IN RECENT YEARS, there has been much questioning of the usefulness of that well-known college entrance standard, the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Some cling to the belief that the SAT is biased against minorities and women, and the list of top-flight institutions that no longer require the SAT in their application process is growing, albeit slowly. But administrators at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington have taken a different approach: "The SAT is still the most widely used college entrance test, and we are going to have higher scores." They appear to be succeeding.

The SAT comes in two parts: the verbal exam and the math exam. The lowest score possible on each section is 200 and the highest is 800. The national average for the SAT is a combined score of 906. Black students, as a group, trail whites by about 200 points. In the District, the average combined SAT score is 713, up only 36 points in the last 10 years and 274 points below the average in the Montgomery County schools. Many Dunbar students come from poor, single-parent families. But more and more Dunbar students are exceeding the national average on the SAT, and that is welcome news.

Ten Dunbar High School students have combined SAT scores of 1,000 or higher this year, twice the number recorded in 1986. Another nine Dunbar students have combined scores of 900 to 990. Just three students did that well in 1986. The average SAT score in Montgomery County is 988 -- the highest in the Washington area.

All of the high-scoring Dunbar students have parents who expect them to go on to college and earn degrees. In school, every student is expected to maintain a vocabulary book, and there are SAT preparation courses and practice texts. Advanced courses are now offered in English and calculus. Local groups sponsored an "SAT Marathon" fund-raiser that brought in more money for materials. Dunbar students were also encouraged to work in the school's computer lab on software programs that give each pupil a seven-page computer analysis of his strengths and weaknesses.

In recent years, practically all of the talk of high scores at Dunbar referred to the school's perennial success on the basketball court. Dunbar administrators are now stressing the need for improved academic performance, and their students are beginning to reap the benefits.