Gifted middle school students around the country took the SAT or ACT this winter as part of "talent searches" run by universities including Duke, Northwestern and Johns Hopkins. Most have gotten their results, and some are now signing up for summer programs offered through these universities (for instance, I read the tale of two Texas students who will be attending summer programs on scholarship, here.)
I'm glad these talent searches and summer programs exist. I participated in the Midwest Talent Search in 7th and 8th grade. My school system had a little ceremony called "Achievers All" (we wouldn't want to suggest that not all students achieve, would we?) that honored all talent search participants and others who had good middle school attendance records, etc. I went to academic summer camps at Northwestern because of my SAT scores. It's safe to say the three weeks I spent at Northwestern University each of those summers were the absolute highlight of those years. But then what? Most students who are "identified" as highly gifted through high scores on out-of-level tests go right back into their age-grade level classes. Indeed, I wrote a piece for USA Today three years ago called SAT Talent Searches Lead Nowhere for Many with stories from some of these kids. When information isn't used, it's pretty much useless. Even if you do get a small trophy from the school for your efforts.
So what should happen? Parents and the talent searches need to push schools to have a policy that a high score on an out-of-level test triggers an individual education plan meeting. In an ideal world, a representative from the talent search would also be part of that meeting, to offer ideas for accommodations (many schools and parents aren't aware of all the options).
Schools love talent searches -- you get to advertise about your high scorers -- so I'd love to see the searches play hard ball. If you do nothing with the scores, we cut your school from the program. Any kid, after all, can sign up for the SAT if he wants, on his own. Families can participate even if schools are blacklisted. But if searches made known a list of schools unwilling to accommodate children, that could shake things up a bit.