WASHINGTON — Sometimes the best isn't good enough: Most American fourth and eighth graders still lack basic skills in math and science despite record high scores on a national exam.
Yes, today's students are doing better than those who came before them. But the improvements have come at a snail's pace.
The 2013 Nation's Report Card released Thursday finds that the vast majority of the students still are not demonstrating solid academic performance in either math or reading. Stubborn gaps persist between the performances of white children and their Hispanic and African-American counterparts, who scored much lower.
Overall, just 42 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. In reading, 35 percent of fourth graders and 36 percent of eighth graders hit that mark.
Still, as state and federal policies evolve in the post-No Child Left Behind era, the nation's school kids are doing better today on the test than they did in the early 1990s, when such tracking started, with more improvement in math than in reading. Students of all races have shown improvement over the years.
The results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which is given every two years to a sample of fourth and eighth graders.
This year's results, compared to results in 2011, show average incremental gains of about one or two points on a 500-point scale in math and reading in both grades, although the one-point gain in fourth grade reading was not considered statistically significant.
"Every two years, the gains tend to be small, but over the long run, they stack up," said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics.
Buckley said he was "heartened" by some of the results, "but there are also some areas where I'd hoped to see improvement where we didn't."
Today, President W. Bush's landmark education law No Child Left Behind, which sought to close achievement gaps among racial groups and have every student doing math and reading at grade level by 2014, has essentially been dismantled.