April is Financial Literacy Month in the U.S. and the Department of the Treasury and Department of Education have released results of the National Financial Capability Challenge for the current 2010-11 school year.

The challenge, which includes a voluntary online exam for high school students, helps teach young Americans about saving, budgeting, investing and other skills critical to building a secure financial future, according to a news release Thursday from the two departments.

 “Empowering students with the knowledge they need to make good decisions about saving, budgeting, and investing is critical to helping them build secure financial futures,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal S. Wolin (left), stated in the release. “I want to congratulate these students on their achievements and thank them for serving as examples to their peers about the importance of financial education.”

Clearly, there is room for improvement in educating students about finances: of the 84,372 students who took the exam, the average grade was 69%, though there were 563 perfect scores, according to a Treasury web site with exam statistics. In all, 1,692 public schools and 2,517 educators participated.

Idaho had the best average scores, at 80.82%, followed by Vermont, at 79.88%, and South Dakota at 76.28%. Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey had the highest participation rates.  

The 18,192 students that finished in top 20% in the nation and those who were among the top scorers in their school will receive official award certificates, according to the release.

It's critical for our young people to develop smart financial skills,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated in the release. "If we're going to prepare our students for 21st century success, we have to teach them about earning and spending, saving and investing. Otherwise, they're going to learn the hard way: by making mistakes. I'm encouraged to see the steps that teachers and states are taking to make basic financial education a priority and congratulate these students on their great work."

President Obama signed an Executive Order in January 2010 establishing the “President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability,” led by the Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Education, and in November announced the National Strategy for Financial Literacy.