SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ California has approved new teaching guidelines for its public schools, including a return to the use of phonics, which emphasizes sounding out words and memorization.

The goal is to teach students to read by the third grade. The state Board of Education on Thursday also approved math guidelines with a goal of having students take algebra by the eighth grade.

California has more public school students _ 5.7 million _ than any other state, according to the nonprofit education information company Edsource.

The guidelines will be used by teachers, teaching colleges and textbook publishers in devising ways to teach. They are the second step in California's 3-year-old effort to improve education.

The language guidelines replace a 1988 plan that called for a ``whole language'' approach to reading rather than phonics.

In whole language, students are immersed in language and use entire words and contexts. In phonics, students are drilled in the sounds of individual letters so they can sound out words.

Critics said the new standards put too much emphasis on one teaching method. ``This limits teachers' ability to teach,'' said Marjorie Knox, a reading teacher in Turlock. ``Children learn from real language.''

But supporters say the new emphasis on phonics would reverse California students' poor reading scores.

``We performed a heinous experiment,'' said Bill Lucia, the board's executive director.

He said scores of second-graders through six-graders in California's statewide test last spring were lower than comparable reading scores for students in West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and Washington, D.C.

``I think it's going to go a long way in assuring California has a literate population,'' said board President Yvonne Larsen.

Over the last year, California has approved standards that state what students in each grade should learn in English, math, science and social sciences. The guidelines detail how that knowledge should be taught.

The standards are not mandatory, but school districts are likely to use them because a required annual statewide test will have questions based on the math and language standards this spring.

Guidelines for science and social science won't be approved until next year.