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John Barge, Georgia State School Superintendent

By DORIE TURNER, Associated Press

ATLANTA - Georgia fourth- and eighth-graders are performing only slightly better than they did two years ago on national reading and math exams, and most of the students tested continue to lag the national average in both subjects, data released Tuesday show.

The data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation's Report Card, shows that only Georgia fourth-graders matched the national average with 32 percent passing muster on the reading test.

Most students tested in the state trail the nation in both subjects. The largest gap is in eighth-grade math, where 28 percent of Georgia students were proficient, compared to 34 percent for the nation.

On the reading test, 28 percent of the state's eighth-graders met standards, compared to 32 percent for the nation.

"The scores demonstrate that we have a lot of work to do and our public schools and teachers need the support of parents, the public and policymakers more than ever before," said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which represents more than 81,000 educators across the state.

Despite the lags, Georgia students saw slight improvement over 2009 tests and some saw big increases since the tests were first administered in the early 1990s. For example, just 14 percent of eighth-graders in 1990 were considered proficient in math, compared to 28 percent this year.

Just 15 percent of fourth-graders in 1992 were proficient in math, but this year 37 percent hit that mark.

"The fact that our students showed improvement ... is encouraging and demonstrates that Georgia's students are making great strides in competing with the rest of the nation," Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said.

The average scores on the tests were the best ever for the state in both subjects, with the biggest gains in mathematics. The average math score in 1992 for fourth-graders was 216, compared to 238 this year.

For eighth-graders, math scores rose from 259 in 1990 to 278 this year, though the score hasn't changed since 2007. And Georgia was one of just nine states to show improvement in fourth-grade math scores.

Gaps between black and white students in both subjects have seen slight improvements over time. The biggest improvement was for fourth-grade math, where the average score for black students trailed whites by 25 points, compared to the 32-point difference in 1992.

The test is considered the best state-to-state measure of classroom progress. It is Congressionally mandated and administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

"Georgia is making progress, albeit slow progress, in the right direction," said Dana Rickman, policy and research director for the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education. "We're on the right track, but clearly there are areas we need to improve and focus on."

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