For most educators in Charles County, the release of the SAT scores this week was a chance to glow about student accomplishments and the continuing progress of the system.

Charles schools as a whole averaged a score of 1047 out of a possible 1600, 21 points higher than the state and national average. La Plata and McDonough high schools had the highest scores in Southern Maryland, with averages of 1108 and 1107, respectively.

With the exception of a 20-point drop last year, the system as a whole has increased its scores consistently over the past five years. Even this year's lowest scoring school in Charles, Westlake High School, gained 35 points over last year, for an average combined verbal and math score of 986.

"The scores are great. I am really pleased. Each year we get better and better at it," said Kathy Levanduski, chairman of the Board of Education.

The overall gains in Charles, however, sit in stark contrast to the performance of Lackey High School, the only school in the county to have declining scores. This year, the Indian Head school fell 80 points on its SAT, to finish one point above Westlake at 987. The school also had the smallest percentage of students taking the test in the county, at 26 percent.

"[The scores are] definitely not where we want them to be," said Principal Jervie S. Petty.

Petty did not speculate on specific reasons for the drop, which was the largest decrease for any school in Southern Maryland this year. She said students were offered SAT preparation classes and additional help in math and English, and tutoring was available after school. In the past five years, the minority enrollment has nearly doubled at Lackey. Across the county as a whole, minority students' SAT scores remain behind those of nonminority students.

"Individual students did extremely well; then we had a few students who were not prepared," she said. "Each school year it's different; you're testing a different population of students."

Superintendent James E. Richmond said that Lackey has the same preparatory programs as other schools in the county.

"The principal is concerned about it. She's working day and night to try to bring it back up," he said.

Petty said Lackey would "intensify" its after-school SAT classes and tutoring this year, to try to boost scores next time around. For now, she remains optimistic about the future. "Next year, it will be better," she said.

-- Joshua Partlow