New Jersey students scored close to the top in the nation on a standardized test that education experts use to compare states' school performances.  The state ranked no worse than tied for third in reading or math tests in the National Assessment of Educational Progress given to fourth and eighth graders earlier this year.

The results, released Tuesday as "The Nation's Report Card," are the latest to reflect a long-term status of New Jersey as one of the nation's best-performing school systems, on average.

The state's fourth graders were tied for second in reading and tied for third in math. The eighth graders were tied for first in treading and tied for second in math.  Only Massachusetts students did as well as or better than New Jersey's on all four tests.

The latest results also point to a perpetually troublesome issue. Wide gaps remain between the performances of white students and blacks and Hispanics, as well as higher- and lower-income students.

The report shows those gaps have narrowed among fourth-graders, but have not changed in a statistically significant way for eighth grade students.  The gaps have been a persistent issue in New Jersey's education world. In coming months, Gov. Chris Christie is expected to push hard for his ideas about school reform, aimed largely at improving the performance of students in the state's cities.

The governor backs paying teachers partly based on their performance and giving students in some cities publicly funded scholarships that they could use to attend private schools, among other measures.