Overall SAT scores are up this year in Montgomery County, even as pockets of poor performance persist.

The class of 2010 scored an average of 1,651 on the 2,400-point test, nearly 40 points above last year's average, according to a spreadsheet based on March data obtained by the Washington Examiner. Overall SAT participation fell to about 67 percent of seniors, down from nearly 74 percent in 2009.

The school system will release an official score report later this year. That report will not include the SAT scores of students who fail to graduate from MCPS, said Brian Edwards, spokesman for Superintendent Jerry Weast. Therefore, the official report likely will cite a higher average score and participation rate.

"Our kids are challenging themselves with rigorous classes, and that's demonstrating itself on college entrance exams," said school spokesman Dana Tofig.

Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School topped the district with an average score of 1,879 and 81 percent of students participating. Silver Spring's Wheaton High had the lowest scores in the county -- 1,395 with only 45 percent participation.

"There isn't a school system in America that doesn't struggle with an achievement gap," Tofig said. "We're making progress with that, and we're working to create an impact that will last."

Wheaton, along with Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg, saw impressive jumps in average scores -- 76 points and 100 points respectively. Both schools, however, saw nearly 20-point drops in participation.

At five of the district's 25 high schools, participation and average scores both fell. Three of those schools are in Silver Spring: Blake, Kennedy and Northwood High. Rockville's Richard Montgomery and Germantown's Northwest High joined them.

Some of the drop in participation can be attributed to the growing popularity of the ACT college entrance exam, more common in the Midwest and based on a broader set of knowledge, school officials said.

School board President Pat O'Neill stressed the importance of addressing long-term reforms instead of worrying about year-to-year fluctuations on SAT scores.

"Our focus begins in kindergarten and works through to 12th grade," she said.

State and nationwide numbers have not been released. In 2009, Montgomery County had participation rates similar to those in the rest of Maryland, but an average score that was about 100 points higher.


Top three average scores

Walt Whitman (Bethesda): 1,879, 81 percent participation

Winston Churchill (Potomac): 1,824, 85 percent participation

Thomas Wootton (Rockville): 1,820, 81 percent participation

Bottom three average scores:

Clarksburg (Clarksburg): 1,490, 63 percent participation

Kennedy (Silver Spring): 1,441, 46 percent participation

Wheaton (Silver Spring): 1,395, 45 percent participation