SALT LAKE CITY — Eighth-grade public school students in all of Utah's demographic areas saw their science scores improve in 2011, according to information released Thursday by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Between 2009 and 2011, Utah's eighth graders collectively raised their average score by three points, from 158 to 161. In that same period, the national average improved by 2 points, from 149 to 151.

Scores in Utah improved for white, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander and American Indian students, the NAEP reported.

"This is really terrific news for Utah’s public schools,” State Superintendent Larry K. Shumway said in a prepared statement. “It’s twice as nice to know that not only did our scores rise faster than the nation as a whole, but they rose across the board.

A sampling of Utah students did not include enough black students to measure academic progress, the NAEP reported. Scores improved for boys and girls, as well as students eligible and not eligible for free or reduced lunch. Additionally, the percentage of Utah students at or above basic levels in eighth-grade science rose from 72 percent to 77 percent between 2009 and 2011.

Five states posted scores higher than Utah, with North Dakota leading the nation with an average score of 164. Utah's score of 161 was matched by Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota.

Benjamin Wood