Just 31 percent of students were considered proficient or better on the test.

Eighth-graders in the U.S. are doing slightly better in science than they were two years ago, but seven out of 10 still are not considered proficient, the federal government said May 10. What’s more, just 2 percent have the advanced skills that could lead to careers in the field.

The information comes from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The average score was 152, up from 150 in 2009.

Gerry Wheeler, interim head of the National Science Teachers Association, said the results showed “minuscule gains” in student achievement in science.

“When you consider the importance of being scientifically literate in today’s global economy, these scores are simply unacceptable,” Wheeler said.

Just 31 percent of students were considered proficient or better on the test, the data show.

The gap between minority and white students narrowed for both blacks and Hispanics, but both groups still lag far behind their white classmates. Hispanic students scored 137, up from 132 two years earlier, while black students scored 129, compared with 126 two years earlier.

White students scored an average of 163.

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Federal and state officials have been working to improve student achievement in science by bolstering the number of top-notch science teachers in schools. ED has a goal of preparing 100,000 new science teachers over the next decade through incentive programs and bonuses for teachers that get certified in the subject.

Some states, like Georgia, pay science teachers more than their colleagues in other subjects in hopes of encouraging more college students to go into the field.

“This tells me that we need to work harder and faster to build capacity in schools and in districts across the country,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, pointing to the stagnation in the numbers of top-scoring science students on the NAEP. “We have to do things differently—that’s why education reform is so critical.”