Maryland's graduating seniors scored slightly lower on the SATs this year, mirroring a national trend that the College Board attributed to an increase in the number and diversity of students who take the tests.

This year nearly three-quarters of Maryland graduating seniors took the test — considered an indicator of college readiness — and nearly half were minorities. The students were from all schools, including public, parochial and independent, as well as home-schooled.

The mean Maryland SAT scores in math dropped by 3 points to 502 from 2010 and remains significantly below the national average of 514, but the critical reading score of 499 and the writing score of 491 are above the national average. The highest score possible on each section is 800.

Overall, however, "Maryland scores have remained basically stable over the years," said Jeff Link, executive director of the SAT program at the College Board, adding that the state already had a high percentage taking the test compared to other states in the nation.

The high fliers — those who had perfect scores or who scored in the top tier — grew to their highest level this year across the nation. However, the percentage stayed about the same in Maryland. Nine students in Maryland had a perfect 2400, and about 4 percent of students scored between 700 and 800 on each test.

"We continue to see strong increases in SAT involvement, indicating that more students are interested in postsecondary education. But some students may not be preparing for the next step," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Across the nation and in Maryland, those students who had taken the most rigorous classes scored far better on the SAT than those who had not. For instance, students who took Advanced Placement or honors English classes scored on average 49 points higher on critical reading and 51 points higher on writing than those who had not. And those taking high-level math classes had an average 79-point advantage.

Students who took four years of English and three or more years of math, science and social studies also scored higher.

The College Board, in its first assessment of college readiness of SAT takers, said that only 43 percent of students across the nation are prepared to succeed in college.

Scores in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties dropped while scores in Howard County rose.

The city's scores declined by 3 points overall to a combined score of 1140. The city's critical reading score rose from 385 to 388. Math went down 2 points to 375 and writing declined 4 points to 377.

Baltimore County officials said scores dropped 24 points overall, the largest decline among the city and its bordering counties, but they did not provide a breakdown of the scores. About 4,500 seniors took the test, about 300 more than the year before. Dundalk, Lansdowne, Milford Mill, Sparrows Point and Western School of Technology all saw gains in scores, with the largest at Dundalk and Western.

Five high schools in the county had a mean combined score of more than 1600 on the test. The highest were Towson with 1694, Dulaney with 1671, Hereford with 1664, Carver Center for the Arts with 1622, and Eastern Technical High with 1612.

In Anne Arundel County, participation was up significantly, while scores dropped by 4 points over last year. The county's average combined score was above the state's and nation's. Its math score was 521, beating the state by 19 points. The critical reading score in the county was 499 and writing was 484, 7 points below the state average.

The schools with the highest scores were Severna Park with 1665, Broadneck with 1609 and South River with 1585.

In Howard County, nearly 80 percent of seniors took the SATs and the scores rose by 6 points overall, beating both the state and national averages. The mean critical reading score in Howard was 542, math was 561 and writing was 542. Three high schools in the county had combined scores of more than 1700: River Hill at 1783, Centennial at 1780 and Atholton at 1702. Glenelg and Mount Hebron were over 1600.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

An earlier version of this story stated that Baltimore City's overall scores had declined by 6 points. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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