Maryland schools have made significant progress since 1992 in teaching fourth-graders to read, according to results of a national test released yesterday, and the District was commended for the improvement in its students' skills from fourth to eighth grade.

But scores in Maryland, the District or Virginia did not exceed the national average for fourth- or eighth-grade reading proficiency.

The National Education Goals Panel, an independent group of federal and state officials that assesses student progress toward a set of national goals, awarded eight jurisdictions, including Maryland, its Gold Star for significantly improving scores on a multiple-choice reading test for fourth-graders.

Improvements also were noted in Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi and the Virgin Islands.

Twenty-nine percent of Maryland fourth-graders scored proficient or above on the reading test in 1998, compared with 24 percent in 1992.

"We've been pleased with the progress we've been making," said Ron Peiffer, assistant state superintendent for school and community outreach.

Maryland has aligned its own reading goals with those tested by the national goals panel, Peiffer said. With the state's even greater focus on reading last year and in the future--including a requirement that teachers take more reading courses to be certified--"we believe we will have some larger yields over the next several years," he said.

In Virginia, 30 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or better in 1998, compared with 31 percent in 1992--a statistically insignificant change. Ten percent of D.C. fourth-graders scored proficient in both 1992 and 1998. Nationally, 31 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient last year, compared with 29 percent in 1992.

The test, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, is given at a random sample of schools in each state. The test was given for the first time in 1998 to eighth-graders as well as fourth-graders.

Although District fourth-graders' scores failed to improve, the city was noted--along with Arizona, California, Louisiana and New York--for raising scores faster than expected for students who were in fourth grade in 1994 and eighth grade in 1998. Only 8 percent of D.C. fourth-graders received a proficient reading score in 1994; 12 percent of eighth-graders did so in 1998.

A D.C. schools spokeswoman did not return calls for comment on the city's progress.

Twenty-six percent of Maryland and Virginia fourth-graders scored proficient in reading in 1994. By 1998, the percentage of eighth-graders who received a satisfactory score had risen to 31 percent in Maryland and 33 percent--the national average--in Virginia.

Staff writer Debbi Wilgoren contributed to this report.