A new study by the U.S. Department of Education bemoans the fact that billions of dollars have been spent in recent years on various programs to improve science and math performance by American students, all to no avail.

Given that gloomy national assessment, many Utah teachers should be feeling good about the test scores posted in the current go-round of statewide achievement tests.In a significant majority of the school-by-school test scores that have come across my desk, the Utah children scored above the national norms in math and science. Even in some of the schools where the composite score was below the norm, the scores in math and science made the best showing.

Assessment experts in the State Office of Education and in several Salt Lake County districts attribute the good performance to the emphasis that has been placed on math and science in recent years. Rising scores on both standardized achievement tests and on college entrance exams indicate that the effort is generating results.

Now, it seems to me that the same emphasis needs to be focused on English and the language arts, where the test scores once again were disappointing. In both fifth and eighth grades, the Utah students scored below the national norm, and at the 11th-grade level, the average was just one percentile point above that norm.

Call me sensitive. As a wordsmith who has made a living for more than 40 years stringing words together, with sufficient punctuation to make the result understandable, I find it troubling that the majority of our students don't appear to be learning the fundamentals of our language as well as they should.

Some of the conversations I overhear among young people - even some of those who are viewed as the cream - set my teeth on edge. I have serious concerns for the survival of our formal language. And letters I occasionally receive from schoolchildren don't make me feel better. I love the kids and I love their letters, but I cringe at the many errors they contain.

(Dere Mrs. Vanlear thank you for comming to tock to are class)?? From a fifth grader? Help!

One of the explanations I hear for the low English/language scores is that many Utah districts are emphasizing overall writing, particularly creativity, rather than the underpinnings of the language, such as spelling, punctuation and proper grammar.

Excuse me, but I have a hard time following that rationale. Trying to write well without the basic tools is tantamount to taking a hodgepodge pile of mismatched building materials and trying to construct a mansion.

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Utah's demographics and the state's touted dedication to education suggest that our students should perform well in comparisons with their peers in all academic subjects.

If a renewed dedication to math and science in the past few years had the desired results, Utah educators should now concentrate the same effort on bringing students to a higher level of performance in English/language.

Even great scientists and mathematicians need to communicate well, both orally and in writing.

Not all of these little folk are going to grow up to be scientists or mathematicians, but they are all going to grow up to be communicators. They should be able to do it well.

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