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Formula For SAT Perfection

Most people spend the rest of their lives wishing they'd done better on their SAT tests, but some students at an Arizona high school have nothing left to wish for.

The Early Show Correspondent Tracy Smith explains why on this week's Study Hall report.

So far this year, 19 students at one Phoenix-area high school have earned perfect scores on the math portion of their SAT tests. It's not a record. It's not even unheard of. But it's still pretty impressive.

If you expected only a wealthy private school could accomplish such a deed, you would be disappointed. Desert Vista looks and sounds pretty much like any other middle class public high school. But, it's become a factory for SAT superstars.

Almost every school has that one kid who aces the test. Other schools have two, maybe three. But this year, Desert Vista had a lot more. And, most of them were shocked.

The kids say it's all about the way they were taught.

Larry Strom runs the math department in his own unique style.

"I'm weird, yes. I'm weird," proclaims Strom. "They make fun of my hair. They make fun of the way I talk."

Weird or not, he seems to know the winning formula.

It turns out that there are a lot of reasons for their success: incredible community support, a wealth of really good teachers and strong leadership from the principal. But maybe, the biggest reason is because teachers have found a way to give students something that everyone needs -- recognition.

Kids who do well in math get as much, or more, attention than the school's athletes. Strom puts their pictures up on a wall of fame. And a top SAT score means a little bit of immortality.

He says every year the top scoring student will be memorialized on the board.

"They need genuine praise because we don't give enough praise," says Strom.

And the praise is not just for the typical "good" student. The photos show a cross section of society.

The 9-year-old campus has already been expanded, and it may have to be again.

"We get calls from parents all the time trying to find out where our boundary lines are," says principal Joe McDonald.

Phoenix-area families are moving close by, just so their kids can go to a school that seems to have no educational boundaries at all.

"They know they're going to be highlighted in the school by the principal, by the teachers," says Strom. "They know that what they've done isn't going to just be in vain."

Since doing well in math is so highly valued at Desert Vista, you might expect the school to do poorly in other areas, like sports. Their football, basketball and volleyball teams, however, all made it to state finals this year -- using the same formula for success: healthy competition and high praise for achievement.