Bill Brown, principal of Forest Park Senior High School in Woodbridge, paints a dizzying portrait of a modern school's testing calendar.
"It looks like a flight log going in and out of Dulles Airport," he said. "It's unbelievable. We have to color-code it just to keep up."
In a bygone era, before state standardized exams and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the SAT was a major source of angst for students and educators. For decades, scores on the college entrance exam, which tests verbal and math skills, have been considered indicators of the quality of an individual school or school division.
In recent years, the SAT has remained important, but the notion that it is the only exam that educators and students worry about is almost quaint. With increasing competition among students to get into prestigious colleges, and with the federal government demanding more accountability, results on Advanced Placement tests and the Virginia Standards of Learning exams are just as crucial, if not more so, Brown said.
With so many tests and standards, it can be hard to judge which school district is performing better than another.
For instance, Prince William County public schools' scores were among the lowest in Northern Virginia this year on the SATs, according to results released last week. But county schools fared better than most other districts in meeting "adequate yearly progress" on the state SOLs.
On the SATs, Prince William outscored only Alexandria's school district, doing considerably less well than neighboring school systems. The average combined test score in Prince William was 1012 out of 1600, with a verbal score of 509 and a math score of 503.
In Fairfax County, the average score was 1114. Arlington County scored 1085 and Loudoun County 1073.
The 2005 SAT report is the last of the old two-part test in which students could post a maximum score of 1600. Next year, the exam will have a third section on writing, and the maximum score will be 2400.
None of Prince William's low-income schools that receive federal funds has been forced to offer their students tutoring -- a requirement for schools that don't make adequate yearly progress for three years under the No Child Left Behind Act. In Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax, a handful of schools failed to meet the federal guidelines and must offer students tutoring.
Keith Imon, Prince William schools' chief communications officer, said he is hoping the county's scores will increase next year because of a recent School Board decision to pay the costs of having juniors take the PSAT, which can help students prepare for the SAT. He said the SAT scores might have dipped this year from last -- from 1016 to 1012 -- because about 200 more students took the exam.
"The SAT is not the defining measure of success. There's no doubt about that," Imon said.
Brown, the Forest Park principal, said that all parents care about the SOL exams and whether a school is meeting the federal benchmarks. But for those whose children are college-bound, their priorities are in boosting not only the results of AP scores but the number of AP exams and courses offered in schools, he said.
"Sure, these families would like us to make [adequate yearly progress]. But let's be realistic. They're looking at their children," Brown said. "But on the other side of it, they do want their kids coming from good schools."