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Advocate file photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

In the latest snapshot of education achievement, scores for Louisiana public school fourth-graders plunged to or near the bottom of the nation in reading and math.

In addition, eighth-graders finished 50th among the states and the District of Columbia in math and 48th in reading.

The exams, which sparked controversy this time, are called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

Math, reading and other results make up what organizers call the nation's report card.

In 2015, fourth-graders finished 43rd in the U. S. in reading and 45th in math.

But both scores dropped five points – to 212 and 229 out of 500 respectively – during tests administered to 2,700 students last  year.

That means fourth-grade math scores finished 51st while fourth-grade reading scores are 49th.

The group that oversees the exams, the National Center for Education Statistics, said both drops are statistically significant.

The results were also at odds with other states, where most scores were unchanged from 2015 in both subjects and both grades.

State Superintendent of Education John White, as he did on Friday, renewed his view that this year's scores were affected by the fact the exams were done online for the first time.

Until last year, he said, Louisiana and 10 other states did not quiz fourth-graders with computers.

White said that, among students who took the test with pencil and paper, scores were better in several areas compared to students who took the tests digitally.

That includes fourth-grade reading, he said. He also said overall education trends since 2003 are mostly positive.

But White also acknowledged that students here face major challenges.

"Asking questions about technology should not deter us from the facts of the situation, which are largely things that we already knew," he said.

"Louisiana needs to improve, and we have a long way to go," White said.

The state has struggled with education achievement for generations for a wide range of reasons, including poverty.

Eighth-graders showed fewer changes than their fourth-grade counterparts.

In math, scores dropped two points while eighth-grade reading results showed a 1-point increase.

The same trend in reading was true nationally, according to officials of the National Center for Education Statistics.

NCES officials have downplayed the impact of the move to computers.

They said results were scrutinized for six months, and adjustments made, to account for the changed testing method.

"These digitally-based assessments will greatly expand what we will be able to learn about what students know and are able to do," said James L. Woodworth, the commissioner of the group.

In a report, officials of the Johns Hopkins School of Education disagreed.

The fact that states differ in students' familiarity with online exams means the results "should be treated with caution," the school said.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.