Campus: CSU Fullerton -- July 15, 2005

Cal State Fullerton Professors Want to Know: Are High School Students Economically Literate?

How well do high school students understand basic economics?

This fall, two Cal State Fullerton economics professors will be exploring how much 12th graders in three Orange County school districts know about such concepts as supply and demand, inflation and recession.

Since 1998, California high school seniors have been required to attend and complete a one-semester economics course prior to graduation. The goal, say researchers, is to increase their knowledge about personal finance and how economic issues affect businesses and governments.

Since the requirement was instituted, however, little research has been done to find out how much students understand before and after attending the courses, said Andrew Gill, professor of economics, and Chiara Gratton-Lavoie, director of Cal State Fullerton's Center for Economics Education and a lecturer in economics.

With the support of a $19,587 grant from the National Council on Economic Education, Gill and Gratton-Lavoie will test how much high school seniors know prior to and after attending the required course to evaluate their knowledge. The duo also will survey students to gather information on race, ethnicity and gender.

"Our goal is a sample of 1,000 students, so we'll be testing students in 30 to 32 classes," noted Gratton-Lavoie, adding that they will be working with teachers in the Fullerton Joint Union High School, Placentia-Yorba Linda and Capistrano unified school districts.

It's a baseline study to discover the strengths and weaknesses in student understanding, said Gill, stressing that it will not be used to judge how well individual instructors teach the course matter. The overall goal is not to test how well students learn specific theory and process, added Gill, but to see if they have grasped an understanding of basic core principles, such as inflation, unemployment and supply.

"It's a simple objective but one that is very important," Gratton-Lavoie said. "We are not aware of other research studies that focus specifically on economic literacy in Southern California high schools."

Gratton-Lavoie has taught at Cal State Fullerton since 1999 and overseen the Center for Economic Education since 2002. Part of the College of Business and Economics, the center's purpose is to provide technical economic education services to improve the level of economic understanding in grades K-12, institutions of higher education and the surrounding community. In addition to a 10-week stock market simulation offered to schools throughout the Southland, the center offers consultations and workshops for high school and middle school instructors.

Gill, a member of Cal State Fullerton's faculty since 1984, teaches courses on labor economics, principles of microeconomics and econometrics. In addition to this research project, Gill also is working on an evaluation of the education services and mission achievement of California's community colleges.

Media Contacts:
Chiara Gratton-Lavoie at (714) 278-2248 or
Andrew Gill at (714) 278-3076 or
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs at (714) 278-4852 or

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