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Hispanic elementary-school students are still reading below par, but they seem to be edging up quickly toward the national average, according to an analysis conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (naep) and released this summer. During the late 1970's, Hispanic 9-year-olds improved in reading ability at twice the rate of the national population of 9-year-olds.

The analysis, which used data from 1974-75 and 1979-80 reading assessments, showed that Hispanic 9-year-olds achieved gains of 5.3 percentage points between 1975 and 1980. For the population of all 9-year-olds, the average gain was 2.6 percentage points. (See chart on following page.)

The Hispanic students still lag behind the general population, however. They answered an average of 60.3 questions correctly, compared to 67.9 for all 9-year-olds.

The students were tested on three kinds of reading skills, according to naep In all three areas, students showed significant gains. Those who attended school in cities with populations greater than 200,000 improved even more; their gains ranged from 7.2 to 13.9 percentage points.

Children from disadvantaged backgrounds who take part in preschool programs do better when they enter school than those who do not, according to a five-year study of New York State's Experimental Prekindergarten Program.

The state education department charted the performance on a variety of tests through the third grade of 5,000 students who were chosen as 3- and 4-year-olds in 1975 for the state-sponsored one-year prekindergarten program.

The study shows that the children who completed the prekindergarten year scored higher on tests of general reasoning and mastery of verbal concepts at the beginning and end of kindergarten than did a group of children of similar age and background who did not participate in the project.

Improvement in "social competency," "verbal facility," and "school-related knowledge and skills" was also registered by those who had the benefit of the prekindergarten program.

But the difference in test performance between those in the prekindergarten program and those in the control groups was considerably less dramatic once the students reached the primary grades, according to the study.

The study notes, however, that those in the program were less likely to be held back or placed in special-education classes than control-group children, and they tended to make more normal progress through the grades during the five-year period studied.

"This suggests," said David J. Levine, who coordinated the study, ''that substantial savings in the cost of special education and remediation might be realized by expanding educational opportunities for preschool children."

During the last school year, New York spent $9.4 million on its 16-year-old prekindergarten program, which provides a comprehensive educational program for about 6,500 3- and 4-year-olds in several districts. The students are selected on the basis of their low economic status and special needs resulting from overcrowded housing, racial segregation, chronic illness in the family, or a family record of poor school achievement.

The Education Department's office for the gifted and talented was officially terminated on July 1 as a result of the federal block-grant legislation, but a group of business officials concerned with education says that it hopes to establish a national center to fill the void left by the demise of that office.

The recently created National Business Consortium for the Gifted and Talented "does not profess to have any magical answers," says retired Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., the group's director. "It is simply saying to educators, parents, and communities, 'come, think, and discover better ways to educate our gifted and talented children with us."'

The consortium's primary goal is the establishment of a center that ''will act as a catalyst and clearinghouse for data, exchanges of ideas, and evaluations of programs in use around the country," he said in an address delivered at the World Future Society's "Communications and the Future" conference held in Washington late last month.

The business group also plans to assess and evaluate current education programs for the gifted and talented in all 50 states and to conduct four pilot "Model States Programs," which Admiral Zumwalt said would "put into practice the most promising ideas and methods" of teaching gifted students.

In Tennessee, Gov. Lamar Alexander has proposed a plan that would give students--and future teachers--an edge in the technological workplace of the future.

Under the Governor's proposal, now being considered by the state board of education, all students in the 7th and 8th grades would be required to take a "computer literacy" course.

Currently, less than 1 percent of all Tennessee high-school students are involved in computer-technology courses in the public schools.

The state board of education, now studying how local schools can best acquaint 7th- and 8th-grade students with small computers, will issue recommendations later in the year.

The board will also make recommendations on how the state could best provide such computers to school districts, and what kind of teacher-training program could be developed in response to the increased use of computers.

In Florida, exceptionally bright, high-achieving students may earn automatic admission to the state's colleges and universities and qualify for special scholarships if they participate in the state's newly established academic scholars program.

The program, created by the 1982 legislature, is designed to encourage academically successful students to take more challenging courses throughout their high-school years. Currently, many complete the required courses, then slide through with easy courses that will ensure them a high grade-point average at graduation, officials say.

The program won't be fully in place until 1984, but students starting their first year of high school may begin this fall to take the courses outlined by the legislation: four years of science, four years of language arts, four years of mathematics, two years of foreign languages, one year of art or music, three years of social studies, and one year of health or physical education.

Students who complete this program will earn a special certificate in addition to the high-school diploma.

A bill signed this summer by Gov. David C. Treen of Louisiana will make that state the second to establish a special residential secondary school for students whose talents lie in mathematics, science, and the arts. To be called the Louisiana School of Math, Science and the Arts, the school will be located on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. It is tentatively scheduled to open in the fall of 1983.

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