American schools are neglecting arts education, leaving many students culturally illiterate and deprived of skills to create and to communicate artistically, the National Endowment for the Arts warned Tuesday.

In "Toward Civilization," a critical assessment along the lines of 1983's controversial "A Nation at Risk," the endowment concluded bluntly that "basic arts education does not exist in the United States today."The study, presented to Congress and President Reagan, was touted as only the second of its kind in U.S. history. The first was completed in 1884 for the 46th Congress, and the 99th Congress called for this one in 1985 as part of a reauthorization of the national endowment.

Arts education, the report said, has been limited generally to instruction in music, drawing, painting and crafts, but a comprehensive school program should include learning about how civilizations are related, performing arts, design, the art of writing and media art such as film, television and radio.

"Like other school subjects, basic arts education must be taught sequentially by qualified teachers; instruction must include the history, critical theory and ideas of the arts as well as creation, production and performance; and knowledge of, and skills in, the arts must be tested," the study advised.