More Prince George's high school students than ever took the SAT in the public school system's Class of 2005, but the county's average score fell four points because of a decline in mathematics results, according to data made public this week.
The drop in math results, to an average score of 435 from 439 the year before, set the county apart from state and national trends. Maryland's average SAT math score remained 515. The national average math score bumped up two points, to 520.
The test is taken by students who plan to attend college.
The Prince George's average verbal score held steady at 442. The state average on that portion remained 511, and the national average 508.
The scores do not reflect results from the new writing portion of the SAT, which has drawn much attention.
Experts caution that SAT scores are heavily influenced by family income levels and other factors beyond the control of educators. But Prince George's school officials expressed concern about the scores.
"Without question, we have to focus on improvements we need to make," interim schools chief Howard A. Burnett said. "The facts are the facts."
But Burnett said the school system has laid much of the groundwork for higher scores, with curriculum improvements, upgraded textbooks and new computer technology.
"Those will reap great benefits for us," Burnett said.
The rising number of test-takers also heartened school officials, who say that more high school students are aiming for college. In all, 4,517 graduating seniors took the test, up from 4,203 the year before -- "which is fantastic," Burnett said. School system spokesman John White said the total number of test-takers was a record for the county.
Some high schools veered from the county trend and showed math improvement. Math scores rose six points at Charles H. Flowers, 12 points at Suitland, 25 points at Forestville, four points at Eleanor Roosevelt, 15 points at DuVal, three points at Bowie, four points at Bladensburg and one point at Laurel.
On the verbal portion, schools that posted gains were: Bladensburg (seven points); Bowie (seven points); Central (14 points); DuVal (30 points); Eleanor Roosevelt (three points); Forestville (10 points); Largo (four points); Northwestern (two points); Parkdale (eight points); Suitland (one point); and Charles H. Flowers (eight points).
The gains at DuVal and Forestville were among the most striking. The number of students taking the test rose at both schools.
Non-Hispanic white students, overall, showed a seven-point gain countywide and black students a one-point gain. Hispanic students showed a 29-point drop countywide and Asian American students a 22-point drop.
The SAT scores are part of a flurry of new data on high school performance.
Last month, the Maryland State Department of Education announced preliminary ratings of which schools were making adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law and which were not.
Under the state's rules, all but three of the county's 21 mainstream high schools were found to be falling short of adequate progress, based on results from a state geometry test and graduation rates.
The three exceptions were Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles H. Flowers and Laurel high schools. They met state standards for the geometry test and graduation rates and were awaiting reading test results for final ratings.
In the new school year, the state will use an algebra test, instead of the geometry exam, to measure high school performance. It's unclear what affect that would have on the ratings.
Many educators contend the federal law unfairly stigmatizes schools that are making substantial progress despite hurdles that their students face, such as poverty, transiency or limited English.