The report reveals the findings of a study conducted by the panel during the last decade. The panel compared scores in reading and math from selected years throughout the decade.
The study looked at math scores from fourth and eighth grade and reading scores from fourth grade. North Carolina was the only state to not only improve the scores of both the highest- and lowest-scoring students, but to close the gap between the two groups in reading.
John Barth, the panel's senior education associate, said the study was based on scores from tests designed by the National Association for Primary Education (NAPE) -- an education advocacy group. "We looked at what happened to the average NAPE scores, and then we looked at the bottom quartile and top quartile," he said.
Barth added that the difference between the top and bottom quartiles defined the "gap" between the best and worst student performance. "What appears to have happened is that the top has stayed about the same, while the bottom has improved," Barth said.
North Carolina's increased math scores in all quartiles were well above the national average rate of improvement. But the gaps between the quartiles in math remained virtually unchanged.
The study's focus on gaps comes from the increasing trend for the lowest-achieving students to fall years behind their peers.
Barth stressed that in half the states participating in the study, this gap was only growing larger. "If you look at the national averages of NAPE scores, the highest fourth-graders score higher than the lowest eighth-graders."
Kay Williams, director of communications for the state Department of Public Instruction, attributed some of the state's success to its standardized curriculum. "We have a standard course of study in all schools," Williams said. "Very few states have a statewide curriculum."
And Williams said North Carolina intends to stay ahead of the game by enacting a requirement in 2005 requiring that students pass an exit exam before graduating.