SAT scores rose across Howard County this year, with most high schools posting increases of several points and minority groups making strong gains, according to data released Tuesday by school officials.

The county's average composite score for college-bound seniors who graduated this spring was 1,113 -- the highest in the system's history, officials said, and 19 points higher than last year's score. A perfect score was 1600.

On the math portion of the exam, Howard students averaged a score of 561 out of a possible 800. Students received a 552 out of 800 on the verbal portion. Both results were well above state and national averages.

Asian and Hispanic students made strong gains on the test during the past two years, with scores in most cases jumping by double digits. Asian students improved their results by 27 points on the verbal test for an average score of 575. Hispanic students' scores shot up 24 points, to 493, on verbal. Black students' scores have nudged up five points, to 479, on the verbal test.

Such growth is in stark contrast to the lackluster results in Howard on the Maryland High School Assessments, which were released last month. Students are required to take the four exams in algebra, English, biology and government but will not need to pass them to receive a diploma until 2009. By most measures on those tests, students fared worse this year than they did last year.

On the SAT, however, 11 Howard high schools bested state and national averages and posed gains over the previous year. At Atholton High, for example, the average composite score leaped 96 points, to 1,144 this year. At Glenelg High and Hammond High, the composite jumped by 39 and 35 points, respectively. Only Oakland Mills' composite score dropped, from 1066 to 1061.

Overall, the number of students taking the test also increased. In the Class of 2005, about 2,500 students took the SAT, up 114 from the previous class. However, the participation rates by individual schools were less heartening. Only Atholton has increased its participation rate since 2003, hitting 74 percent this year. Rates have dropped over the past two years at all of the county's other high schools for which data were available. (Reservoir High has data only for the Class of 2005 because that class was the school's first seniors.) The county's 12th high school, Marriotts Ridge, opened last week.

The SAT is a standardized test developed by the College Board, a nonprofit group of schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations. The test has become the hallmark of the college admissions process. A new version of the test debuted in March and includes a writing section, bringing the total possible score up to 2400.