New test scores show the nation's fourth- and eighth-graders are doing the best ever in math, but schools still have a long way to go to get everyone on grade level. In reading, eighth-graders showed some progress.
Just a little more than one-third of the students were proficient or higher in reading. In math, 40 percent of the fourth-graders and 35 percent of the eighth-graders had reached that level.
The results Tuesday from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are a stark reminder of just how far the nation's school kids are from achieving the No Child Left Behind law's goal that every child in America be proficient in math and reading by 2014.
"The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "It's clear that achievement is not accelerating fast enough for our nation's children to compete in the knowledge economy of the 21st century."
The Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics administers the test.
On a 500-point scale, both fourth- and eighth-graders scored on average 1 point higher in math in 2011 than in 2009 and more than 20 points higher than in 1990, when students were first tested in math. In reading, the score for fourth-graders was unchanged from two years ago and four points higher than in 1992, when the test was first administered in reading. Eighth-graders in reading scored on average 1 point higher in 2011 compared with 2009 and 5 points higher than in 1992.
The results come as states clamor to develop proposals to obtain waivers around unpopular proficiency requirements in the No Child Left Behind law, which passed in 2002 and was heralded as a way to primarily help low-income and minority children. President Barack Obama in September said that since Congress had failed to rewrite the law, he was allowing states that met certain requirements to get around it. Forty states, in addition the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have said they intend to seek a waiver, according to the Education Department. Meanwhile, there has been some progress in both the House and Senate in rewriting the law, although it's unclear whether Congress will act on it this year.
Historically, a large achievement gap has existed between the average scores of white students compared with black and Hispanic students, with white students scoring higher.