Putting the State to the Test


Johnny can’t read or add very well in California. Reading and math test scores are expected to be appallingly dismal again. California has sunk shockingly close to the absolute bottom in the national rankings. These shameful results should provoke changes in how children are taught.

The state superintendent of instruction, Delaine Eastin, has ordered a top-to-bottom review of math and reading instruction. Two panels of education experts, teachers, parents and business leaders will examine teaching methods, curriculum guidelines and textbooks. Obviously, there is big room for improvement.

To pay for this evaluation, Eastin wants Gov. Pete Wilson to divert $1 million from other areas of educational planning. Wilson should do just that.


Eastin’s evaluation also will address how contemporary theories of instruction are affecting student learning. In the past decade, reading instruction has changed. Primary-grade teachers read aloud in keeping with the new “whole language” approach, which emphasizes comprehension through the use of literature. Many have moved away from phonics, which encourages children to sound out words. Phonics and comprehension should be taught together. Is this being done consistently?

The bad showing cannot be attributed solely to teaching methods. In many districts, children come to school poorly prepared. Some don’t know the alphabet, the names of common colors or even their own full name. They may come from a home that contains not a single book. They may be neglected or lost in a family ravaged by drugs. These challenges, which are beyond the control of teachers, must be acknowledged. But even affluent children did poorly on the tests.

Eastin is reacting forcefully to the poor results. She has set a deadline four months from now to determine what’s wrong and try to reverse an embarrassing failure. She is on the case, and that’s a start.