NORTH READING – The 2013 Scholastic Aptitude Test scores at North Reading High School were the highest in 20 years and set a high water mark that would have been difficult for the Class of 2014 to live up to. And that’s pretty much what happened as the school’s 2014 SAT scores came back an average of 25 points lower in the tested areas of critical reading, writing and mathematics.

The 2014 North Reading scores, while still solidly above state and national averages broke a trend of steady improvement in NRHS SAT scores dating to 2011.

North Reading’s 2014 combined score on all three tests was 1593, compared to 1556 for the state and 1497 for the nation. In 2013, North Reading’s combined score was 1670, the school’s highest since 1993.

On the critical reading portion of the exam, North Reading’s score of 527 was 20 points lower than last year’s high water mark of 547 and the lowest since 2007. But the score was still 11 points higher than the state (516) and 30 points above the national.

In writing, North Reading’s score of 526 was 20 points lower than last year but 17 points above the state (509) and 39 points above the nation (513).

In math, the dip was more pronounced. North Reading’s score of 540, while nine points above the state and 27 points higher than the nation (513) was a substantial 37 points lower than the Class of 2013. Again, the 2013 math score was the school’s highest since at least 1993.

Since 2006, when the SAT verbal scores were broken into two exams – “Critical Reading” and “Writing” – there has been an overall trend of improvement in North Reading combined scores in all three exams, with occasional dips, such as in 2011. For example, in 2007, North Reading’s combined score on the three exams was 1553. For the last eight years, North Reading’s combined score in all three exams has averaged 1614.

High School Principal and Superintendent-elect Jon Bernard acknowledged a dip in the 2014 scores, which he said was not all that unexpected given 2013’s high marks. “It’s a little like being the victim of our own success,” he remarked.

“Last year was an exceptional year, there’s no arguing that. We’re not doing anything dramatically different, standardized testing is based on the population you have with you at that time and that’s a factor to be considered.

“Other indications are we have more students, we’re testing more students, we’re encouraging testing more students and that’s a good thing. Our classes are growing and we’re encouraging testing more often. That more recent push is probably a factor to be considered here – the exposure to the rigors of the exams.”

Bernard said the school’s continued emphasis on AP (Advanced Placement) exams and the policy of letting sophomores take the tests pays dividends in the end when it comes to SATs and other standardized tests.

The principal said he expects to see some benefit in the math scores from allowing sophomores to take Environmental Science, for example. “That will be a data point to watch.”

“I think there’s a correlation between AP and SAT, I really do and the large numbers we have – 424 AP exams this year – that’s a good thing and it gives the students a good base early. The introduction of sophomores to AP was a good move and I’m glad we did it. We might be looking to do that in some other courses in the future or maybe the next principal will.”

Bernard takes over as superintendent from Kathleen Wills in October.

Bernard said the reality of standardized testing is that “sometimes you have to accept that there will be a dip.”

“When you encourage the students to take the test earlier and maybe more often to get that early exposure and learn the format of the test. I think that’s the right thing to do for the long term.”