Is the bottle half full or half empty?

How Utahns answer that question is likely to influence how they view the report this week from State Schools Superintendent James Moss on how Utah students are performing on various academic tests in comparison to other students across the nation.The optimists will focus on how far Utah has come under difficult circumstances. Results of the 1988 ACT examinations, taken by more than 15,000 Utah high school seniors, represent a 22-year high for the state.

The pessimists will focus on how far Utah has yet to go. Utah students lag behind the national average in mathematics, but exceed it somewhat in English, the natural sciences, and social studies.

A balanced reaction to the test results, which in several areas represent an improvement over the previous year, would be to be encouraged but not satisfied. Utah schools should strive to produce graduates who are not just better than average but definitely superior.

Keep in mind, too, that the national tests are not just measuring students and teachers. The results are also a reflection on the home. That's because good schools are still no substitute for good parents. Parents who show they value education by encouraging their children to read, to discipline themselves, and to do homework. Parents who, in other words, match their demands that the schools be as economical but effective as possible with demands for extra efforts from their children and from themselves.

Measured by such a yardstick, Utah still has room for much more improvement. While congratulations are in order for the progress that the recent tests show Utah has made so far, this state's educators and school patrons alike clearly need to keep striving to make good schools even better.