THIS CITY'S public schools are improving by the month -- in measurable and important ways. The latest good, hard news came Wednesday, with the announcement by Superintendent Floretta Dukes McKenzie and Board President R. David Hall that more and more students at every standardized-test level are meeting and surpassing national norms.

What accounts for it? Lots of things, starting with better superintendents, more serious school board members, improved administration-faculty relations and a specific curriculum emphasizing the basics and measuring the academic progress of every student more carefully than before. It's been a steady climb over eight years -- which means a whole wave of students with better skills are now making their way into the top grades of the local system.

The tests, administered each May in grades 3, 6, 8, 9 and 11, show all sorts of progress. Citywide scores improved for the eighth consecutive year. Scores for the third and sixth grades were above national norms for the third consecutive year. For the first time, eighth-graders exceeded the national norm in math. In the ninth grade, the total score was higher than last year's; ditto in the 11th grade. What's more, the proghe city, not just in certain schools or neighborhoods. Nobody running the schools -- least of all Superintedent McKenzie or Mr. Hall -- is reading too much into this progress. There's much more to be accomplished. The secondary schools, for example, still lag behind norms in certain categories; new programs for these schools, based on checks of individual schools, are under way. In some classrooms, the rate of improvement in scores appears to have decreased since the last testings in an earlier grade; that needs more analysis. And now that the emphasis on basics has been established, the administration is working to revive and improve sports, music, drama, art and other activities that attract and inspire students. Teachers and students also are enjoying a much more efficient system of delivering supplies, making repairs and responding to various other requests from classrooms across the city.

There's a payoff in all this, and you can see it at graduation time. Superintendent McKenzie can tell you that more of today's seniors are getting into colleges, getting jobs and getting ahead. That has got to encourage not only those who are directly involved in the city's public schools, but also those who are interested in any way in the leadership and quality of life of the Washington of tomorrow.