More than 16,000 fourth and eighth graders participated in the National Assessment of Educational Progress this September.
Students in Georgia recorded all-time high scores on the NAEP in math and reading, yet for the most part continued to trail national averages on the test.
Georgia fourth graders did score one percentage point better on the reading section of the NAEP than the national average, with 66 percent of the state's test takers at or above basic levels.
Ken Proctor, Newton County School System co-director
of elementary curriculum, explained that the state's revision of elementary level English and language arts instruction to align with the new Georgia Performance Standards assisted Georgia fourth graders' achievement.
"These improved scores on the NAEP assessment are evidence that the focus on the five essential components of reading - phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension - through the use of research-based strategies is having a positive impact on student achievement," Proctor said.
State Superintendent Kathy Cox also pointed to the Reading First program, which has given more than $110 million to more than 100 schools over the past four years to ensure young children are learning to read, as a factor in the improved scores.
Because the NAEP measures a random sampling of students around the country, no fourth graders in the county took the assessment, but some eighth grade students did.
"About 40 eighth grade students took the NAEP test in the Newton County School System," said Shelia Thomas, NCSS director of GPS and testing.
Eighth grade students improved their scores from last year but lagged two percentage points behind the national average in reading with 72 percent at or above basic levels and six points in math with 70 percent at or above basic levels.
NCSS Director of 6-8 Curriculum and Staff Development Adria Griffin said state eighth grade scores did improve from last year by three percentage points in reading and two points in math, and she felt very proud of the state level improvements logged by eighth graders.
"They are focused on doing their best," Griffin said, "and I have no doubt that all student scores will continue to improve."
While the numbers reported on the Nation's Report Card and in the State Report seem promising, they are lower than the scores on the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests given in the spring.
Reading scores for eighth grade CRCT takers indicated almost 90 percent of students in the state met or exceeded standards in reading, compared with only 70 percent according to NAEP scores.
The same was true for eighth grade math scores with 79 percent meeting or exceeding standards on the CRCT and only 64 percent at or above basic levels on the NAEP.
Some educators have suggested the lower scores on the NAEP are because Georgia has adopted less rigorous curricula standards than most of the nation has to try to attain the adequate yearly progress needed to have all students performing on grade level by 2014 as mandated by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.
Other southern states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Florida also reported score gaps between their state CRCT and NAEP scores.
Differing opinions about Georgia's test compared to national standards point to the tests different measures of proficiency and other coincidental factors such as who is selected for the NAEP as having caused the score gap.
Thomas said the CRCT is a criterion-referenced test and designed to measure students' abilities in a specific curriculum or unit of instruction, whereas the NAEP is a norm-referenced test - a measure of instructional standards commonly taught throughout the country.
"Since the two assessments are different, they cannot be compared to each other," Thomas said. "The two different assessments measure two different things."