In a trend that continues to plague education officials, African Americans have once again scored the lowest of any ethnic group on a key assessment.

Black students in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades have scored lower than all other groups on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science test.

However, despite that dismal news, there was one bright spot.

Black students in Department of Defense schools scored above the national average for Blacks, and the difference between them and their White counterparts was lower than the 36-point gap between Blacks and Whites nationally.

Additionally, Black test takers in Delaware, Kentucky and Oregon attained relatively high scores compared to those of students in Arkansas, Illinois and Wisconsin, where the Black-White gap was 43 or 44 points.

While the broad picture is extremely problematic, education veteran Bernard Hamilton, Ed.D., advises that there are some jewels among the dross.

“First, it should it be noted that there were some districts that did well overall compared to the pack. Interestingly, I happened to be in such a district,” said Hamilton, who works in Jefferson County Schools in Kentucky, and is also president-elect of the National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE).

Hamilton said officials in his district were not surprised at the results, because they have been focused on improving the scores with the help of General Electric. And one of the keys to their success was injecting rigor into the curriculum.

“As you know, most of the focus has been on No Child Left Behind in reading and math. And in some schools, probably too many schools, they have been doing that.,” speculates Hamilton about why the science scores were so low. “In Jefferson County, we have been pushing science and math for while, because of the special focus we have with G.E., but we have also had a district and community that had been saying all of the core subjects are very important.”

Hamilton acknowledges that many districts just do not have the resources to put a laser focus on all their core subjects, so they choose to go with what the federal government emphasizes and where the money is.

NAEP tests pupil’s knowledge and abilities in physical science, life science as well as earth and space science.

NAEP officials set an overall average of 150 for student performances; however, the scores can range from zero to 300.

African American fourth-graders scored 127; eighth-graders hit 126, and 12th-graders pulled up the rear with 125.

In contrast, Caucasian students–who outscored all ethnic categories except 12th grade Asian/Pacific Islanders–posted score of 163 for fourth-graders, 162 for eight- graders and 159 at the 12th grade level.

Additionally, city dwellers scored below those living in suburbs, towns and rural communities.

Overall, American students are missing the mark, said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“The results released show that our nation’s students aren’t learning at a rate that will maintain America’s role as an international leader in the sciences. When only 1 or 2 percent of children score at the advanced levels on NAEP, the next generation will not be ready to be world-class inventors, doctors and engineers.

“The 2009 NAEP science assessment created a new framework, so it’s not possible to compare scores to earlier tests. But the results show that schools need to urgently accelerate student learning in the sciences.

“President Obama is committed to improving achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). He has made a call for all hands on deck to parents, teachers, administrators, academics, local leaders, and the private sector to work together to advance science and mathematics education, and has set a goal to recruit 10,000 new science and mathematics teachers over the next two years. Our nation’s long-term economic prosperity depends on providing a world-class education to all students, especially in mathematics and science.”

The solution to the continued gap between African American students and their contemporaries is more rigor in the curriculum, says Hamilton. That begins at home, said the educator.

“Our children start off in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten without the same tools (as other youngsters), and that means they’re going to be behind on the first day of school, if (for example) they come to class with a 10,000-word vocabulary,” said Hamilton, who also noted that they will be outscored every time by the child who starts school with a 30,000-word vocabulary.

Hamilton said changing deficits like these means working twice as hard; reading twice as many books; and it will take everyone–from parents to teachers to principals to administrators to school districts–to help close the gap.