Education ministers in England have told local authorities to do more to raise attainment in schools.
The results trend in primary schools in recent years
They said that too often teachers' expectations of what pupils could achieve were "unacceptably low".
National curriculum test results for primary and secondary pupils showed some successes but falling standards among children aged seven and 14.
Children's Minister Beverley Hughes and Schools Minister Lord Adonis told councils to redouble their efforts.
Their joint letter said: "We remain particularly concerned at the slow rate of progress in raising primary standards."
Figures for national test results for 11 year-olds showed a record rise in the proportion reaching the expected standard - Level 4 - for their age group in writing.
"But there was no progress in the proportion of 11-year-olds reaching Level 4 in English and only a small improvement in mathematics," the ministers said.
Many pupils who should be progressing two levels between the ages of seven and 11 were not doing so.
The letter indicates the top-down nature of the process.
Schools' governing bodies are required to set targets each autumn for the test and exam performance they expect of their pupils.
They do not have to publish these but they do have to report them to their local authorities.
In practice what tends to happen is that ministers put pressure on local authorities, which in turn twist schools' arms to set higher targets.