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Study Delves Into Students' Retention of High School Economics
Pair of business professors receive grant to evaluate whether high school students retain knowledge they acquire from an economics course.

May 4, 2006

In order to graduate, high school students must successfully complete a certain number of classes and have completed certain, specific courses. Two business professors are now delving into how much students retain from one such course — economics, a California requirement since 1998.

Under a $21,285 National Council on Economic Education grant, Andrew Gill, professor of economics, and Chiara Gratton-Lavoie, director of the university's Center for Economics Education, will be evaluating whether high school students retain the knowledge they acquired from this course.

"The purpose of our project is twofold," noted Gratton-Lavoie."First, we want to assess how much of the economics knowledge acquired by students in their compulsory course is retained upon entering college.

"We also seek to understand to what extent their abilities to retain specific types of economic information over time depends on the cognitive level of the questions asked," she added, noting that the questions will seek the level of knowledge, such as ability to remember facts, concepts and information; comprehension, such as grasp of meaning and intent; and application, the ability to apply learning to new situations and circumstances.

"A question may ask the student to identify the correct definition of inflation, while another requests the student understand why and how unexpected inflation may benefit those who owe money on a fixed-interest loan," Gratton-Lavoie explained."Our objective in the study will be to not only determine how much economics knowledge is retained by the high school graduate over time, but also to gain insights on the type of knowledge retained."

"Secondly, we want to evaluate the impact of the high school mandate by comparing the economic literacy of California's students with the economic knowledge of a control group — freshmen at Washington State University," said Gill."Washington, unlike California, has no mandate for high school economics instruction, nor requirements to implement economics standards throughout the kindergarten to 12th grade curriculum."

The two researchers will collect data using the Test of Economic Literacy, a standardized test of 40 multiple-choice questions by the National Council on Economic Education. They will administer the TEL to both CSUF and Washington State incoming freshmen this fall and combine those results with similar information obtained in fall 2005 when they administered the same test to Orange County 12th graders enrolled in high school economics courses.

"We'll consider the importance of race and ethnicity, as well as the impact of socioeconomic, demographic and community characteristics on retention of the information and ability to explain economic concepts," added Gratton-Lavoie.
he study builds upon an earlier study the economists began last year under another NCEE grant. In that study, Gill and Gratton-Lavoie explored how much 12th graders in two Orange County school districts know about such concepts as supply and demand, inflation and recession. The research delved into how much such students knew and understood before and after attending the courses. In that study, Gill and Gratton-Lavoie used a sample of 1,000 students and worked with instructors in the Fullerton Joint Union High School and Capistrano Unified districts.

Gratton-Lavoie has taught at Cal State Fullerton since 1999 and overseen the Center for Economic Education since 2002. Gill has been a member of the university's faculty since 1984 and teaches courses on labor economics, principles of microeconomics and econometrics.

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