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Students learn the mechanics of reading in elementary school, but when they reach the middle and upper grades, they receive inadequate instruction in thinking about what they read, according to a group of educators scheduled to meet today in Washington.

This conclusion, reached after more than five years of research at various institutions, may explain why older students' scores on reading tests are still low, although those of elementary school students have been rising.

The results of the research--which is a compilation of several earlier studies--were to be presented at a meeting of scholars and public-school educators co-sponsored by the American Educational Research Association and the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois. The purpose of the meeting, its sponsors said, was to bring educators up to date on research on reading.

Boredom may also contribute to students' failure to develop good comprehension skills, some scholars believe. Many children's texts have been simplified and cleansed of potentially offensive content to the point that they are "colorless and trivial," according to the researchers.

The studies, however, can offer educators considerable help in alleviating the problem, according to Richard C. Anderson, director of the Center for the Study of Reading, where researchers have developed several methods of teaching comprehension.

One technique, for example, involves teaching students to ask themselves questions as they read and to make more effective summaries of their reading. Also, studies have shown that students retain more information if they are shown how authors organize their stories and texts.

A male child's willingness and ability to work are more significant predictors of his future mental health than his intelligence, social class, or family situation, according to a study by George E. Vaillant, of Harvard Medical School, and Caroline O. Vaillant, a social worker in Cambridge, Mass.

Published this month in The American Journal of Psychiatry, the study followed 456 males from inner-city areas from the age of 17 to the age of 47. The researchers used a scale that recorded several "objective measures" of willingness and capacity to work as a child: regular part-time job, regular household chores, participation in extracurricular clubs or sports, the relation of school grades to iq, regular participation in school activities, and "coping capacity"--the ability to plan and to make the best of a given environment.

Of the youths tested, 45 received very high scores and 67 received very low scores. Thirty years later, the researchers looked at the outcomes of these men's lives.

By the time they were 47 years old, the men who had scored high as teenagers were twice as likely to have warm relationships with others and five times more likely to be well-paid for their work as adults. They were 16 times less likely to have experienced significant unemployment.

"Intelligence," the researchers note, "was not a critical mediating factor." Among the men with iq's lower than 80, 7 percent were unemployed for 10 years or more, the same proportion of men with iq's of 100 or above.

The researchers found more evidence of the positive value of work. The men who had been least successful in childhood were far more likely to display sociopathic behavior as adults and 10 times more likely to be diagnosed as emotionally disabled. "Still more telling in terms of a value-free definition of health," the researchers note, "by age 47, such men were six times more likely to be dead."

The number of "family problems" experienced by the children, however, had a significant effect on their ability to succeed at the childhood tasks. Those who came from positive family environments were "dramatically" more successful, while those who failed at the childhood tasks were much more likely to come from troubled families.

A child born in 1979 will cost his parents approximately $134,414 to raise from birth to 18 years-of-age--$100,000 more than it cost to raise a child born in 1960, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week.

The child born in 1960 required an 18-year outlay of $34,274 for food, clothing, housing, medical care, education, transportation, and all the miscellaneous expenses that attend the process of child-rearing.

These estimates are based on the costs and projected costs of raising a child in a middle-class family with a moderate income in a middle-western city, according to the report, usda Estimates of the Cost of Raising a Child: A Guide to Their Use and Interpretation.

The figures allow for an annual inflation rate of eight percent.

Increases in the cost of child-rearing were relatively consistent across the eight categories: food at home, food away from home, clothing, housing, medical care, education, transportion, and other. Most costs increased between four and five times.

Education, which cost a total of $520 for the child born in 1960, who presumably graduated from high school in 1977, is expected to cost $2,288 for the child who finishes secondary school in 1996.

Housing was and will continue to be the most expensive item on the list, according to the usda report. Between 1960 and 1977, the total cost for housing a child came to $10,000. The child born in 1979 will require $41,121 in housing expenses by 1996. The estimates for housing are based on the child's share of a family's housing.

The report was prepared by the Family Economics Research Group of the usda.

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