AMERICAN students' scores in maths on the national standardised test used for university admission have reached their highest point in more than 30 years. High scores in verbal skills tests are also being maintained.
This news follows the release of a once-every-four-years government ranking of students' performance, which has found that they are doing better overall in reading, maths, and science.
But the statistics also show that blacks have fallen further behind whites academically, prompting speculation that the civil rights gains made in the 1970s and 1980s have begun to be reversed.
The improvements were generally considered proof that massive educational reform efforts are starting to pay off. Scores on the voluntary Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, which is taken by 17-year-olds, rose three points (raw score) in maths this year.
And maths and reading is improving among nne-year-olds, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, based on standardised tests.
The results, said the Education Secretary Richard Riley, provide proof that "we know how to improve our schools".
However, Republican presidential nominee George W Bush said: "The achievement gap between minority and white students is still too wide," and blamed this on what he called "the mediocrity of the 1990s".
Seventeen-year-old black students, for example, are four years behind whites in reading, on average.
Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which oversees the test, pointed out that more students than ever now have either English as their second language, or parents who are not native English speakers at home.
There was at least one undeniable bright spot: the gap between the SAT scores of male and female students in maths was closing as girls improve steadily.