Thursday, March 01, 2007

Talent Searches: What should schools do with the results?

On Monday, I spoke about my new book, Grindhopping, at the Kellogg School of Management. This is located at Northwestern University just outside Chicago. It's a place I have many fond memories of. For 3 summers in grades 7-9, I spent 3 weeks taking classes there through Northwestern's Center for Talent Development. If it hadn't been snowing like crazy, and if I hadn't had an 8:30pm plane to catch out of O'Hare (which was subsequently delayed... like every flight I've ever taken out of O'Hare...) I would have loved to spend more time walking down memory lane there.

I took classes through CTD because I'd participated in something called the "Midwest Academic Talent Search." Through this program, middle school students take an out-of-level test (I took the SAT) to provide more data on their level of advancement. On grade-level tests, gifted students tend to score in the 99th percentile, but on out-of-level tests, their scores spread out over the whole bell curve. I'm happy to report that I did quite well, even winning a partial scholarship to the summer program my 8th grade year. I received the award at a ceremony at Northwestern University. I also was recognized at a ceremony called "Achievers All" that the South Bend Community School Corporation held at the end of the year.

This experience is pretty typical for students who do well in talent searches. A survey by CTD found that after receiving MATS results, 66% of school coordinators recognize participants by handing out certificates at a special ceremony. However, in most schools, they don't do anything else. Only about 20% held meetings with parents and/or students to help them interpret the scores, and only 16% provided some sort of letter or materials they'd developed about the topic. A grand total of 2.8% communicated with parents about subsequent educational services that might be available. A full 22% of school coordinators said they did no special follow-up. I am traveling in Canada right now and don't have my HTML cheat sheet, but here's a link to the study results:

Since Dr. Julian Stanley did the first talent search at Johns Hopkins years ago, talent searches have done an excellent job of finding highly gifted kids. They have also done a great job of providing summer classes at top universities for these gifted kids. But the classes are expensive. Ideally, when a child does incredibly well on an out-of-level test, it should trigger action in their regular school. It should be time to figure out that, hey, if the kid is achieving the same scores as a high school senior, maybe she should be taking the same classes as high school seniors. But this almost never happens. Instead, schools treat it as a fun reason to hold an award ceremony.

Across the Midwest, schools should be receiving MATS scores around now (the SAT date was 1/27 and the ACT was 2/10). And unfortunately, most schools will fill out a certificate and file the scores somewhere to never be seen again.


The Princess Mom said...

You were a cherub? How cute! LOL

Some schools don't even want to acknowledge that kids participated in the MATS. Xavier's elementary school didn't even mention the MATS participants at their end of the year all school award ceremony. (He was not the only one who was slighted.) Supposedly the certificates were lost, although my older son received his in homeroom.

Of course, the same school district refused to let Xavier skip 6th grade science despite the fact that he scored in the 91%ile of eighth graders in that subject on EXPLORE. I think they only refer kids to MATS so they can say they have X number of kids participating.

SteveH said...

"Instead, schools treat it as a fun reason to hold an award ceremony."

It's worse than you think. My son's school (he's in 5th grade) uses the ERB (CPT/4) test. The results for those in the top 3 percent are supposed to be sent to Johns Hopkins CTY automatically. The school is on their list. The school decided (the principal) that they weren't going to do that. I happened to find out from another parent and submitted my son's scores myself. I asked the principal about this and he gave me a story about some kids who took CTY summer courses and wanted to jump ahead at school and they weren't prepared, or some such thing. So he decided that the school wasn't going to participate. I told him that, at the very least, they should let parents know of the opportunity.

My son took the SCAT test and met the CTY criteria. CTY said that they were going to send the results to our school. Now I know why the principal is avoiding me. He doesn't want to deal with special cases. I know that one child is taking a CTY math course in place of the school's regular 8th grade math course. However, the parents have to pay and the child studies on his own.

To some extent, taking the test is moot, since the cost of the courses is high and the school really doesn't like to make exceptions. The big thing nowadays is full-inclusion and no separation by ability.

From the time my son started Kindergarten, I have gotten the feeling that the school (almost) doesn't like smart kids. At the very least, they want to pretend that all kids are equal. They talk about differentiated instruction, but this is more about enrichment than acceleration. Proper acceleration means grouping by ability and they really, really don't want to do that.

Stormia said...

When I found out that my test scores were good enough to take the SATS for CTY, my middle school attempted to prevent me from doing so. The counselor tried to convince my mother that I didn't have much of a chance to actually get into the program, and that it was a waste of time and money. Luckily, my mother listened to me when I told her it was something I wanted to do, and I ended up spending two glorious summers at CTY. My school never did a think with my SAT scores and middle school was awful, so I applied to private schools for high school. (Some of my teachers realized how bored I was and actually encouraged this decision) Luckily, I moved to Indiana and ended up at the Academy, so it all worked out in the end.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Stormia: I know what you mean! When I showed up as a junior at the Indiana Academy, the first thing I thought was "wow, this is like CTD." The second thing I thought was "and I don't have to leave after 3 weeks!" Talk about a wonderful revelation.

SteveH's and the Princess Mom's stories are unfortunately pretty typical. I once came across a piece of literature on moving to South Bend Indiana that mentioned how many people participated in the Midwest talent search, and how well they did. Having spent four years at South Bend schools, I can tell you it was likely despite the schools, not because of them. That said, I'm happy with South Bend today -- I was featured in Kathy Borlik's South Bend Tribune column this morning!:

Anonymous said...

My son took the SCAT test and easily qualified for the summer CTY programs, but we ended up not registering for them. Not only are they very expensive, but 3 weeks is a long time for an 11-year old who has never spent more than 2 nights away from his parents. A one-week camp would have been much more attractive.

And then there is the problem of whether the CTY program was even advanced enough for him---his scores were in the top 1% of the SCAT scores for the talent search kids. Spending $3000 for 3 weeks that were no better than his current school for the gifted doesn't sound like such a bargain (especially since the school is $1000 a month, not $1000 a week).

Anonymous said...

My son has done the talent search for 4 years, and we, as home schoolers, use the results to plan for the next year's curriculum. I am still very involved in gifted issues for our district, chairing a local gifted advocacy group. I often tell parents to go ahead with the talent search testing, assuming their child wants to participate.

It occurred to me just last night that the recommendations given in Northwestern's course catalog could be used as acceleration recommendations by public schools. For example, if one needs an ACT >24 science to take AP biology, shouldn't that be true for a 8th grader as well as a 11th grader getting a similar score??

Schools might well be able to take these published guidelines (for summer and online classes)and translate them into curriculum modifications (at the school district level) for their children.

Just a thought.....

Anonymous said...

These posts are great. I have two kids that have taken the SCAT and qualifed for the CTY summer programs.

However, I have a dfferent question. Has anyone read the new book by Charles Murray called: Real Education? It addresses issues in education, including gifted education, in a thoughtful way.

Anonymous said...

All posts are very helpful. My daughter took the SCAT test and didn't make it. Did your child prepare for SCAT? If so, where did you find the material?

Maria said...

My 5th grade daughter took the EXPLORE test at her school. She had never seen a real practice test or anything that resembled this. I understand the criteria for NUMATS but if she isn't in the top 5%, what kind of scores should she have if I want to have any influence on her public school education?

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous, I think trying to "prepare" your child for the SCAT misses the point of the test: the SCAT was designed to recognized abilities that go beyond the limits of the standardized, grade-level tests. If your child didn't meet the requirements, then "cramming" isn't going to do that child any favors. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I am curious what scores the top Northwestern students get; I would like to know how I would measure up with 7th grade scores of 700, 730, and 680 in the SAT and 32, 29, 34, and 26 in the ACT.

meneka menon said...

I so totally agree with Steven H.
How is it helping kids who need more challenges and kids who are struggling to be in the same class. As is, my kid is bored to tears sitting in his current class but school is showing no interest in accelerating.