In the summer of 1968, Julian Stanley, a professor at Johns Hopkins University learned about a 12-year-old boy named Joe. Joe was an excellent student for his age. In fact, he could be found helping graduate students in computer science with some of their projects. To test Joe’s intelligence, Dr. Stanley arranged for Joe to take the SAT the following fall when he was in the eighth grade. It turned out that Joe scored better than most Johns Hopkins students, even though he hadn’t even started high school. Despite his high scores, Joe’s school did not offer a curriculum that matched his educational needs. Thus, after searching for and failing to find an appropriate high school curriculum, Joe enrolled as an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins at the age of 13.
Joe was soon followed by Jonathan and by Jeff. At this point, Dr. Stanley began to formally investigate ways to identify students who reasoned exceptionally well mathematically, and also to accelerate mathematics curricula to match the needs of these talented students. Thus, the modern academic talent search was born. Since then, talent searches have expanded to include verbal and other academic talents as well.
The talent search model seeks to a) identify students who perform well above age-level in one or more academic areas and b) fully develop those talents through academically appropriate challenging programs. Following the model founded by Dr. Stanley, talent search programs continue to rely on above-level tests. Using above-level tests helps identify the difference between a student who has mastered material far beyond what has been covered in class from the student who has mastered the on-level material.
In addition to above-level testing, talent searches also offer programs designed to serve students who score exceptionally high on above-level tests. Currently, over 240,000 students participate each year in one of the six national talent searches. From among them, over 16,000 adolescents attend a special summer program on a college campus. These programs provide accelerative and enriching opportunities to supplement the regular school curriculum while making sure they also avoid teaching students what they already know.
According to Stanley, the talent search model is based on three psychological principles: a) learning is sequential and developmental, b) children learn at varying rates, and c) matching the content presented to a child’s needs is necessary for effective teaching.
Talent search programs should provide the brightest students the “educational opportunities they sorely need and, in my opinion, richly deserve for their own optimal development and the good of society” (Stanley, 2005, p. 9). Stanley (2002) also stated that having “intellectually talented youth live together, study a single subject intensively, and socialize together… has enormously enhanced value as compared with the mainly academic facilitation of the commuter courses.”
Today, many educators refer their top students to participate in talent searches. Understanding the goals of talent searches and their programs should help parents in their decision-making process about whether talent search participation is right for their child.