There was a 26-point gap, for example, between how white and African American 4th graders performed on the math section. In eighth grade reading, white students outperformed Hispanic students by 21 points.
"We still have a situation where you have kids that are left behind. They aren't given the same instruction. They aren't given the same expectations as other kids," Minnich said. He said it's time for "doubling down and making sure the gaps get smaller."
Duncan said too many African-American and Hispanic children start kindergarten a year or two behind and that early childhood programs are key to leveling the playing field. Duncan and Obama have lobbied for congressional passage of a preschool-for-all program.
This test specifically looked at the performance of American children, but the results from other recent assessments and studies have shown American children and adults scoring below peers in many other countries.
The exam was given this year to about 377,000 fourth graders and 342,000 eighth graders in public and private schools. However, state-specific numbers are only from public schools.
In math, students were asked to answer questions about topics such as geometry, algebra and measurement. In reading, students were told to read passages and recall details or interpret them.
Among the other results:
—More boys than girls scored at or above the proficient level for both grades in math. In reading, more girls than boys scored at or above that mark.
—Twenty-five out of the 52 states or jurisdictions measured had a higher average score in 2013 than in 2011 in at least one subject and grade.
—Five states had a lower score than two years ago in at least one subject and grade: Massachusetts, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.
—Hispanic students were the only racial or ethnic group that saw improvements in math scores in both fourth and eighth grades; Asian/Pacific Islanders students had the highest percentage of students performing at or above the proficient level in both math and reading.
Kimberly Hefling can be followed at http://twitter.com/khefling
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