County public high school seniors continued an eight-year trend of improved scores on Scholastic Aptitude Tests, outpacing declining state and national averages.

Combined county averages for the verbal and mathematics portions climbed five points -- to 925 -- over 1990 results.

Statewide average scores dropped for the second year in both sections of the test to a combined 904.

Nationally, verbal scores continued a five-year decrease to an historic low of 422. Math dropped two points after four years at 476, producing a combined total of 896.

Each portion of the test is scored on a scale from 200 to 800.

"It is gratifying and it is interesting," Carolyn M. Wood, county schools supervisor of research, testing and evaluation said Thursday. "It's gratifying because it suggests we have a good program. It's interesting because we've shown an increase in verbal scores, which are harder to impact."

Verbal skills showed a five-point increase to 444in the county while math scores remained at 481.

Despite the improvement, Wood said she cautioned the Board of Education last week against reading too much into the numbers.

"There are only tenuous connections between our (curriculum) programs and the SAT scores, so you have to be careful about drawing inferences," she said.

Wood offered no specific reasons for the sustained increase since 1983, when students averaged 431 in verbal skills and 468 in math.

"Our subject area teacher supervisors aren't overly concerned (about SATs) but they're aware of standards students have to meet," she said.

But the tests document a widening gender gap in math performance that prevails nationwide.

Although the overall county math average held at 481, the dis

parity in scores grew from 35 points to 50 in favor of male students.

The average scores for males on the math test grew from 501 to 509. The female average dropped from 466 to 459.

As for verbal scores, males averaged 450 and females averaged 439 in thecounty.

SAT scores are used by colleges to determine admissions.

Slightly more than 50 percent of the county's seniors took the tests. Statewide, 60 percent of students endure the 2 1/2-hour exams andnationwide, 42 percent do so.

But because mostly college-bound students choose to take the tests, analysis of the results are skewed, making it impossible to measure performance of students with no plansto further their educations, Wood said.

Some of the decline nationwide has been attributed to the increasing numbers of students taking the exams, broadening the statistical pool.

The College Board, sponsors of the test, plan the most sweeping overhaul in the SATs' 64-year history by 1994, with more emphasis on reading comprehension.

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