Scores on the SAT fell in Washington's premier school systems, as students across the nation hit all-time lows on the exam testing college readiness.

Montgomery County Public Schools' class of 2011 earned an average score of 1,637 on the SAT, a 10-point drop from the school system's record-making 2010 year.

In Fairfax County, the average senior in public school scored 1,654, down nine points from 1,663 in 2010.

Ready for college?
Critical readingMathematicsWritingComposite
Fairfax County Public Schools5515635401,654
Montgomery County Public Schools5425545411,637
D.C. Public Schools4154044011,120
Virginia (public and non)5125094951,516
Maryland (public and non)4995024911,492
District (public and non, including charters)4694574591,385

"The scores are disappointing, and it seems to be a trend over the last five to six years, with drops across the board," said Jim Hull, senior policy analyst for the National School Board Association's Center for Public Education.

He called 10 points "a pretty significant change."

"It raises a red flag," he said. "As a parent, I might suspect my child is not getting the education they could be getting somewhere else."

In the District, drops in all three sections brought the composite score for private and public schools, including charters, from 1,404 to 1,385. However, D.C. Public Schools' average score of 1,220 -- although low -- remained stable with a one-point increase in reading, one-point drop in math, and flatline in writing.

The largest school systems in Maryland and Virginia, respectively, Montgomery and Fairfax continued to outperform their peers in their states, where scores also dropped.

Maryland's average SAT score fell six points to 1,492 out of 2,400 -- eight points below the national average of 1,500. Virginia dropped five points but kept its head above the nation with an average composite score of 1,516.

The nationwide decrease is a trend several experts called alarming. College Board, the nonprofit that administers the test, has identified a score of 1,550 as a "benchmark," indicating a 65 percent likelihood that a student will achieve a B- or higher as a college freshman.

The average critical reading score dipped to 497 nationwide out of 800, the lowest score in the test's 40-year history. The average writing score also hit its lowest point, 489, since the writing portion was introduced in 2006. Math remained relatively stable at 514, a mark it has fluctuated around in the last 10 years.

College Board officials emphasized that increasing participation creates a larger, more diverse pool of test-takers that can pull down average scores. Nearly 1.65 million graduating seniors took the SAT, the largest group in the test's history.

Participation remained high in both Fairfax and Montgomery -- 78 and 71 percent, respectively -- and increased 8 percent over last year in D.C. Public Schools.

"There have been years where the number taking it has gone up dramatically and the scores still went up," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. "Schools are so fixated on teaching to states' high-stakes testing programs that they're ignoring higher-level thinking skills and other subjects tested on the SAT."

Fairfax students outperformed Virginia's average composite score by 138 points, and beat their national peers by 154.

Montgomery's average score of 1,637 is the school system's second-best score, after last year's 1,647. Despite the drop, the county outperformed Maryland by 145 points and the nation by 137.

"We should be very proud that our students are performing so well on the SAT and that the participation of all students remains very high," Montgomery Superintendent Joshua Starr said. "We will study the SAT results -- as we do with all test data -- to inform our conversations about student performance and our instructional programs. As with every indicator, we always have room for improvement."