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North Allegheny sophomore's perfect score a rare achievement

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Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011

North Allegheny sophomore Connor Phillips is a straight-A student, so he was surprised when he was called to the principal's office last fall.

"I wondered if I might be in trouble, but I couldn't tell for what," said Phillips, 16, of McCandless.

He wasn't in trouble at all. North Allegheny Intermediate High School principal Brendan Hyland just wanted to tell Phillips that he had achieved a perfect score on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test -- an extraordinarily rare achievement. It happens less than 1 percent of the time, said Kathleen Steinberg, spokeswoman for The College Board, a co-sponsor of the exam.

"I thought I did pretty well, but there were a couple questions I wasn't sure on," Phillips said. "I didn't think I had gotten perfect."

As a freshman in March 2010, Phillips aced the National Latin Exam, a test taken by more than 100,000 students in the United States and abroad. He repeated the feat on the Latin II exam this March.

"I've never had a student before who's gotten a perfect score two years in a row, especially on the Latin II exam," said Beth Block, who taught Phillips last year in Honors Latin II. "The Latin II exam is pretty difficult compared to the Latin I test, so for him to get a perfect score is a tremendous achievement. I know he worked hard for it."

Janine Kuty, office manager for the National Latin Exam, said 896 students out of the nearly 138,000 who took one of the agency's seven tests this past year achieved a perfect score. That includes just 98 of 33,726 who took the Latin II exam, which quizzes students on not only the Latin language but history, geography and more.

It's his thing

Jana Phillips said her son is a "voracious reader" who enjoys all types of genres and is passionate about learning, in and out of school.

"He's always done extremely well in school," she said. "He's never had a 'B.' "

Outside of school this summer, Phillips applied for and was accepted to the University of Pittsburgh's "Gene Team." The four-week program, which accepts 10 students and five teachers from area high schools, allows students to take part in microbiology and genetics research.

Phillips, who hopes to work in a science-related field after college, jumped at the chance.

"I've always been intrigued by physics, but I'm trying to keep my options open because the biology was really interesting as well," he said.

Though he'll be a junior in the fall, Phillips has begun his college search. Sunday, he and his family left for a tour of Northeast universities, including several Ivy League schools, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But first things first: Because PSAT scores don't count for sophomores, Phillips will have to take the test again in fall. In January 2012, he plans to take the real SAT, when he'll be shooting for another perfect score.

"It's obviously a much harder test, so I'm not sure what my prospects will be," he said. "I'm just going to try my best and hope it pays off again."

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