California students continue to score near the bottom among states in math and reading, according to results of a national test released Thursday.
The Golden State's fourth-graders ranked 47th in the nation in both math and reading. Eighth-graders ranked 45th in math and 42nd in reading. And the scores show that the gap separating white students from their black and Latino peers in English and math is bigger in California than it is nationwide.
But amid the dismal news are signs of improvement. California's eighth-grade reading scores jumped 7 points from two years ago, the biggest gain on that test among the states. Eighth-graders gained 3 points in math.
The scale and the skills tested differ from California's annual STAR standardized tests.
Since 2003, all states have participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP, the only nationally common standardized test for K-12. The test is given to students -- this year, to fourth- and eighth-graders in English and math -- in a sampling of schools, and results are not released for individual students, nor the schools that participated. Historically, California students have performed poorly in comparison with students in other states, and 2013 is no exception.
Besides California's overall low scores, various ethnic groups also scored lower than national levels. Among Latino eighth-graders, those in California rank fourth-to-last in the nation in reading and math. California Latino fourth-graders are also fourth to last in reading, and tied at second to last in math.
It's no surprise, then, that the achievement gap between white and Latino students is wider here than in the rest of the nation, in both subjects.
Commenting on the eighth-grade gain in reading, state Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson said in a statement, "These scores are another sign that we are moving in the right direction to prepare students for college and career, but we still have a lot of work to do to make sure every student graduates equipped to succeed."
How to reconcile Thursday's results with state tests that indicate much higher achievement and growth for students at all levels? State officials point out that California tests what students were taught that year, while the NAEP may test different material.
Nationally, the test showed that only one in three eighth-graders is proficient in reading or math. Among fourth-graders, one in three is proficient in reading and two in five is proficient in math. But proficiency levels nudged upward.
"The fact that we're seeing the strongest performance in the history of NAEP is testament to the tremendous hard work of teachers and students," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.
He singled out Tennessee, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., among those scoring the biggest gains -- all places that have beefed up teacher evaluations and other measured touted by Duncan's department to reform schools. And he pointed out that eight states that forged ahead in adopting Common Core standards -- the shared goals in math and literacy that California and other states are rolling out this year -- showed gains in at least one category and registered no declines.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.