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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Talent Search programs offer gifted students additional norm reference points

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

When young children consistently score at the 95th %ile or higher level on in-grade standardized tests (tests that measure at the grade level in which the test taker is enrolled), they and their parents may well be served to test beyond the grade-level standardized testing that is offered at schools. Adaptive tests (technology-based exams by which the level of complexity adjusts according to the answers keyed in by the students) such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) practically remove the ceilings of in-grade or at-grade-level standardized tests. Thus, students and parents can generally determine the grade-level at which the child is achieving – and maybe more importantly, teachers can differentiate their instruction.
But parents attempting to glean a better picture of how their child is faring vis-a-vis other students who also excel at in-grade testing have turned to annual university-based Talent Search competitions. More than 300,000 students participate annually in Talent Search competitions such as the Midwest Academic Talent Search offered by Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.
Talent Search research shows that “when students in the upper tail of the typical normal curve take a test designed for older students, a new bell curve results,” according to the Handbook of Gifted Education compiled by Nicholas Colangelo and Gary A. Davis. “Administering an above-level test to students at the upper end of a bell curve helps discriminate able students from exceptionally able students, and it provides a more precise assessment of aptitude and readiness for additional academic challenges.”
Most assessments used by the various Talent Searches (other than Northwestern University, there are numerous other such programs affiliated with universities such as Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, Carnegie-Mellon University, University of Denver to name a few) employ tests that were developed for “students two to four years older than the students’ present grade placement.”
The test most commonly used test in the Talent Search movement is the SAT, typically administered to students at the 7th and 8th grade levels. The SAT, of course, is in addition to the ACT this country’s major college entrance examination typically administered to high school juniors and seniors. Julian Stanley, credited with initiating the Talent Search movement in the 1970s with his well-known Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) found in his research that the math section of the SAT exam “must function far more at an analytic reasoning level for Talent Search participants than it does for high school juniors and seniors.”
Talent Search SAT results allow test takers to receive normative data on two different levels – a) compared to the nationwide results achieved by high school juniors and seniors; and b) compared to all Talent Search participants.
As concerns the comparison to SAT nationwide results achieved at 11th and 12th grade levels, SAT verbal testing data obtained by John Hopkins University in 2001 for its Talent Search participants, for example, show that 22 percent of 7th grade males and 45 percent of 8th grade males did as well or better than the 507 score recorded at the 50th percentile level for high school juniors and seniors. The numbers for female participants are 24 percent at the 7th grade level and 47 percent at the 8th grade level. That same year, the study showed on the mathematics section that 59 percent of 8th grade female participants surpassed the mean score for female high school juniors and seniors.
As concerns the comparison of Talent Search participants, Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development Director PaulaOlszewski-Kubilius offers this scenario: “Take, for example, two seventh grade students who both score at the 97th percentile on the mathematics composite of their in-grade achievement test. When they take the SAT-Math, however, one student scores a 550 and the other a 350. These students look very similar to one another on the basis of the in-grade achievement test and would be treated similarly educationally by schools and teachers. In reality, they are quite different and need different educational placements and programs.”
Talent Search programs also test students younger than the 7th and 8th grade students typically offered the SAT or also the ACT. Students as early as third grade are offered above-grade level testing. Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) offers students at that age the EXPLORE testing, developed by ACT to test 8th grade students.
Our school, Quest Academy, offers 6th through 8th grade students the EXPLORE testing in addition to conducting MAP testing at 1st through 8th grade levels. In addition, the school encourages its gifted students to participate in NUMATS. Interestingly enough, the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA), the state-funded boarding school for gifted students throughout Illinois, requires applicants to submit SAT testing data. Analysis of accepted IMSA students in the year of 2010 (including Quest Academy students) show that 8th grade students achieved a SAT math score of 732 and a Critical Reading Score of 671.


  1. I’m a mother leading a campaign for better early educational opportunities for young gifted children.

    Almost any adult can relate to how it feels to have to sit through a conference, training session, or class that covers material that you already know. Now imagine you are four years old. And you have to do this every day for at least two years of your life. That is what academically gifted children starting school throughout the US will face this fall, unless a parent decides to home school them or can afford to pay for private school.

    There are early programs available for children with disabilities and for gifted children at poverty level or below. Parents who have the funds can pay for each child to attend school, or home school their children, but not everyone can do this. I have talked to other parents with similar issues and they have shared stories full of frustration and struggle for themselves, their children, and for educators whose hands are tied and cannot offer these children what they need during at least the first couple of years of school.

    These gifted children are people and have educational needs as much as other children in the United States. Here is a link to my campaign:

    I wanted to ask if it would be possible for you to share the link with your blog readers and with followers on social media.

    Thanks for your time!

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