"Wide range" is a favorite phrase in a new set of national standards for the teaching of English. But the guidelines themselves range just a little too widely.

The standards outlined this week by the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association say students should read a wide range of texts and a wide range of literature and apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate and appreciate books.But the guidelines provide few specifics. In trying to avoid being politically incorrect, the teachers groups that composed them have provided little of substance that can be used to gauge a student's progress or a school's programs.

Though much has been said about the problems with standardized tests and other methods of measuring success in education, it remains a fact of life that children must be taught to read well, to study effectively, to listen intently and to communicate clearly.

Employers, parents and English teachers as well have complained for years that many high school graduates cannot read or write effectively, use poor grammar and have little knowledge of literature.

But this report offers no reading lists, specific tests of language skills or grammar and no measurable benchmarks for standard achievement.

The vagueness of the guidelines may be the result of getting too many fingers into the pie. The standards were submitted to an extensive - maybe excessive - process of field review and were critiqued by more than 2,500 English teachers and education agencies and groups.

They are rich in philosophy but short on specifics and substance. The report reads more like a corporate mission statement than a list of teaching standards. It addresses the goal but offers little to help teachers reach it.

Some guidelines are based on common sense, such as a recommendation that students be able to "use a variety of technological and informational resources to gather and synthesize information." But the report avoids endorsing any specified techniques for teaching reading, and it makes only vague references to developing a respect for diversity in language use.

Yet nothing is as important in a child's intellectual development as reading. Few things predict a child's future success in school more than books in the home. If American children spent as much time reading as watching TV, many worries about education would disappear. As the report also realizes, language is the best tool humanity has for virtually all its tasks.

Teachers, however, won't find much in the standards to help them teach students. The two groups spent $1 million on the document; nearly everyone in the field added two cents worth; but the result isn't worth beans.