Washington Black and Hispanic students are narrowing the achievement gap with whites in reading and math, but overall the nation's progress is small or slipping.
The 2005 scores for grades four and eight come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the most respected measure of how students perform nationwide. The results are noted in academic and political circles because they cover math and reading - the two building-block subjects that schools are scrambling to improve.
Across the country, math scores were up in grades four and eight. In reading, fourth-graders virtually held steady and eighth-graders declined.
The strongest results came in math, where black and Hispanic students in both grades posted their highest scores since the test began in the early 1990s. In reading and math, blacks and Hispanics either shrank their test-score gap with whites or lost no ground.
That's significant because schools face unprecedented pressure to improve achievement by minorities under President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Black and Hispanic students lag behind whites in access to quality teaching, college degrees and other measures of success.
In perspective, minorities still fall behind by sizable margins. Based on their average score in math, for example, many black fourth-graders don't have the skills to classify numbers as even or odd, or to determine the next number in a given pattern.
The goal of the test is for students to show they can handle challenging subject matter and apply it to real-life situations, a skill level known as proficient. Less than four in 10 students in both grades have reached at least that level in either math or reading.
In reading, almost no state improved its performance significantly in either grade, and some states saw declines. In math, several states got better, especially at fourth grade.