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Nearly 1.8 million high school students--a record number--took the newly revised Preliminary S.A.T./National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test last October, according to the College Board.

Most of those students were juniors, but the numbers of younger students taking the exam increased as well. Over all, 127,000 more students took the test last year than in 1992.

Some of the largest increases occurred in North Carolina, where the state last year began subsidizing test fees for public school students who completed an algebra course during the previous school year. But there were also more test-takers last year in the District of Columbia and in 45 other states, the New York City-based board, which administers the test, reported.

"We believe it means that more students feel confident that they have the ability to succeed in college and that schools are helping them to plan for it,'' said Maureen Welsh, the director of the P.S.A.T./N.M.S.Q.T.

Like the revised version of the S.A.T., which will be given for the first time next month, the new P.S.A.T./N.M.S.Q.T. includes longer reading passages, more open-ended mathematics questions, and the opportunity to use calculators.

Secondary School Gap: While the United States can boast that its female citizens log more schooling--12.4 years--than women in any other country, it falls short compared with other industrialized nations in the proportion of girls of secondary school age who attend school, a recent report has found.

Just 91 out of 100 girls of secondary school age actually go to school, according to the study, "Closing the Gender Gap: Educating Girls,'' by Population Action International, a nonprofit family-planning group.

At the U.S. primary school level, by contrast, 104 out of 100 girls of primary school age attend school. The figure exceeds 100 because of underage or overage girls who attend secondary school.

In France and Canada, 100 and 107 out of 100 girls of secondary school age, respectively, attend school.

The lower proportion of American girls attending secondary school probably reflects "the impact of high rates of teenage pregnancy'' that forces girls to drop out, said Sally Ethelston, a spokeswoman for P.A.I.

Almost solely because of that statistic, five other nations outscored the United States in the study's rankings of countries' education opportunities for girls: France, Canada, Finland, Norway, and Belgium.

Over all, the survey of 112 countries found that girls lag significantly behind boys in education opportunities in 50 countries.

In those countries in 1990, 76 million fewer girls than boys were enrolled in primary and secondary schools. The regions with the greatest disparities are South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Child-Abuse Deaths: Rates of abuse- and neglect-related deaths of children are highest in the South and lowest in the Northeast, research indicates.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Missouri studied child fatalities from 1979 through 1988 and found that death rates varied by region of the country, state, and metropolitan area. Their results appear in the January issue of The Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The researchers reported ranges in death rates, with the lower-end rates based on confirmed child-abuse cases; the upper-end death rates included cases of apparent mistreatment. Dividing the states into four regions, the researchers reported the following ranges of death rates per 100,000 children: 5.4 to 11.5 in the South, 5.2 to 11.2 in the West, 4.6 to 9.8 in the North-Central states, and 4.3 to 8.2 in the Northeast.

The study ranked the states, with Connecticut having the lowest rates--2.9 to 5.2--and Nevada having the highest--6.7 to 15.4.

In metropolitan areas with populations exceeding one million, the highest death rates were reported in Phoenix and in the Florida cities of Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, and Miami. Metropolitan statistical areas in New England had among the lowest rates.

Urban-Education Effort: The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development has formed an urban-education advisory board, drawing members from the fields of research, philanthropy, education, and business.

The board, which first met last month, will develop a five-year plan to improve the education of poor and minority students. Gene R. Carter, the executive director of the A.S.C.D., a Virginia-based group interested in curriculum development, urged board members to create "a comprehensive plan to address urban problems on a nationwide basis ... evolving as we reach consensus about what it takes to educate all children.''

The board's chairman is Robert Cole, the vice president of the Center for Leadership in School Reform in Louisville, Ky.

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