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Educational Talent Searches For Gifted Children: Off-Level Testing

Updated on April 28, 2009
Photo: PittCaleb,Flickr
Photo: PittCaleb,Flickr

According to Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D., there are three components to the process of educational talent searches for gifted children: diagnosis and evaluation (identification), educational placement and guidance, and talent development opportunities. In order to fully realize their potential, gifted kids need access to summer programs, distance learning, and contests and competitions. Her research shows that the talent search identification process leads to success of the students identified. This article deals with the diagnosis of gifted children via standardized testing.

History of Educational Talent Search

Educational talent searches as we know them began at Johns Hopkins University in 1972. What started as a program to measure and identify mathematical aptitude at one institution has grown into a nationwide effort. The first talent searches used the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) to test children with high mathematics aptitude before they reached high school. These first talent searches were designed to identify middle school aged children with exceptional reasoning ability. Later, the assessment of verbal ability was added.

Over the next twenty-five years, talent searches identified many advanced students whose needs were not being met by the traditional school model. There are now talent searches in every state. There are also educational programs, newsletters, and other and services to help parents understand these kids. The four university based centers that conduct annual, talent searches are:

There are also several other organizations across the country that conduct talent searches.

Talent Search Basics

The foundation of the talent search is standardized testing. Students who score very high (95th percentile or above) on standardized achievement tests are generally eligible for the talent search. While their high scores may make parents and teachers happy, they can't indicate what the child is capable of because the standardized achievement tests are designed for diverse groups of students who have a wide variation of intelligence and knowledge. When talent search students take a test designed for their age group and perform almost perfectly, it's because the tests don't have enough difficult items that would truly show the skills of the gifted child.

Talent searches involves testing younger students with tests designed for older children. This is known as off-level testing. 4th graders may be given the test usually given to 6th graders. The SAT and ACT have high enough ceilings to provide accurate measures for older children, as they are typically given to evaluate older children's potential for success in college. While in-grade achievement tests help to determine the overall level of a school compared others, it does little for the group of students who score very well on the test.

Adapted from the full article by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D.


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