Fourth- and eighth-graders in Kentucky and the nation as a whole have raised their math and reading scores since 2009, but they still need to improve, according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The report, released Tuesday, shows that average reading scores for Kentucky's fourth- and eighth-graders topped national averages for 2011.
It says Kentucky fourth- graders also exceeded the national average in math, while eighth-graders were only a point behind nationally.
However, overall gains were so modest that the report said there was no "significant change" in either reading or math average scores for Kentucky fourth- and eighth- graders from 2009 to 2011.
The NAEP report — sometimes called the "Nation's Report Card" — periodically looks at representative samples of students in various grades across the nation to assess what they know and what they can do in math, reading, science and other selected school subjects. It is considered the largest nationally representative, continuing assessment of student progress and is designed to provide an overview of academic progress over time.
The Associated Press reported that only a little more than a third of students nationwide scored proficient or higher in reading, while just 40 percent of fourth-graders and 35 percent of eighth-graders were proficient in math.
"The modest increases in NAEP scores are reason for concern as much as optimism," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "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."
Kentucky's overall NAEP scores have remained flat or nearly so in recent years, with only slight gains or losses. However, Kentucky fourth- graders have boosted their average math scores by 20 points since 2000.
The NAEP puts scores into four categories: Below Basic; Basic, Proficient, or Advanced. In Kentucky, 85 percent of fourth-graders and 72 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above the Basic level. Some 72 percent of fourth-graders and 79 percent of eighth-graders were at or above Basic in reading.
In reading, the average score for Kentucky fourth- graders actually fell by a point, from 226 to 225, between 2009 and 2011, although it remained above the national average of 220, the new report shows. The average reading score for Kentucky eighth-graders rose slightly, from 267 to 269, over that period, while the national average was 264.
The average math score for Kentucky fourth-graders rose from 239 in 2009 to 241 this year, slightly better than the national average of 240 for fourth-graders. Eighth-graders in the state increased their average math score from 279 in 2009 to 282 this year, just behind the 283 average for eighth-graders nationally. (In 2000, the average math score for Kentucky fourth-graders was 221. The average math score for Kentucky eighth-graders was 270 in 2000.)
This year, Hawaii was the only state in which fourth- and eighth-graders improved scores in both reading and math from 2009 to 2011.
Thomas Loveless, an education analyst with the Brookings Institute, said the gains in the national report were so small they wouldn't even be noticed "in the real world."