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Will geography lessons ever jell?

Washington - US fourth- and eighth-graders showed some improvement in their knowledge of geography between 1994 and 2001. But on average, students still have only a basic knowledge of the subject, according to results of a national test released Friday by the Department of Education. The National Assessment of Educational Progress also found that the performance of high school seniors in geography remained flat, with only 1 in 4 achieving proficiency in the subject.

The test includes questions that probe students' understanding of map reading, the environment, and population and cultural trends. One in 3 fourth-graders could not identify on a map the state where they lived. Overall, 21 percent of fourth-graders, 30 percent of eighth-graders, and 25 percent of 12th-graders scored at the proficient level.

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Alternative 'exit exam' under scrutiny

Newark, N.J. - The alternative to New Jersey's high school exit exam was intended as a last resort, but it is the route to a diploma for a growing number of students. About 6,000 high school graduates, nearly 1 in 10, received diplomas through the Special Review Assessment (SRA) last year, up 60 percent from five years ago, The Star-Ledger of Newark reports.

Students who twice fail any section of the regular exit exam receive remedial classes. If they fail the test a third time, they are given the SRA, which consists of open-ended questions that can be answered in an untimed session. Last year, about 90 percent of SRA participants earned their diplomas. Education commissioner William Librera says the process should be revised.

Play sports now, but don't sue later

Boston - The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that communities can require families to sign liability waivers when children sign up for extracurricular activities. A former high school student tried to sue over an injury she had sustained during cheerleading practice. The high court said that declaring permission slips and waivers invalid would mean the eventual disappearance of after-school activities that involved risk of injury.