Newsweek Magazine consistently places both C. Milton Wright and Fallston high schools toward the back of in its nebulous best high schools in American rankings, the only Harford high schools to receive such honors.
But neither school could top Bel Air High for average Scholastic Aptitude Test scores in 2010-11.
Among all 10 Harford high schools last school year, Bel Air High test takers posted the best average scores across the board in the three-part SAT, an important but wildly controversial standardized test that has been a major criteria used in college admissions decisions for five decades.
According to SAT results released last week by the Harford public school system, the best single school averages in the local school system were at Bel Air High: 530 in critical reading (previously known as "verbal"), 538 in mathematics and 509 in writing. Each section of the SAT is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points.
The scores are for 12th grade students only who took the test last school year, although the SAT is routinely taken by juniors. Taking the test is highly encouraged for anyone who is considering attending college.
Bel Air High 2010-11 scores gained in all three categories: eight points in reading, three points in math and 14 points in writing. The school's average scores had peaked in 2008, with an average reading score of 531, an average of 554 in math and 527 in writing, before falling back until last school year.
Conversely, the average 2010-11 scores all fell at C. Milton Wright, which had posted the county's top scores in all three SAT sections a year earlier. C. Milton's latest scores were 526 in reading, down four points; 533 in math, down 19 points; and 505 in writing, down two points.
C. Milton Wright scores saw a steady gain from 2007 to 2009 in reading before scores started to drop last school year. In mathematics, C. Milton average scores had consistently risen until this year, but have varied in writing.
Bel Air had the second highest number of test takers, with 240 12th-graders taking the SAT in 2011. C. Milton Wright had the most participants, at 261 students.
Almost 100 students took the SAT at Joppatowne High School, which had the lowest average scores in the county, although some of the school's scores did post increases over recent years.
These increases include a seven-point increase in reading up to an average of 449 and a 15-point gain in writing scores to 424.
Conversely, the school's average math score dropped 12 points to 446.
Joppatowne's reading and writing scores reflected a somewhat steady decline from 2006-07 before increasing last year. While math scores have fluctuated since 2007, last year's score reflected a 22-point decline from the 2006-07 average of 468.
At Fallston High, average reading scores rose four points last year to 520; average math scores were up a point to 531; and average writing scores fell 13 points to 494.
Nearly 200 Fallston students took the test last school year.
Average Fallston reading and math scores rose from 2007 to 2009 and fell in 2010 before increasing again last school year. Writing scores have varied year to year.
At Patterson Mill High, where there have been only two senior classes, last year's average scores fell compared to scores in 2009-10.