A file photo of a teacher in a classroom. (June...

A file photo of a teacher in a classroom. (June 16, 2006) Credit: Getty Images

Science test scores for the nation's eighth-graders showed slight improvement from two years ago, while progress remained flat for New York's students and no change was seen in the scores of top performers, according to a federal report released Thursday.

The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress in science showed that the average score nationwide was 152, up from 150 in 2009. Sixty-five percent of eighth-graders performed at or above a basic level in 2011, 32 percent performed at or above a proficient level, and 2 percent of students performed at the advanced level.

New York students scored 149, the same as in 2009. The top possible score was 300.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the increases "good news," while noting the unchanged advanced level score. "There is much work ahead if our kids are going to be competitive in the global economy," Duncan said in a statement.

Among other findings: Gaps between white and black students and between white and Hispanic students narrowed from 2009 to 2011.

A sample of 122,000 eighth-graders from all 50 states and the District of Columbia participated in the 144-question assessment, which measured knowledge in physical, life, Earth and space sciences.

Gerry Wheeler, interim executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, said in a statement the results showed "minuscule gains in student achievement."

"The majority of our eighth-grade students still fall below the proficiency level," he said.

B. Jason Brooks, director of research for the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, said that New York's results, including its rank as 35th nationwide, shows the state is "falling behind the nation in science and results getting worse instead of improving." North Dakota ranked first with 164.

On Long Island, however, students continue to excel. The Island captured 61 semifinalist slots this year in the Intel Science Talent Search out of 300 awards -- more than any other region in the country.

With seven semifinalists, the Jericho school district had the Island's highest number. Superintendent Hank Grishman said science education starts at the elementary level with specialists.

Lynda Adams, deputy superintendent in the Center Moriches district, said elementary students participate in experiments such as observing the life cycle of a butterfly. "Because of state testing, we have pushed our schools and curriculum away from the exploration and natural curiosity that kids have to focus on English, language arts and math," she said.

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