts to raise scores over the next four years. They point out that one of the performance bonuses in Metts's contract is tied to her raising scores.

"Certainly, Dr. Metts has this obligation," said board Chairman Alvin Thornton (Suitland).

Vocational Change

Metts offered a new twist on an old concept at a public hearing Thursday on the school system's five-year building plan.

Metts gave the county's Board of Education a proposal that would kill plans to build a replacement for Croom Vocational High School in Upper Marlboro. Under Metts's vision, instead of offering vocational programs at a centralized school, each of the county's 20 high schools would offer some sort of school-to-work course.

The plan would save construction funds that could be used elsewhere and also allow more students to become familiar with school-to-work programs. Some educators say such programs have a negative reputation because some parents and students believe they are for students who aren't bound for college.

Board member Angela Como (Laurel) said she supports the idea because she believes all students should consider such programs an important way to become familiar with area businesses and professions.

"Academics in high school have to be rigorous and offer tech programs like this to connect [students] to the work force," she said. "I like the concept."

The school board will vote on this proposal tomorrow.

Schools, Teachers Part

Overshadowed in all the media attention given to the county's effort to hire more teachers is the news that the school system also is getting rid of teachers. And officials are happy about it.

According to Eleanor White, acting personnel director, 189 provisionally certified teachers resigned this summer because the school system demoted them from full-time to per diem status--meaning they were to be paid on a daily basis and receive no health benefits.

White said the system took the action because those teachers were not making a concerted effort to obtain certification. Under state guidelines, provisionally certified teachers must take at least six hours of college course work each year until they receive certification.

Overall, about 18 percent of Prince George's County's 8,000 teachers were provisionally certified last school year, the highest percentage in the state. State officials are pressuring the county to reduce that number.

"They were provisional teachers who were not finishing their course work or even making an attempt to take the [National Teachers' Exam] in the time frame," White said of those who resigned.

Officials reviewed the files of about 1,600 provisionally certified teachers in the system and found that the rest were proceeding toward certification. But, White said, the system will not stand for procrastinators.

"We don't have to settle and we're not going to settle," she said.

SAT Scores

Average scores for Class of 1999 in public schools and change from scores of 1998 for Prince George's County high schools.

School Verbal (Change) Math (Change) Total (Change)

Bladensburg 368 (-22) 381 (-15) 749 (-37)

Bowie 486 (4) 465 (-10) 951 (-6)

Central 430 (-4) 427 (2) 857 (-2)

Crossland 403 (-9) 390 (-12) 793 (-21)

Douglass 468 (14) 452 (19) 920 (33)

DuVal 421 (5) 421 (1) 842 (6)

Fairmont Heights 411 (5) 393 (-13) 804 (-8)

Forestville 366 (-23) 359 (0) 725 (-23)

Friendly 400 (-14) 413 (13) 813 (-1)

Gwynn Park 454 (-3) 432 (-11) 886 (-14)

High Point 443 (14) 451 (24) 894 (38)

Largo 433 (-2) 408 (-7) 841 (-9)

Laurel 473 (9) 473 (3) 946 (12)

Northwestern 403 (7) 394 (-4) 797 (3)

Oxon Hill 458 (-5) 448 (-17) 906 (-22)

Parkdale 430 (-3) 426 (-8) 856 (-11)

Potomac 386 (5) 368 (-3) 754 (2)

Roosevelt 538 (10) 538 (-4) 1076 (6)

Suitland 452 (8) 431 (1) 883 (9)

Surrattsville 424 (3) 409 (-2) 833 (1)

CAPTION: "We do have to make greater gains," instruction chief Leroy Thompkins said of county SAT scores.