The latest round of results on the Scholastic Assessment Tests shows that although record numbers of Northern Virginia minority students took the college prep exam last year, the performance of black and Hispanic students continues to lag behind that of white and Asian students.

But school officials believe they have instituted several programs that will help narrow the gap in the coming years. Districts are encouraging more students to take higher-level courses, with the logic that SAT scores will increase as overall student achievement improves. They also are urging more students to take practice SAT exams.

And many schools are offering on-site SAT prep courses--even paying the costs for students who cannot afford them.

"We've done a lot of work that is going to pay off in future dividends," Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said. "Based on what we're doing, I'll be very disappointed if we don't see significant improvement next year."

The most recent SAT scores were released last week. In Fairfax, scores dropped slightly among all ethnic groups, with the biggest drop coming in the African American students' average math score, which fell 12 points to 465.

Domenech attributes the drop, at least in part, to the fact that significantly more black students took the exam last year. Domenech and other officials point out that as the pool of students taking the SAT grows, so does the range of ability among those students.

Last year, several African American churches, community groups and civic organizations in Fairfax mounted campaigns to encourage black students to participate in the SAT program, including sponsoring tutoring sessions and prep courses.

As a result of these efforts, and those by the school system, black student participation increased by about 11 percent. Participation rates for other groups remained about the same.

Domenech said it is not clear yet why Hispanic students' participation did not increase, but he surmised that it is probably due in part to the language barrier some Hispanic students face.

Domenech said he expects both overall SAT scores and those of minority students to increase this year because of several new programs that have been put into place. The initiatives were started after 1999 seniors had already taken the exams.

This fall, for example, SAT prep programs are being set up in lower-performing Fairfax high schools. The district also will offer scholarships to encourage poor students to take the workshops.

Last year, the district began encouraging more students to take the PSAT on the theory that it would prepare students for the SAT. Some principals have begun paying to have all their ninth- and 10th-graders take the PSAT.

Alexandria three years ago began requiring that all sophomores and juniors take the PSAT, and the program is beginning to show some success.

In 1996, shortly after the program was instituted, average SAT scores in Alexandria dropped 42 points, leading many parents to fear that the school system had lost its ability to prepare students for the test. But an analysis of the SAT results showed that the drop was caused by a sharp increase in the number of students--particularly Hispanic students--taking the test. They had been encouraged to do so by their experience with the PSAT, which made the SAT less intimidating and led many of them to think about applying to college.

Alexandria officials had said that the more accustomed students became to the SAT, the more successful they would be, and the most recent scores seem to bear them out. In the last school year, 348 students took the SAT, the largest number in five years. The average verbal score increased by six points and the average math score by two points.

The gap between average SAT scores for whites and blacks in Alexandria narrowed by 22 points this year, but the gap between whites and Hispanics increased by 35 points. Alexandria officials have said the Hispanic scores often include newly arrived students whom the district has not had much chance to work with.

In Arlington, Superintendent Robert G. Smith has put an unusual emphasis on closing the gap between whites and minorities on achievement tests, particularly Virginia's Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and the Stanford 9 tests. Two years ago, Smith said it would be an Arlington goal to raise standardized test scores by an average of two percentile ranks for all students and to raise minority student scores even higher so that they would gain at least two ranks on white students.

So far, the county's progress has been erratic. The white-minority gap closed by more than two percentile points on a few of the SOL tests, but widened on others. The SATs were not included as part of the county's goal, but the results show overall drops in scores for blacks and Hispanics, while the countywide average increased nine points.

SAT SCORES; Average scores for Class of 1999 in Virgina public schools and change from scores of 1998.

ALEXANDRIA

School: T.C. Williams High

Verbal (Change): 481 (6)

Math (Change): 480 (2)

Total (Change): 961 (8)

ARLINGTON

School: Wakefield Senior High

Verbal (Change): 477 (1)

Math (Change): 498 (10)

Total (Change): 975 (11)

School: Washington-Lee Senior High

Verbal (Change): 517 (-4)

Math (Change): 503 (-10)

Total (Change): 1020 (-14)

School: Yorktown High

Verbal (Change): 569 (1)

Math (Change): 567 (-3)

Total (Change): 1137 (-1)

FAIRFAX

School: Annandale High

Verbal (Change): 496 (6)

Math (Change): 515 (2)

Total (Change): 1011 (8)

School: Centreville High

Verbal (Change): 527 (5)

Math (Change): 532 (0)

Total (Change): 1059 (5)

School: Chantilly High

Verbal (Change): 533 (6)

Math (Change): 538 (1)

Total (Change): 1071 (7)

School: Fairfax High

Verbal (Change): 523 (0)

Math (Change): 531 (-16)

Total (Change): 1054 (-16)

School: Falls Church High

Verbal (Change): 482 (-14)

Math (Change): 522 (12)

Total (Change): 1004 (-2)

School: George C. Marshall High

Verbal (Change): 521 (11)

Math (Change): 536 (3)

Total (Change): 1057 (14)

School: Hayfield Secondary School

Verbal (Change): 511 (4)

Math (Change): 511 (-2)

Total (Change): 1022 (2)

School: Herndon High

Verbal (Change): 515 (-3)

Math (Change): 525 (-5)

Total (Change): 1040 (-8)

School: J.E.B.Stuart High

Verbal (Change): 508 (2)

Math (Change): 518 (-16)

Total (Change): 1026 (-14)

School: James Madison High

Verbal (Change): 555 (3)

Math (Change): 561 (2)

Total (Change): 1116 (5)

School: James Robinson Secondary School

Verbal (Change): 536 (-6)

Math (Change): 553 (-8)

Total (Change): 1089 (-14)

School: Lake Braddock Secondary School

Verbal (Change): 552 (1)

Math (Change): 563 (-5)

Total (Change): 1115 (-4)

School: Langley High

Verbal (Change): 578 (0)

Math (Change): 599 (1)

Total (Change): 1177 (1)

School: McLean High

Verbal (Change): 540 (-25)

Math (Change): 575 (-1)

Total (Change): 1115 (-26)

School: Mount Vernon High

Verbal (Change): 489 (-16)

Math (Change): 498 (-24)

Total (Change): 987 (-40)

School: Oakton High

Verbal (Change): 549 (12)

Math (Change): 560 (5)

Total (Change): 1109 (17)

School: Robert E. Lee High

Verbal (Change): 512 (12)

Math (Change): 514 (2)

Total (Change): 1026 (14)

School: South Lakes High

Verbal (Change): 540 (0)

Math (Change): 541 (1)

Total (Change): 1081 (1)

School: Thomas A. Edison High

Verbal (Change): 496 (-7)

Math (Change): 511 (-15)

Total (Change): 1007 (-22)

School: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Verbal (Change): 717 (5)

Math (Change): 735 (4)

Total (Change): 1452 (9)

School: W.T. Woodson High

Verbal (Change): 565 (21)

Math (Change): 584 (15)

Total (Change): 1149 (36)

School: West Potomac High

Verbal (Change): 525 (3)

Math (Change): 533 (11)

Total (Change): 1058 (14)

School: West Springfield High

Verbal (Change): 541 (-5)

Math (Change): 560 (-1)

Total (Change): 1101 (-6)

Average scores for public and private schools combined:

U.S.

Verbal (Change): 505 (0)

Math (Change): 511 (-1)

Total (Change): 1016 (-1)

VIRGINIA

Verbal (Change): 508 (1)

Math (Change): 499 (0)

Total (Change): 1007 (1)

SOURCE: College Board and local school districts.