The mean SAT score for Montgomery County students rose above 1100 for the first time, according to data released by the College Board this week.

Students from Montgomery County's class of 2004 scored, on average, 1102 on the 1600-point test, which many universities use to assess applicants. That represents an eight-point increase from the previous year and a six-point increase from 1999, the year Superintendent Jerry D. Weast came to the county.

The school system's mean score on the verbal portion of the exam was 541, compared with the national average of 508. The math score was the county's highest ever: 561, compared with 518 nationwide.

At a news conference yesterday, school system officials heralded the rise in scores as proof their efforts are paying off.

"We believe that we have turned the corner on school reform at all levels," said Board of Education President Sharon W. Cox (At Large).

The improved scores, County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) said, didn't happen by chance. "It is something to be very proud of," he said.

Ten Montgomery high schools scored above 1100 and four -- Winston Churchill, Richard Montgomery, Whitman and Wootton -- scored above 1200. Most high schools have increased their mean SAT scores since 2000.

Albert Einstein, Gaithersburg, John F. Kennedy and Wheaton high schools had mean scores below 1000.

Scores for different groups of students continued to vary widely. Asian Americans, for example, increased their performance 33 points over last year to a mean of 1160. Whites increased 10 points to 1163; Hispanics dropped one point to 944; and African Americans stayed the same at 917.

The mean score for students who receive free or reduced-price lunch because of family poverty rose 16 points to 894, and special education students scored 924 on average, 26 points higher than last year.

The mean for students who received services because English is not their first language dropped 54 points to 757. At the news conference, Weast said the county's overall verbal score was impressive considering "we gained 13,000 kids who don't speak English."

Many of those students, however, don't take the SAT.

Just under 26 percent of the students who received services for their limited English skills took the SAT as compared with 33 percent of the class of 2000. Since 2000, the number of Montgomery County test takers has increased. SAT participation as a percentage of senior class enrollments, however, has remained largely constant over the past five years. Less than half of the Hispanic students in the class of 2004 took the SAT and just about three-fifths of the African American students did -- a decrease from the previous year. In 2000, 79.9 percent of the county's seniors took the SAT. Last year, 81 percent did; in 2004, 80.2 percent did.

Weast attributed the improved mean score to curriculum changes, coordination among and within schools, test reforms, teacher training, increased enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, use of the PSAT to push students higher, advanced math in earlier grades and higher expectations.

"The entire rigor is what's driving the scores," Weast said. "There are more units being given at higher levels than ever before."

When asked about the impact of the growing private tutoring industry -- an element that many experts say is responsible for SAT gains -- Weast said, "I do think that makes contributions to it." He suggested that the school system provides the academic base, and the tutoring "can take the edge off the nervousness."

In 1999, Montgomery County seniors scored 80 points above the national mean. This year, they exceeded the national score by 76 points.