A school classroom. (2012)

A school classroom. (2012) Credit: John Paraskevas

New York fourth-graders scored higher in reading than their national peers but lagged behind in math, according to a new analysis of student performance in the nation's five most populous states.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report card, released Thursday, also found that New York students fell behind nationally in eighth-grade mathematics and eighth-grade science.

The report compared academic performance of students in grades 4 and 8 in five states -- New York, California, Florida, Illinois and Texas -- with national scores. About one-third of the country's public schoolchildren attend public schools in those combined states, which the report calls "mega-states."

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., in a statement, said the results were disappointing.

"The scores on this NAEP report underscore a tough but necessary truth: Our students are not where they should be. The reforms we're implementing will help get them there," King said, referring to newly implemented college- and career-ready Common Core standards.

Students in grades 3 through 8 in English Language Arts and mathematics will take the new Common Core assessments this spring.

Overall, the report found that public school students from the five states usually performed lower than or hardly different from those nationwide.

The report reflects demographic trends, showing that from 1990 through 2011 the education system came to include more Hispanic students and fewer white students. Most of the nation's students who are English-language learners are educated in the five states analyzed.

In New York, which includes New York City public schools, Hispanic fourth-graders made larger reading gains than their peers nationally from 1992 through 2011. But that group still scored lower than the national average on fourth-grade reading and math, and on eighth-grade science.

School districts such as Freeport, where more than half of the students come from a home where Spanish is spoken, have made strong efforts to reach students who are not English speakers, including encouraging teachers to receive a second certificate in English as a Second Language. The district also has offered a dual-language program for at least the last two decades.

"What we try to do is we try to build on the student's native language strengths," said Susan Greca, director of the district's Second Language Program.

The report found low-income New York fourth- and eighth-graders scored higher in reading than the national average.

Kevin Coster, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction and administration in the William Floyd school district, said literacy instruction is provided across all disciplines, and a coordinated effort is made with local prekindergarten providers.

"When kids are moving to kindergarten, they will be better prepared to take on the rigors of school," superintendent Paul Casciano said.While some gains may be encouraging, overall scores in New York are at "levels that are relatively low from where they need to be," said Ken Slentz, deputy commissioner of the state Education Department's Office of P-12 Education.

"That is why there is the urgency for Common Core," he said. "The levels of academic proficiency relative to where they need to be for post-secondary choices -- we are not there now."

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