Seniors at Patterson Mill High School in the 2012-13 school year who took the SATs posted the top combined average among Harford's nine high schools, according to SAT data released by the Harford School system earlier this fall.
In edging out C. Milton Wright and Bel Air, Patterson Mill became the third Bel Air area school in as many years with the top average composite SAT score. CMW topped the county in the 2011-12 school year, while Bel Air had the top composite average in 2010-11.
Unlike the previous two years, however, when the school that posted the top composite also had the top scores on all three of the individual tests, different schools posted the top average for each test in 2012-13.
Though the SAT remains controversial and susceptible to charges of racial, class and cultural bias, the three-part test remains the standard college entrance examination in the United States.
Students are tested in critical reading, mathematics and writing, with each part of the test scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points, with the top score being 2,400.
The nonprofit College Board, which administers the test, claims the SAT, which for generations stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, but now stands for nothing but SAT, measures a student's ability to do college level work.
The College Board also says a composite score of 1,550 or higher is the benchmark for what it calls "college and career readiness." In the 2012-13 school year, the composite averages for four Harford High School made that threshold.
At the top school, Patterson Mill's 143 senior test takers scored on average 1,563 on the SAT's three parts: 523 in critical reading, 532 in math and 508 in writing, with the writing average topping the county's high schools.
The Patterson Mill composite, though best last school year, wouldn't have been close to the top in either of the preceding years. C. Milton Wright's 2011-12 average was 1,606 and Bel Air's 2010-11 average was 1,577.
What happened last year was that while Patterson Mill's test takers posted modest gains from the prior year, some of the scores fell at both C. Milton Wright and Bel Air. Meanwhile, test takers at North Harford High School continued to show strong scores, as their school finished just outside the top three.
C. Milton Wright's 285 test takers, the second most for one school in the county, posted a composite SAT average of 1,557 in 2012-13: 521 in critical reading, 537 in math and 499 in writing.
Bel Air's 287 test takers, highest for one school, posted a composite SAT average of 1,556 last school year: 524 in critical reading, 541 in math - a county best - and 491 in writing.
North Harford's 206 test takers, third highest for one school, posted a composite SAT average of 1,550: 527 in critical reading - a county best - 525 in math and 498 in writing.
The next highest performing school was Fallston, where 200 test takers posted a composite average of 1,525: 510 in critical reading, 528 in math and 487 in writing.
At Aberdeen High, 174 test takers posted an average composite score of 1,520: 509 in critical reading, 518 in math and 493 in writing.
Havre de Grace High's 83 test takers, the second fewest at one school, posted a composite average of 1,476: 503 in critical reading, 500 in math and 473 in writing.
Harford Tech's 104 test takers posted an average composite score of 1,423: 477 in critical reading, 489 in math and 457 in writing.
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Edgewood High's 131 test takers, which appears to be the most ever taking the test at the school, posted a composite average score of 1,389, which was more than 50 points higher than in 2011-12 when 113 seniors took the SAT. The 2012-13 breakdown for EHS was 469 in critical reading, 473 in math and 447 in writing.
At Joppatowne High, just 58 seniors took the SAT in 2012-13, down from 92 the previous year. Last year's composite average was 1,312, a few points lower than the prior year. Last year's breakdown for Joppatowne was 437 in critical reading, 454 in math and 421 in writing.
Across Harford County, the average composite SAT score last year was 1,515, up 15 points from the previous year. The 2012-13 county breakdown was 509 in critical reading, 500 in math and 486 in writing.
According to Harford County Public Schools, 1,049 seniors took the SAT in 2012-13, down from 1,082 the prior year.
Harford's composite SAT average last year bested both state and national averages.
In Maryland, 48,000 SAT-takers last school year posted average scores of 497 in reading, 500 in math and 486 in writing, for a composite of 1,483, according to the College Board.
Nationally, 1.66 million SAT-takers posted average scores of 496 in reading, 514 in math and 488 writing, a composite of 1,498, according to the College Board.