Maryland seniors performed slightly better on both the math and critical reading sections of the SAT in 2010, according to results released Monday by the College Board.
Graduating seniors increased their average math scores over last year from 502 to 506 and their average reading scores from 500 to 501. Average writing scores remained the same at 495. The highest possible score on each section is 800.
"Our state's students continue to improve across the board, with some of the biggest gains coming from minority students often underrepresented on national tests," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. "Maryland's students, teachers, administrators and parents deserve another round of applause for this remarkable achievement. Big improvement can be found in schools throughout our state."
Maryland students matched the national average in reading and bettered it by 3 points in writing but fell 10 points below the national average in math.
Continuing a trend from recent years, the pool of SAT test takers shrank slightly (by 0.4 percent) from 2009, but a slightly higher percentage of test takers were minorities: 45.9 percent compared to 45.5 percent last year.
Minority students also improved their performance, with African-American and Hispanic students scoring higher overall on both the math and reading sections. Hispanic students gained 3 points in reading and 9 in math. African-American students gained 3 points in reading and 6 points in math.
Despite those gains, African-American students lagged well behind all other ethnic groups, scoring 71 points below the state average in reading, 73 points below average in writing and 86 points below average in math.
Grasmick said she was encouraged by the rapid increase in African-American students taking Advanced Placement courses. That leap forward in course rigor should eventually translate to better performance on the SAT, she said.
In Baltimore City, students averaged a combined score of 1,143, compared to 1,502 for the state. Because of a College Board reporting error, data were available for 29 of the city's 33 schools on Monday.
Anne Arundel County's combined score on the three sections of the test dropped 10 points, with declines in both reading and writing. Students scored an average of 519 in math, well above the state average, but fell below their peers in writing, with an average score of 488.
In Carroll, scores dropped slightly across the board — 3 points each in reading and math and 2 points in writing — but the county scored well above the state average in each category.
In Harford County, students scored above the state average in both reading at 507 and math at 523 but below average in writing at 483.
The College Board does not release county-by-county results. As of Monday evening, Baltimore County school officials said they were still analyzing the data, while Howard County officials said they had not received their scores from the College Board.
College Board officials emphasized the importance of taking rigorous courses, noting that Maryland students who took AP or honors English scored 50 points higher in reading and 51 points higher in writing, and students who took AP or honors math scored 81 points higher on the SAT math section. Maryland leads the nation in the percentages of high school seniors taking and scoring a 3 or higher on AP tests.
College Board officials noted that 32.1 percent of test takers said they expect to be part of the first generations in their families to attend college.
"I'm especially encouraged by both the number of minority students in Maryland who plan to go on to college and by the number of students who will be the first in their families to seek a college education," said College Board President Gaston Caperton.
Despite the College Board's push for more challenging curricula, overall SAT scores have decreased slightly over the past five years, both in Maryland and nationwide. That has led some critics to question the effectiveness of national testing standards pushed under No Child Left Behind.
"Proponents of NCLB and similar state-level testing programs promised that overall achievement would improve while score gaps would narrow," said Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Boston-based testing watchdog. "Precisely the opposite has taken place. Policymakers need to embrace very different policies if they are committed to real education reform."
Caperton acknowledged the lack of improvement under No Child Left Behind. "I don't know that I would call it a failure, but it certainly hasn't accomplished what it needs to accomplish," he said. "Not enough students are going to college."
Conversely, College Board officials said, students who completed a core curriculum (at least four years of English and at least three years of math, natural science and history/social science) performed much better on the test. So they have high hopes about the impact of national core standards, already under development in Maryland.
Grasmick said that tougher core standards in math, which could be approved as early as June 2011, might have a particularly large effect in pushing Maryland students closer to the national average on the SAT.
Baltimore Sun reporters Erica L. Green and Joe Burris contributed to this article.