It’s great news, of course, that Ventura County schools posted some of the highest scores in Southern California on the Stanford 9 exam, the first standardized test of California students since 1994.

And it’s especially encouraging that reading is the skill in which Ventura County students did best. Swift, effortless reading with good comprehension and even–dare we say?–enjoyment is the key to learning everything else.

But while these scores are better than those of neighboring counties, they are merely a baseline against which to measure future improvement–and there’s plenty of room for that.

Overall, the results show California students trailing the nation on this all-English battery of tests in reading, mathematics and other basic skills. Not surprisingly, for a test given entirely in English, the scores are skewed by the number of students who took them without having yet fully mastered that language.

One route to better scores in the future–particularly in light of Proposition 227’s mandate to drastically limit bilingual education–would be improved English-language instruction from kindergarten right through grade 12. Even native English speakers would benefit from greater and longer attention to language basics such as reading, writing and spelling, as well as more popular English-class staples as literature. The state Department of Education, with support from the Legislature, should provide additional training and funds for intensive remedial reading at all levels for those who need it.

The Stanford 9 exam was designed to tell parents whether their children were keeping pace academically with their peers statewide.

It also was meant to tell taxpayers whether they are getting their money’s worth as they pour more than $ 1 billion a year into reducing the size of classes to no more than 20 students in the primary grades.

And it was meant to build accountability into schools and school districts, providing the largest attempt in the state’s history to gauge what’s right and what’s wrong with California classrooms.

We share the view of Ventura County schools Supt. Charles Weis, who called the scores “a starting point for future improvement. . . . Districts are taking these test results seriously, and I am convinced they will strive to help each student reach higher standards of achievement.”

With this new yardstick for measuring the results, parents and voters have another tool for determining the effectiveness of school programs, teachers and administrators.

Ventura County’s educators can take satisfaction in having outscored other counties in Southern California, but the larger message of the first Stanford 9 test scores is how much work remains to be done.

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