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Student Goals, School Plans Mismatched, Study Finds

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Although a majority of the nation's 8th graders have high educational aspirations, few are planning to enter high-school programs that will lead them to realize their goals, according to the first results of the federally sponsored National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988.

The survey of 24,600 8th graders in 1,000 public and private schools found that while two-thirds planned to finish college or attain higher degrees, only one-third planned to enroll in a college-preparatory program in high school.

The findings are similar to those of a California department of education study, which concluded that nearly half of all sophomores in the state taking general-education courses had career goals that require a college degree. (See Education Week, March 21, 1990.)

The data have educators wondering why such a disparity exists between 8th graders' goals and their actions.

"One answer is that they have no one to talk to," James S. Coleman, a member of the team that is analyzing the data under contract to the U.S. Education Department, told the Education Writers Association in a speech delivered in Chicago April 6.

Twenty-six percent of the students in the study had not discussed their prospective high-school program with their fathers, 11 percent had not discussed it with their mothers, 54 percent had not discussed it with their teachers, and 64 percent had not discussed it with their guidance counselors, Mr. Coleman noted.

Twenty-five percent of the 8th graders in the study said they did not know which high-school program they planned to enter.

The study, which will track the 8th graders through high school and beyond, also found that:

  • Forty-seven percent of the students had at least one of the six factors commonly used to assign children "at risk" status: single-parent families (22 percent), annual family incomes of less than $15,000 (21 percent), being left home alone more than three hours a day (14 percent), parents with no high-school diploma (11 percent), a sibling who dropped out (10 percent), or limited English proficiency (2 percent.)
  • Twenty percent of the students exhibited two or more risk factors. They were six times as likely as those with none to report that they did not expect to graduate from high school and, twice as likely to score in the lowest 25 percent on achievement tests.
  • Although more than two-thirds of the students reported feeling positive about their experiences at school, 10 percent reported that someone at school had offered to sell them drugs. Eighteen percent of blacks and American Indians--almost twice the proportion of whites--reported that they did not feel safe at school.--p.s.

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