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Friday, 19 November, 1999, 11:47 GMT
Pupils 'too ignorant to vote'
Students do not know enough about how their country is run

A third of high school seniors in the United States do not understand the basics of how their country's government is run, test results show.

Only just over a quarter of the students, many of whom will be old enough to vote in next year's elections, are considered knowledgeable enough to make reasonable, informed choices at the polls.

The publication of the 1998 national test results in government and civics education has caused considerable concern.

Diane Ravitch, a chief education researcher, said: "What these young voters know and don't know about civics and government will have an impact on all of us.

"We cannot be content when so many young voters are so poorly prepared."

Gaps in knowledge

The test is part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is administered by a group established by Congress.

A nationwide sample of pupils in three different grades - fourth, eighth and 12th - sit a number of tests in different subjects for the assessment.

The results of the government and civics education test showed that fewer than half of 12th grade students, aged about 17, knew the president and the State Department had more authority over foreign policy than Congress or the courts.

Only 9% could list two ways democratic society benefits from the active participation of its citizens.

Like the high school seniors, about one-third of fourth graders (nine-year-olds) and eighth graders (13-year-olds) performed below basic levels, indicating gaps in their knowledge.

Charles N Quigley, Executive Director of the Center for Civic Education, which promotes civics courses in schools, said: "The vast majority are either not being taught civics and government at all or they are being taught too little, too late, and inadequately.

"Under these conditions, you can hardly expect them to do well on such a test."
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