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Rural children may be more vulnerable to many social and economic problems than are children who live in the city or suburbs, a recent study by the National Rural Development Institute contends.

In a survey conducted in 1989, the institute asked school officials from 312 rural, urban, and suburban districts to estimate the percentage of their pupils who exhibited various social, economic, or family problems that are known to increase the likelihood of a child's failing in school.

In 34 of 39 statistical comparisons within various risk categories, the researchers found that rural children were significantly more likely to be described as "at risk" than were their counterparts in cities and suburbs.

The responses from school officials indicated that rural children were far more prone than their non-rural counterparts to be living in poverty during elementary and middle school and to be involved with substance abuse in elementary school.

Among mildly handicapped children, those living in rural areas appeared much more likely than their non-rural counterparts to live in poverty at all grade levels and to suffer from depression in middle and high school.

The study also compared mildly handicapped and non-handicapped students and noted that mildly handicapped children were described as more vulnerable than their non-handicapped peers in 20 of 39 risk categories in rural communities and in 14 of 39 risk categories in non-rural schools.

For more information about The National Study Regarding Rural, Suburban, and Urban At-Risk Students contact the National Rural Development Institute at Western Washington University, Bellingham, Wash., by phoning (206) 676-3576.

Teachers who attempt to discourage cheating by handing out several versions of multiple-choice exams with the questions in different order may inadvertently be giving one group of students an unfair advantage over the others, a Penn State psychologist has concluded.

William R. Balch, an associate professor of psychology at the university's Altoona campus, recently analyzed his students' scores on multiple-choice tests and concluded that students can best retrieve information when the order in which the questions are asked follows the same sequence in which the information was originally presented.

Mr. Balch gave 404 general-psychology students a final exam consisting of the same 75 multiple-choice questions arranged in one of three patterns.

On one-third of the exams, the questions followed the same sequential order as the lectures and lesson texts; on another one4third, they were listed at random; and, in the final group, they were randomly ordered but organized by chapter.

The students taking the sequentially ordered exam had an average score of 76.86 percent, while the students answering randomly arranged questions averaged 73.19 percent and the students who took exams with randomly ordered questions organized by chapter averaged 72.22 percent.

Like their black and Hispanic counterparts, Italian-Americans in New York City appear to suffer from a poor self-image that hinders their academic performance, asserts a recent study that found Italian students to have the third-highest dropout rate in the city.

Researchers at the John D. Calandra Italian-American Institute at the City University of New York separated educational statistics for Italian-American youths from those for white children in general and found that 20.65 percent of Italian youths in the city will not complete high school. In comparison, the dropout rate for other white students was 18.55 percent.

Italian children fared better in New York schools than did black children, who had a dropout rate of 24.54 percent, or Hispanic students, who had the city's highest dropout rate at 31.78 percent.

Experts have speculated that the city's high Italian-American dropout rate may be the result of a poor self-image influenced by stereotyping. Other factors such as peer pressure, parental ignorance about education, or pressure to join the work force may also be causing them to quit school, the researchers said.

By the age of 14, girls--like adult women--are twice as likely as their male counterparts to be depressed, a study by psychologists at the Oregon Research Institute in Portland concludes.

Previous research indicated that very young girls and boys are equally likely to suffer from depression, but that adult women are twice as likely as men to be depressed.

But when Betty Allgood-Merten and Peter Lewinsohn conducted psychological analyses of 802 public high-school students to determine when the gender-based differences set in, they found that the youngest girls in their study, 14-year-olds in 9th grade, already were twice as likely as boys to be depressed.

The girls also were much more likely than were boys to report feeling stress and low self-esteem, and both feelings were found in follow-up visits to have been predictors for depression in the children, Ms. Allgood-Merten said.

Girls in the study also were far more likely than boys to base much of their self-esteem on their image of their own bodies, she added.--ps

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