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'Boat' Children Excel in School, Study Says

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A study of "boat people," refugees who came to the United States after fleeing Indochina by sea, suggests that cultural values and family-centered achievement goals can promote high levels of academic attainment, even where financial resources and educational services are minimal.

The study, directed by Nathan Caplan of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Resources and John K. Whitmore of the university's Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, examined the academic progress of children in 200 refugee households in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, and Orange County, Calif.

The study found that more than one-fourth of the 355 children interviewed had a 1984 grade-point average of around 4.0. More than half of the group maintained at least a B average.

In addition, 44 percent received a perfect 4.0 grade-point average in mathematics. The mean scholastic grade-point average was 3.05 and the average grades in mathematics and science were 3.18 and 2.9, respectively.

About 30 percent of the students who took the California Achievement Test scored in the top 90th percentile nationally on the mathematics section of the test.

"This exceptional level of scholastic achievement is true for the group as a whole and is not the result of a few exceptional children who far exceed their cohorts," according to the study directors, who attribute much of the academic success of the refugee children to a merging of family values brought from Indochina with "the requirements and opportunity for success in the United States."

When asked to identify the three value items they viewed as most important, 95 percent of the refugee families selected, by order of importance: educational achievement, a cohesive family, and a belief in the value of hard work.

The least often mentioned goals and preferences were seeking fun and excitement and the desire for material possessions.--sr

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