For the third consecutive year, Loudoun County students posted record high scores on the SAT, the most widely used college entrance exam.
Average scores for seniors jumped 14 points, to 1073 on a 1600-point scale from 1059 in 2004. County scores for 2005 outpaced both the Virginia and national SAT averages, which were 1030 and 1028, respectively.
The gains came mostly on the math portion of the test, where scores rose from 526 to 539 out of 800. Verbal scores rose more modestly, from 533 to 534.
Average scores rose at six of the seven high schools that enrolled seniors in both 2004 and 2005. Scores also increased for every ethnic group, and the percentage of students taking the test went up.
Sharon Ackerman, Loudoun's assistant superintendent for instruction, said 77 percent of seniors took the SAT, compared with 74 percent to 75 percent in previous years. She said increasing the number of students who take the test is as much a goal of the school system as is raising scores, because the test is used in the college admission process.
"We don't want to lose sight of what this is really all about," she said. "It's about individual students scoring well enough to have choices in the colleges and further education to which they aspire."
Ackerman attributed the higher scores to two programs established in 2001. Since then, Loudoun has paid for every student in ninth through 11th grade to take the PSAT, a precursor to the SAT that is used as part of the National Merit Scholarship program. Ackerman said the yearly tests have given students useful practice.
Loudoun also requires and pays for all students enrolled in an Advanced Placement course to take the nationally administered exam that concludes the class. She noted that the percentage of students enrolled in AP courses has skyrocketed since the program began and said higher SAT scores are a result.
"I have long thought that interacting with that higher level of rigor and challenge is a preparation," she said. "I'm feeling somewhat reinforced by these results."
Ackerman said the average SAT scores of Loudoun seniors who had taken at least one AP course was 100 points higher than the average scores of those who had not.
Scores for black and Hispanic students still lag those of white students, but all groups saw improvements over last year. The average total score for black students rose 21 points to 947, and Hispanic seniors saw a 69 point increase to 1008.
Herb Bryan, co-chairman of the county's Minority Student Achievement Advisory Committee, said the school system was doing a better job encouraging minority students to enroll in challenging courses. But he said that more work needed to be done and that some minority parents say their children are not being pushed to perform as well as they can.
Bryan said some credit for rising scores should go to programs developed by the county in conjunction with his committee. They include Equity Teams at many schools that are made up of parents, teachers and administrators who convene to examine the achievement gap.
All middle and high schools also have Transition Teams that follow struggling or disadvantaged students making the leaps from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school, he said.
Among Loudoun high schools, only Broad Run did not see its scores rise for the year. Its average score dropped from 1062 to 1054.
Heritage High School posted the county's most dramatic gain, rising from 975 in 2004 to 1050 this year. Both math and verbal scores increased more than 30 points.
Ackerman said Heritage's scores were probably lower than expected in 2004, the first year seniors took the test at the school, which opened in 2002. She said this year's increase was the result of the work of a "fierce principal" and sustained attention by the staff.
The latest scores represent the final use of the familiar two-part SAT. Students have started taking a new version of the SAT that includes a third section on writing.
It is scored on a 2400-point scale. Scores from that test will be reported next year.
In Fauquier County, the average math score was 533, and the average verbal score was 524.
At Liberty High School, students on average scored 524 on the math section and 507 on the verbal section, while Fauquier High School seniors scored an average of 538 on the math and 535 on the verbal.