HARTFORD -- Connecticut's lackluster performance on the just released 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress is shameful, according to the state's new commissioner of education.

Commissioner Stephan Pryor told the state Board of Education on Wednesday that the state's disappointing showing should serve as inspiration as he moves to strengthen academic rigor in the state and close an achievement gap that is apparently growing.

"They are a mandate for change," Pryor said. "We have to return our state to a point where we are recognized as true national leaders."

Known as the "Nation's Report Card," the NAEP assessment is the closest the U.S. has to a nationwide standardized test. It is given every other year to a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-graders in all states.

The scores show that in Connecticut, the achievement gap between white and minority students as well as low-income students and higher-income students remains as wide as ever, if not growing.

In fourth-grade math, for instance, there is a 31-point gap between the average score of white students and the average score of Hispanic students. Nationwide there is a 20-point gap.

Pryor said the results aren't pretty. "In a state like ours, they are shameful and we must address it," he said.

In all cases, Connecticut is in the top 10 states when it comes to high achievement gaps. In many cases the state is first in the nation.

While some have suggested over the years that Connecticut's gap is due largely to its brightest students doing so well, Pryor said the latest data show that not to be the case.

"The gap is real," he said.

In a prepared statement, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called the news sobering. "We don't run away from problems in this administration; we confront them head on and we do our best to fix them," he said.

Others suggest the state has been asleep at the wheel.

"The story of the decade is Connecticut's devastating achievement gap -- yet we continue to move in the wrong direction," said Patrick Riccards, chief executive officer of Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, a New Haven-based educational advocacy organization. "These results are a huge wake-up call."

The 2011 results show that overall, Connecticut students have made no improvements compared to performance in 2009. While Connecticut students traditionally have outperformed the national average for NAEP, the 2011 results show that the average grade four mathematics scale score in Connecticut was not significantly different from the national public school average. In Connecticut, 45 percent of fourth-graders scored in the proficient range in math and 42 percent scored in the proficient range in reading.

In reading, Connecticut's fourth-grade scores have remained flat for more than a decade. In the eighth grade, 38 percent of Connecticut students scored in the proficient range in math and 45 percent scored in the proficient range in reading. The only increase was in eighth grade reading where Connecticut students in 2009 scored 2.9 points higher than they did in 2009.