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Children whose mothers encourage them to be curious, to persist, to master new tasks, and to take pleasure in learning tend to have higher academic achievement than those whose mothers use rewards or punishments to encourage school success.

So concludes a study by three California State University researchers that appeared in the March issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Adele Eskeles Gottfried, James S. Fleming, and Allen W. Gottfried interviewed the mothers of 107 children and assessed the children's academic and motivational characteristics at ages 9 and 10.

They found that 9-year-olds who were internally motivated to do well in school had mothers who had encouraged that attitude. Moreover, those children's academic achievement at both 9 and 10 was greater than it was for peers whose mothers had encouraged academic success with rewards and punishments.

In fact, the researchers found, such external motivational practices tended to have a negative effect on children's motivation.

Poverty among young people in rural America is just as serious a problem as it is in the nation's inner cities, researcher Harold L. Hodgkinson says in a new report.

In his study, which synthesizes data from several reports on the subject, Hodgkinson points out that:

  • A higher percentage of rural children than nonrural children are poor.
  • One in six children in rural areas had no medical insurance in 1990, compared with one in eight suburban children and one in seven urban children.
  • Teachers in rural areas are younger, less experienced, and less credentialed than their urban counterparts.
  • Although rural students perform just as well as their metropolitan peers on some standardized tests, they attend schools offering fewer opportunities. For example, only 48 percent of rural secondary students--about half the percentage for urban students--attend a school that offers calculus.

Hodgkinson also points out that rural poverty is worsening because of a steady exodus of the best-educated people.

"It is not clear what would galvanize Americans into realizing that for every American child who is seriously at risk in an inner city, there is one rural child equally at risk,'' he writes.

To order the report, "The Invisible Poor: Rural Youth in America,'' write or call the Institute for Educational Leadership, 1001 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 310, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 822-8405.

Policymakers have varying, sometimes conflicting, views of how alternative forms of student assessment should be used, a forthcoming survey suggests.

Researcher Lorraine M. McDonnell, as part of an ongoing examination of states' efforts to overhaul their testing systems, surveyed 34 state and national policymakers during the 1991-92 school year.

She found that many of the policymakers viewed current moves from traditional pencil-and-paper tests to a more performance-based assessment system as a way to hold schools and educators accountable for student performance or to certify that individual students had attained specific levels of mastery.

Others agreed with testing experts that such tests should mainly be used to gauge the overall status of the education system or to help educators make instructional decisions about students. Still others said new assessments could bring greater curricular coherence to schools, motivate students, and act as a lever for reform.

"Policymakers accepted diverse purposes and assumed they could all be accommodated under a single assessment system,'' McDonnell says. That attitude, she adds, is anathema to testing experts, who warn against using performance assessments for multiple purposes--especially if high stakes are involved.

"Will the move to alternative assessments and their policy applications repeat the cycle of the past two decades where policymakers expanded the use of multiple-choice tests beyond their original, intended purposes?'' she writes in a report scheduled to be published this month by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing and the RAND Corporation. "The probable answer is yes.''

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