The results are in, and generally, they show slow, incremental improvement over time.
Scored on a scale of 0 to 500, NAEP tallies are divided into three achievement levels. Students whose scores fall into the basic category are considered to have "partial mastery" of the knowledge and skills tested, while those in the proficient category have shown "solid academic performance." The advanced category refers to students who have displayed "superior" ability and understanding [source: National Assessment Governing Board].
The latest reading and math assessments, conducted in 2011, showed very modest improvement from two years earlier. When looked at over longer time periods, however, the improvement is more noticeable [sources: NAEP, NAEP].
Fourth- and eighth-graders' math scores were up 20 points on average from 1990, the first year that the current test was given. In reading, scores have increased by four points among fourth graders since the test was first administered in 1992 and by five points among eighth-graders during the same time. Meanwhile, the percentage of students scoring at least "proficient" has steadily risen (40 percent of fourth-graders and 35 percent of eighth-graders in math; 34 percent in both groups for reading) in both subjects [sources: Strauss, National Assessment Governing Board].
While students' performance continues to improve overall, the gap between races remains wide, according to the latest NAEP results.
Reading scores revealed a whopping 25.5-point disparity on average between white and black students at both grade levels in 2011. Similarly, white students at both grade levels performed 28 points higher on average in math assessments than their black peers. The gap between white and Hispanic students was nearly as wide at the same time, with white students outscoring Hispanics by 23.5 points on average in reading and by 21.5 points in math. Asian students, who were separately categorized for the first time in 2011, achieved the highest scores among race groups in both subjects [sources: Strauss, NAEP, NAEP].