SAT scores for the 2003 class of high school seniors in Maryland were higher than those the year before, though the increase was less than the national average, the College Board reported yesterday.
The average verbal SAT score for Maryland seniors graduating last spring was 509, 2 points higher than the previous year's class, according to the board, which oversees the widely used college-entrance examination.
The average math score also rose 2 points to 515, giving the state an average composite score of 1024, a 10-point increase since 1992.
Leading the way within Maryland was Howard County, where average scores increased by 6 points in both areas, to 540 on the verbal portion and 556 on the math section, for a combined total of 1096, the county's best.
Howard's scores were just ahead of those in Montgomery County, where the average combined score declined 1 point to 1094.
"It's a validation that we're headed in the right direction," said Leslie Wilson, Howard's director of student assessment and program evaluation.
Nationally, the 1.4 million seniors earned average scores of 519 in math and 507 in verbal, representing a 3-point increase in each area, and producing an average combined score of 1026.
The nationwide increase was most marked among male test-takers, whose verbal scores increased 5 points to an average of 512, while their math scores rose 3 points to 537.
This widened the gender gap on the SAT: Males scored 9 points higher on the verbal exam -- a gap of 5 points the year before -- and remained 30 points higher in math.
Also continuing was the racial gap. Nationally, the average composite score for African-American students held steady at 857, well below the average composite of 1063 posted by white students.
The racial gap narrowed slightly in Maryland, with black students increasing their average composite score 7 points to 855. The average composite score for white students was 1089.
Among school systems where black students posted large increases were Howard County, where African-Americans scored 12 points higher than black test-takers last year, for an average score of 930 (still below the county average of 1096), and Baltimore, where black students scored 11 points higher than last year, for an average composite of 787.
Overall, city schools saw an increase of 3 points in each test portion, for an average total of 801. Forty-nine percent of city seniors took the test, well below the state average of 68 percent.
In Baltimore County, where SAT scores have surged in the past two years, performance dipped slightly this year, by one point on the verbal portion to 512 and by two points on the math to 522, for a composite average of 1034.
"When you're scoring that high, [a slight dip] is really inconsequential," said Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. "When you're already up there, you have to be realistic."
Anne Arundel County students increased their scores, following a slight dip the previous year.
The average total score was 1055, with verbal scores increasing five points to 520 and math scores up two points to 535.
"Our teachers have been working hard," Superintendent Eric J. Smith said. He singled out for praise Northeast High School, which gained 41 points for an average score of 1030, and Meade High School, which rose 33 points to an average of 980.
In Carroll County, where scores last year jumped 18 points for the largest increase among Baltimore-area school systems, the county average this year held steady at 516 on the verbal portion and slipped 6 points to 533 on the math section, for a total score of 1049.
Although Carroll students scored above the state average, officials expressed concern that the number of seniors taking the SAT, 60 percent, fell below the Maryland average.
The largest increase in Carroll came at Liberty High School, where the average composite climbed 10 points to 1070. Francis Scott Key High dropped 29 points to an average of 1016.
In Harford County, the average verbal score held steady at 507, while the average math score ticked up one point to 514.
College Board officials warn against placing too much weight on comparisons between systems and schools, noting that averages can be affected by the percentage of students taking the SAT in a given school or jurisdiction.
Sun staff writers Tricia Bishop, Laura Loh, Jennifer McMenamin, Jonathan Rockoff and Ted Shelsby contributed to this article.