Ohio students are writing as well as their peers nationwide, but not as well as they used to. Thirty-two percent of the state's eighth-graders were proficient in writing last year, according to the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress. That's down from 38 percent in 2002, but it's on par with students across the country. That has state officials claiming a victory.
Nine out of 10 Ohio eighth-graders had an average score of "basic" or better on the national assessment. That's 2 points higher than the national figures. Thirty-one percent of students nationally achieved a ranking of "proficient" or better.

"We're certainly disappointed that the overall score has declined," said Mitch Chester, who oversees testing and accountability for the state. "We are encouraged to know that Ohio students are performing stronger than those in the nation."

Ohio's writing-proficient students outpaced those in 26 states, including Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and West Virginia.

The report card is an analysis of scores of eighth-graders in 45 states, Department of Defense schools and 10 urban school districts, including Cleveland. The report also provides a national review of high-school seniors in writing.

Students are assessed on narrative, informative and persuasive writing through essays, letters and stories.

Cleveland's eighth-graders had the lowest average scores of the urban districts profiled in the report: 23 percent were rated "below basic," 68 percent were "basic" and 9 percent were "proficient."

Ohio still has big achievement gaps.

White students outperformed their black peers by 22 points on the 300-point assessment an 11-point narrower gap than in 2002.

Gaps between girls and boys and more affluent students and impoverished students were comparable to the gaps in 2002.

The "proficient" rating for the national assessment is more stringent than the one used on Ohio's school report card, officials said.

"We'd like to see students scoring at a proficient' level," Chester said. "It's a tough standard. Nationally, fewer than half of the students achieve proficiency."