From S.F. Gate by Jill Tucker:
California students posted the biggest gains on a national standardized test last year, placing the state in the unfamiliar position of being the best rather than among the worst when it comes to anything related to education.

Students here topped those in the 49 other states with a seven-point gain in eighth-grade reading, according to results released Thursday.

California's normal academic neighbors, Mississippi and Alabama, lost a point and tied for the bottom spot.

The achievement wasn't enough to raise California from its overall below-average position on what's called the Nation's Report Card, which includes math and reading test scores from a sampling of fourth- and eighth-grade students every two years.

Still, California looked really good at the top of a list - even if it was in only one category.

"Literacy is at the core of a child's education, and it's remarkable to see such a major gain in scores in just one year," said Mike Kirst, president of the state Board of Education, in a statement announcing the results.

The state's eighth-graders posted a score of 262 points in reading - four points shy of the national average - on the 500-point scale. Massachusetts posted the highest middle school reading score, 277.

More than 700 schools and 16,000 California students participated in the tests during the 2012-13 school year, and, overall, scores went up in most categories, which are broken down by grade, ethnicity and income. It's an improvement from largely stagnant state scores on the national test.

Built-in difference

Still, California scores lagged behind those of most other states, in part because of the higher number of English learners and low-income students enrolled in the state and included in the sample of those tested.

And, following recession-era cuts to education funding, the scores were that much sweeter, state officials said.

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