Talent Search testing — the first step

Testing is a critical first step in helping to determine which options would be appropriate for you to consider for your child. But not surprisingly, the testing must be non-traditional too!

Educator Leta Hollingworth pioneered out-of-norm testing in 1916, identifying the "ceiling effect" — the clustering of grade-level test scores at the top end of the scale for gifted teens. Grade-level tests such as ERBs are simply too easy for gifted students; they simply need a harder test. When highly gifted children take an "out-of-norm" or "above-grade-level" test designed for older children, some will score only the bare minimum on the SAT/ACT while others will have near-perfect results (see the comparison of SAT scores of 7th/8th graders versus high school students for math and english).

Psychologist/educator Julian Stanley, an advocate of accelerated education for academically gifted children, said "talent must be identified and nurtured so that it is not lost." He pioneered widespread testing of gifted children through Talent Searches in 1971. The many studies on out-of-norm testing not only confirm the viability of using these tests for younger children but also have proved their predictive ability — that current academic talents forecast future talents (see Vanderbilt University study).

Just the results from this out-of-norm test alone may well confirm why your child is so unhappy at a traditional school — if your child is scoring higher than the majority of college freshmen, why would traditional middle school be a good fit academically?

The out-of-norm test used in Talent Searches for 11-16 year olds is either the SAT or ACT. Over 150,000 children aged 12-14 years old have been taking ACT and SAT tests annually (see history). Talent Searches using these college-entrance exams for younger children include:

• Johns Hopkins CTY — Center for Talented Youth — http://cty.jhu.edu/
• Duke University TIP — Talent Identification Program — http://www.tip.duke.edu/
• Northwestern University NUMATS — Midwest Academic Talent Search — http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/
• University of Denver CITY — Center for Innovative and Talented Youth — http://www.du.edu/city/
• CSU-Los Angeles SEAA — Search for Exceptional Academic Achievement — website

Other testing venues: if these Talent Searches are not convenient, there are local choices.

The benefit of taking the test during a Talent Search is that the younger children 11-15 years old will be taking the test with other children their own age, rather than in a room full of high school juniors. However, any child may take a SAT/ACT locally, with older children, if more convenient. These tests are available several times a year at many colleges and high schools. Children ages 13 and above can enroll themselves online (SAT website or ACT website). For children under age 13, it is illegal to enroll online for the SAT or ACT, due to internet privacy laws, however hard-copy mail-in registration is still available. Registration forms can be picked up at any local high school, or online at the SAT/ACT websites.

More about the Above-Grade-Level or Out-of-Norm Test

It is important to warn your child before taking this test that it is extremely difficult; it is designed to be extremely difficult. No one, not even 18-year-olds (or us parents) know all the answers. These are literally college-entrance exams, and will be unlike anything your child has taken before.

There is no preparation necessary for your child to take this test. The purpose of this test is to get a snapshot of where your child is now, and not after prepping for the test. However, it is appropriate to mention a little bit about strategy — pacing and guessing. Obviously the more right answers, the higher the score — thus your child should not spend too much time on any single hard question. It is better to skip one hard question and answer several easier ones. Since there is no penalty for wrong answers, it is also good strategy to enter an answer for every question; no question should be left blank. Many gifted children feel they should only answer a question if they are sure, but guessing will increase the score, especially when the one or two wrong answers have been excluded. The ACT website includes a page of test tips. Practice questions and practice tests are also available at both SAT and ACT, with additional practice aids available at websites such as Khan Academy.

It is also important to warn your child that the test scores are very different from most of the tests taken.

In school your child is expected to know all the answers to all the questions, so a 50% score means your child only learned half of what was expected, which is a failing grade. However, the SAT and ACT are scored by distribution, so a 50% score means your child scored higher than half the kids taking the test, or in other words, higher than half of the kids going to college next year — an excellent score indeed!

Although these are college entrance exams, the material tested is not through grade 12. In fact, much of the specific material tested only goes through 9th grade — see Newsweek Magazine article on the Five Lies About the SAT.

Privacy guaranteed: both you and your child should rest assured that these test results are totally private; none of these scores will ever be used without the consent of the child and/or the parent. ACT and SAT will release only the scores from the specific test date that the student specifies, and only to whom the student specifies.

Reasons to take an Out-Of-Norm Test

1. Identification. When your child "tops out" on the grade-level test, you do not have a true measurement of his/her abilities. It is like measuring your 5-foot-tall teenager with a yardstick! The SAT/ACT will give you an accurate measurement of how advanced your child is in an absolute sense, compared to students of all ages.

2. Practice. This is almost always the first time gifted children have taken such a hard test. But it will not be the last! It is beneficial to have this often-humbling first attempt be a practice one, in advance of the PSAT (used to determine National Merit scholarship standings) in grades 10 and 11. It is also beneficial to identify the subject areas where your child could improve scores for later tests.

3. Recognition. All of the Talent Searches recognize superior performers with certificates or perhaps special ceremonies. For instance, Duke TIP EXPLORE testers who achieve a composite score at or above the 99th percentile are honored for their outstanding achievement at a recognition ceremony in May or June.

4. Opportunities. Each Talent Search provides special summer and year-round weekend academic opportunities in their locale, as well as online opportunities, appropriate for all test-takers.

5. Assessment. Parents are encouraged to share the test score information with school administrators and teachers to use in planning a more optimal educational program as well as enrichment opportunities. Subjects in which your child has scored above the 50th percentile merit special consideration for the nuturing of this special talent, such as mentoring, acceleration, dual enrollment, summer college courses. For the select group of students who score above the 75th percentile in both the math and verbal sections, parents should consider the option of radical acceleration to college. The purpose of this website is to help parents identify options and critically examine each to determine which might be appropriate; the out-of-norm test results are an important tool in determining the appropriateness of these options.