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Two things are important about the SAT for high school students. One is that they score well. The other is that they take the test in the first place.

But it is not just high school seniors who have a stake in the SAT, which is key to admission to a four-year college. Schools, school systems and entire states are judged by the test results of their students.

Two things are important about the SAT for schools and school districts. One is the average score. The other is the percent of students taking the test.

In Calvert County this year the average SAT score dropped 11 points from the previous year. However, that average score remained more than 19 points above the national average and more than 30 points above the state average.

But in Calvert just about 65 percent of the seniors who graduated last spring took the SAT. In Maryland three-quarters of the Class of 2012 took the test.

When fewer students take the test, the average score is generally higher. In Calvert County, in the case of three of the high schools, more students took the test this year than last. However, 4 percent fewer took the test at Calvert High School, while Northern and Huntingtown each increased by 1 percent and Patuxent High School saw an increase of 4 percent in seniors taking the test.

Let’s take a break from the numbers here and acknowledge that taking and scoring well on the SAT is not the only path to success for young people. Some students will join the military right out of high school and serve their country while getting training and an education. Others will go to the College of Southern Maryland, where the SAT is not required for admission, and where students can save money and, if they choose, eventually transfer to a four-year school. Both CSM’s reputation and the option of military service may well be reasons that fewer students in Calvert take the SAT than the state average.

But here’s the thing: The SAT is a challenge and it offers options. No matter what their immediate plans may be after graduation more Calvert students should accept the challenge of taking the SAT, or the similar ACT. And more of them should explore the options that these tests can open for them.

High school seniors have the world before them. This is the time when they should try to open doors, not close them.

Three of the four public high schools can point to something positive from this week’s release of SAT results. Northern had the highest average score. Huntingtown had the most seniors taking the test, the closest of the four schools to the state average. Patuxent saw a significant increase in seniors taking the test and also had a significant increase in average scores.

Calvert High School, where average scores remain substantially below the other two schools, saw a dip in seniors taking the test — the same percentage Patuxent saw in increases — and a significant dip in the average score.

Overall, though, Calvert seniors still score better than the state and national average. That is an accomplishment the school system can still look upon positively.