Talent Searches: Meeting the Needs of Academically Talented Youth
Lupkowski-Shoplik, A., Benbow, C., Assouline, S. & Brody, L.
Allyn & Bacon

This article by Susan Assouline and Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik describes how the Talent Search model, founded by Julian C. Stanley, identifies the academically gifted.

This chapter is dedicated to Dr. Julian C. Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model.

The Talent Search concept, pioneered by Julian C. Stanley in the 1970s, is elegant and bold in its simplicity: Offer a challenging test designed for older students to bright, motivated younger students as a means of identifying exceptional talent in a specific domain. Inspired by Leta Hollingworth's use of above-level tests and his own experimental work with young math prodigies, Stanley held the first large-scale testing of seventh and eighth graders under the auspices of the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) at the Johns Hopkins University in January, 1972. He used the Scholastic Aptitude Test (now SAT-I), a test designed for college-bound twelfth graders, to identify advanced mathematical reasoning abilities in middle school students (Stanley, 1996).

Today, over 300,000 students from every state and many countries around the world participate in annual university-based Talent Searches. These Talent Search programs offer several testing options, serve a broad age group, and identify talent in the areas of mathematical, verbal, and scientific reasoning abilities. They also offer a variety of programmatic opportunities to serve the students they identify. In spite of this incredible growth, the model remains true to the principles and practices established by Stanley over three decades ago. This chapter presents an overview of the Talent Search model: its philosophy, its approach to helping talented students achieve their full potential, and evidence for its effectiveness. 1

How Does the Talent Search Work?

Talent Searches offer a systematic assessment program using aptitude tests rather than achievement tests or IQ tests to identify talent. The tests used by Talent Searches were selected to allow talented students to use their reasoning abilities to solve a problem, even if the content is unfamiliar.

The Talent Search begins with a two-step process. The initial screening is designed to identify students who will benefit from the information they will gain from an above-level assessment. It is based on an in-grade standardized test such as the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. Students who score at a designated level or higher (usually 95th or-97th percentile, depending on the program) on a grade-level standardized achievement test are invited to take an above-level test as a measure of their aptitude. 2

The second step in this process is to administer the above-level test to the eligible students. The assessments used by the Talent Searches were developed for students two to four years older than the students' present grade placement, thus allowing those who have hit the ceiling on an in-grade achievement test to demonstrate their advanced abilities. The bell curve shown in Figure 15.1, Section A, is the distribution that is typically found when a general group of students takes an in-grade test. Figure 15.1, Section B, shows that when the students in the upper tail of the typical normal curve take a test designed for older students, a new bell curve results. Some students do very well on the new test, some earn low scores, and most earn scores in the middle range. Administering an above-level test to students at the upper end of the bell curve helps discriminate able students from exceptionally able students, and it provides a more precise assessment of aptitude and readiness for additional academic challenges.

The discriminatory power of this identification model has been demonstrated by Benbow (1992). In a follow-up study of Talent Search participants after ten years, all of whom were in the top I percent in mathematical reasoning ability and generaJ1Y~ high achievers, the academic achievements of those individuals in the top quarter of this group were still more impressive than the achievements of those in the bottom quarter of this group. The same has been found for verbal ability (Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, & Benbow, 2001). 3

Students who participate in Talent Searches receive information about how to interpret their scores and, depending on their performance, are eligible for a range of opportunities and services offered by the Talent Searches. These include recognition in award ceremonies, invitations to take classes and participate in programs, and information about other programmatic opportunities that might be appropriate to meet their educational needs. See Table 15.1 for a list of university-based Talent Search programs.

Which Above-level Tests Are Used by Talent Searches?

Several tests are now used by the Talent Searches for above-level testing. The SAT was the original Talent Search instrument used for seventh and eighth grade students, and the SAT-I is still the most widely used above-level test for middle school students. However, several of the Talent Searches also offer the ACT Assessment or the Spatial Test Battery. The School and College Abilities Test (SCAT) has forms that make it an option as an above-level test for elementary or middle school students. The PLUS was specifically developed for use with fifth and sixth grade Talent Search students. Another widely used test for Talent Search students in elementary school is EXPLORE.

Table 15.1 University-Based Talent Search Programs

Academic Talent Search, California State University, 6000 J St., Sacramento, CA 95819, (916) 278-7032. Talent Searches for elementary and middle school students in northern California.

The Belin-Blank Center, The University of Iowa, 210 Lindquist Center, Iowa City, IA 52242, (319) 335-6196; elementary and middle-school Talent Searches for third through ninth graders offered in many states.

Center for Talent Development, Northwestern University, 617 Dartmouth PI., Evanston, IL 60208, (847) 491-3782; Talent Searches for third through eighth graders offered in many states.

Center for Talented Youth, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218, (410) 516-0337; Talent Searches for second through eighth graders offered in many states.

Centre for Gifted Education, 170 Education Block, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada TIN IN4, (403) 220-7799, elementary student Talent Search.

Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre, 14th Roor, Mathews Building, University of New South Wales, Kensington Campus, Sydney 2052, Australia 612-9385-1972; elementary student Talent Search.

Iowa Talent Search, Office of Precollegiate Programs for Talented & Gifted, 310 Pearson Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, (515) 294-1772, second through ninth grade Talent Searches.

Irish Centre for Talented Youth, Dublin City University, Dublin 9, Ireland, 353-1-7005634; Talent Searches for twelve- through sixteen-year-olds.

Halbert and Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars, University of Washington, Box 351630, Seattle, WA 98195, (206) 543-4160; Talent Searches for fifth through ninth graders offered in Washington State.

Western Academic Talent Search (formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Talent Search), Westminster, CO 80021, (303) 428-2634; Talent Searches for third through ninth graders offered in the western states.

Talent Identification Program, Duke University, Box 90747, Durham, NC 27708, (919) 684-3847, www.tip.duke.edu/; Talent Searches for upper elementary and middle school students offered in many states.

Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT-1)
When Stanley started the Talent Search in the early 1970s, he was initially interested in finding students who were exceptionally talented in mathematics. He looked for a test that would measure high-level mathematical reasoning abilities and that was professionally prepared, standardized, secure, reliable, and had several forms. He also needed a test that would be so challenging for his young students that virtually none of them would earn perfect scores, and the average Talent Search examinee would score halfway between a perfect score and a chance score. He also needed a test with well-known, meaningful, normative interpretations of scores available. Stanley selected the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT-M), a test designed to assess the reasoning abilities of college-bound eleventh and twelfth graders. After pilot-testing the SAT-M with several large groups of talented seventh graders, Stanley and his colleagues hypothesized that, "the SAT-M must function far more at an analytic reasoning level for Talent Search participants than it does for high-school juniors and seniors" (Stanley & Benbow, 1986, p. 362).

In 1994, the SAT was revised and renamed the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT I). Scores on the mathematical and verbal sections are reported on a scale of 200 to 800, and Talent Search participants typically score across the full range from 200 to 800. The SAT is used by the majority of the seventh and eighth grade Talent Searches listed in Table 15.1.

It is amazing how well many students perform on this difficult above-level assessment. For example, in 2000 the average male college-bound high school senior (representing the 50th percentile) earned a score of 507 on the verbal section. In the 200 I Talent Search sponsored by the Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Johns Hopkins University, approximately 22 percent of seventh grade males and 45 percent of eighth grade males did as well or better than this. For females, the average college-bound high school student scored 504 on the verbal section, and 24% of female 7th grade Talent Search participants and 47% of the eighth grade cohort did this well or better. Similarly, in mathematics, the mean score in 2000 for college-bound students was 533 for males, and 27 percent of seventh grade and 50 percent of eighth grade males in CTY's 200 I Talent Search did this well or better. Among females, the college-bound students averaged 498, and 32 percent of seventh grade and 59 percent of eighth grade Talent Search females scored at least this high (Center for Talented Youth, 2001).

ACT Assessment
The ACT Assessment, a college entrance exam developed by ACT (formerly the American College Testing Program), was pilot-tested as a potential Talent Search instrument in 1987 (Sawyer & Brounstein, 1988) and was found to be a valid above- level instrument for identifying academically talented seventh and eighth graders (Dreyden & Stanley, 1988; Maxey & Dreyden, 1988; Stanley & York, 1988). It is currently administered by most of the seventh and eighth grade Talent Searches listed in Table 15.1. The ACT Assessment includes four tests: mathematics, English, reading, and science reasoning. Scores from these four tests are averaged to produce a composite score. Scores on each of the ACT tests, as well as the composite score, are reported on a scale of I to 36. During the 2000--2001 academic year, the average college-bound high school senior earned a composite score of 21. Approximately 11 percent (n = 29,409) of the 2000-2001 Talent Search seventh graders earned a composite score of 21 or higher, and 40 percent (n = 6,178) of 2000--2001 Talent Search eighth graders performed that well (personal communication, Richard Sawyer, ACT, August 13, 2001).

School and College Abilities Test (SCAT)
Although the earliest Talent Searches focused on middle school students, it seemed that the same concept that worked so well for seventh graders could be adapted for younger students. In 1981 Sanford J. Cohn, at Arizona State University, adapted the Talent Search process to academically talented students as young as age 7 (Cohn, 1991). He then brought this concept to the CTY at Johns Hopkins University. CTY now uses the SCAT as the vehicle of discovery for its elementary Talent Search for second to fourth graders.

The SCAT includes two subtests that measure quantitative and verbal reasoning ability. There are three levels available: elementary, intermediate, and advanced, with the advanced form providing norms through high school level. Iowa State University's Talent Search also uses the SCAT for second to fourth graders. The Academic Talent Search at California State University Sacramento uses the SCAT to identify fifth to ninth graders for its programs.

PLUS Academic Abilities Assessment
The PLUS, developed by Educational Testing Service, reports verbal and quantitative scores. Fifth graders who take this test in a Talent Search are compared to the national sample of eighth graders, while sixth graders are compared to a national sample of ninth graders. The Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University originally developed this test and was the first to use the PLUS Academic Abilities Assessment in its search for exceptionally talented fifth and sixth graders. The PLUS is currently offered by a number of other Talent Searches.

The EXPLORE, developed by American College Testing for eighth graders, consists of four multiple-choice tests: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. It also reports a composite score, which is the average of the four scores. ACT developed EXPLORE to measure students' curriculum related-knowledge as well as complex cognitive skills. It was first used in The University of Iowa and Carnegie Mellon University Elementary Student Talent Searches in 1993 (Colangelo, Assouline, & Lu, 1994), and has been adopted by other university based Talent Searches at Northwestern University and Duke University (see Lupkowski-Shoplik & Swiatek, 1999). Elementary students have done extremely well on EXPLORE. For example, sixth graders have consistently exceeded the average eighth graders' performance on EXPLORE and, with the exception of mathematics, the fifth graders also exceeded the average eighth graders' performance.

Spatial Test Battery
Since 1996 a computerized Spatial Test Battery (STB) has been offered as an optional part 'of CTY's Talent Search for seventh and eighth graders (Stumpf & Mills, 1999a). A version for younger students is being piloted. This test was developed by CTY after seven years of research on the critical components of scientific innovation and increasing recognition of the important role spatial abilities play in many career fields today. 4 The STB includes four subtests: visual memory, surface development, block rotation, and perspectives. When taken in conjunction with the SAT-I, it has been shown to provide an enhanced prediction of success in CTY's mathematics and science courses (Stumpf & Mills, 1999b). Therefore, CTY expanded its eligibility criteria for math and science courses to include a combination of STB and SAT-I scores for students who miss eligibility on SAT-I alone.

The Smorgasbord of Educational Options

In its commitment to furthering students' educational development, SMPY experimented with developing educational options to challenge the students with whom they worked. Initially, accelerative options such as fast-paced mathematics classes and early entrance to college were consistent with the existing research (Stanley, Keating, & Fox, 1974). Over time, SMPY and the Talent Searches identified a wide variety of ways to accelerate and/or supplement a gifted student's educational program so that challenge and rigor are provided. 'Researchers have referred to the list of options as a smorgasbord from which students should choose the options appropriate for their unique educational needs (Benbow, 1979, 1986; Stanley, 1991).

The goal is to create an optimal match between a gifted student's demonstrated abilities, achievements, and interests and his or her educational program (Benbow & Stanley, 1996; Robinson & Robinson, 1982; Durden & Tangherlini, 1993).

Among the accelerative options to be considered are:

  • Early entrance to kindergarten
  • Grade skipping
  • Taking selected classes with an older age group
  • Independent study/tutoring in advanced subject matter
  • Testing out of courses
  • Distance learning courses
  • Fast-paced classes or compressed curricula
  • The International Baccalaureate Program
  • Advanced Placement courses
  • Summer courses
  • Dual enrollment in high school and college
  • Early entrance to college
  • Concurrent undergraduate and graduate programs.

Most of these options utilize resources, curricula, or programs for older students, which are already available and thus are highly cost-effective. Research supports the efficacy of these programs to promote learning among gifted students (e.g., Benbow & Lubinski, 1996; Benbow & Stanley, 1996; Brody & Blackburn, 1996; Brody & Stanley, 1991; Kolitch & Brody, 1992; Olszewski-Kubilius, 1998a; Reis et al., 1993; Swiatek & Benbow, 1991a, 1991b).

The smorgasbord also includes enrichment options, that is, coursework and experiences that broaden a student's experiences. Individual projects, courses in areas outside of the typical school curriculum, and extracurricular activities are appropriate ways to provide additional challenges to a gifted child. Research and internship opportunities seem especially promising as these students become older (Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, & Benbow, 2001).

The Pyramid of Educational Options
Individual Talent Searches provide guidelines to assist students with interpreting their scores and identifying educational strategies and opportunities that might be appropriate for their needs. Figure 15.2 presents the Pyramid of Educational Options (Assouline & Lupkowski-Shoplik, 1997), the goal of which is to provide guidance for educators and families in selecting appropriate options for their talented students.

The options listed, which were compiled from Boatman, Davis, and Benbow (1995), Cohn (1991), and VanTassel-Baska (1996), are in ascending order, with enrichment-based options at the bottom and accelerative options at the top. All Talent Search students would benefit from the options listed at the bottom of the Pyramid, while the more accelerative options would be recommended for those students earning higher scores on the above-level tests. Of course, motivation, past achievement, maturity, interest, and availability of resources also play an important role in making programming decisions.

The DT-PI Model
One of Julian Stanley's most significant contributions, in addition to the Talent Search concept itself, was the development of the Diagnostic Testing-Prescriptive Instruction (DT-PI) model (Benbow, 1986; Lupkowski & Assouline, 1992; Lupkowski, Assouline, & Vestal, 1992; Stanley, 1978, 1979, 2000). Used by SMPY and the Talent Searches primarily in mathematics classes, the DT-PI model includes pre-testing students to determine what they already know and what they don't know. Class time is spent on the concepts they have not yet mastered, rather than on concepts they already understand well. After studying a topic, students take a post-test to demonstrate mastery. In this way, bright students are encouraged to move ahead at an individualized pace. They are guided by able mentors, whose classrooms are composed of students studying several different levels of mathematics. For example, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry courses might be taught in the same room at the same time.

This model has demonstrated great success in mathematics (Lupkowski & Assouline, 1992; Stanley, 2001) and other subjects (Stanley & Stanley, 1985). The DT-PI classes have demonstrated that not only could talented youth learn mathematics extremely rapidly, but that many of the students had already learned mathematical concepts that had not been formally taught to them (Bartkovich & George, 1980; Bartkovich & Mezynski, 1981; Stanley, 2000; Stanley et al., 1974). The beauty of this model is that it offers a way to differentiate curriculum for bright students, since the educators working with these exceptional youngsters have found a wide range of ability in their classrooms, even though all students demonstrated exceptional abilities.

Thousands of students each year participate in fast-paced classes using the DT-PI model. Students as young as age 6 have used the DT-PI model successfully (Benbow & Lubinski, 1997).

Using the Information from Above-Level Tests: The Cases of Lisa and Fran

As we have seen grade-level test results have limited use for exceptionally talented students, because these students reach the ceiling of a too-easy test, and they cannot show the extent of their abilities. The results from above-level testing offer much more information. The following example of two students, Lisa and Fran, illustrates this.

As third graders, both students took the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), and they both performed exceptionally well on the mathematics sections of this test (see Table 15.2). Their grade-level ITBS scores were nearly identical, which might lead educators to believe that they would need similar curricular adjustments in mathematics. When those two students took the above-level EXPLORE test in fourth grade, however, they presented very different profiles. Lisa's EXPLORE-Math scale score placed her at the 96th percentile when compared to the eighth grade norm group, while Fran's scale score placed her at the 26th percentile when compared to the eighth grade norm group.

Figure 15.2 - Pyramid of Educational Options

Although the two students demonstrated very similar profiles on the grade-level test (Iowa Tests of Basic Skills), their abilities and needs in mathematics are clearly very different, as shown by their dramatically different performances on the above-level mathematics test of EXPLORE. Both students would certainly benefit from additional challenges in mathematics, including participating in contests and competitions, being grouped with other talented students for mathematics instruction, and perhaps compacting a course sequence by taking two years of mathematics in one year. But, as demonstrated by her performance on EXPLORE-Mathematics, Lisa has more pronounced needs in mathematics than Fran. Not only would Lisa benefit from all of the options previously suggested, she might also consider participation in an individually paced instructional program for mathematics during the school year or summer, accelerating in mathematics, or even skipping a grade if all academic areas are advanced.

Table 15.2 Grade-Level Test Percentiles and Above-Level Test Scores and Percentiles for Two Students




Grade-Level Test, 3rd grade
Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, Math Concepts
Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, Math Problems
Iowa Tests of Basic Skills Test, Math Total

99th percentile
96th percentile
99th percentile

99th percentile
99th percentile
99th percentile

Above-Level Test, 4th grade, EXPLORE-Mathematics
(percentile compared to 8th graders)

Scale score = 21 of 25 (96th percentile)

Scale score = 11 of 25 (26th percentile)

What Are the Benefits of Participating in Talent Searches?

Talent Search programs offer many benefits. As described by Rotigel and Lupkowski-Shoplik (1999), these benefits include:

  1. Educational diagnosis. Above-level tests measure talented students' abilities more accurately than do grade-level achievement tests. They spread out the scores of academically talented students, resulting in a bell-shaped distribution such as the one shown in Figure 15.1. Having an accurate measure of students' abilities enables educators to offer specific recommendations for students' educational programs.

  2. Educational recommendations tailored to the abilities of the student. Researchers who have used the SAT, EXPLORE, and other tests with thousands of youngsters have developed guidelines for educational recommendations for students scoring at particular levels (Assouline & Lupkowski-Shoplik, in press; Cohn, 1991; Olszewsld-Kubilius, 1998a, 1998b), These recommendations range from enrichment options to accelerative options, and they represent a continuum of modifications, which best match a child's demonstrated ability and' achievement. A consistent goal of Talent Search programs is to match the level and pace of the curriculum to the child's needs by finding the "optimal match."

  3. Educational opportunities provided by university-based talent searches. University-based Talent Searches offer enriching and accelerative classes during the summer, on weekends, and through correspondence courses and on-line courses (Olszewski-Kubilius, 1998b). These special programs offer students the opportunity to study topics that might not be offered at their local schools. Residential programs offer opportunities for emotional and social growth, in addition to the obvious academic benefits (VanTassel-Baska, 19-6). Through these special programs, students are given the opportunity to meet and study with other talented youngsters.

  4. Appropriate educational information. Through participation in a Talent Search, students obtain a more accurate measure of their academic abilities and learn more about their own capabilities. Participation in specially designed programs helps students to be better informed about their own achievements and abilities when it is time to select a college or a career.

  5. Honors, awards, and scholarships. Talent Searches often give students a variety of awards based on their excellent performance on a Talent Search measure (Cohn, 1991). Additionally, students who perform well on the above-level test may have special opportunities at same .of the university-based programs, such as a merit scholarship, to attend university courses.

Research Findings on the Talent Searches

In the early 1980s, the Talent Search model was adapted by several other universities in addition to Johns Hopkins, and the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) refocused and extended its efforts on research and nurturing the exceptionally talented student. In particular, SMPY, through its planned fifty-year longitudinal study, began to examine the impact of the Talent. Search identification process and educational options upon student development (Lubinski & Benbow, 1994, 2000).

SMPY's longitudinal study is now located at Vanderbilt's Peabody College of Education and Human Development, where, coincidentally, Julian Stanley began his career. This project involves studying, throughout their lives, over 5,000 mathematically and/or verbally precocious students. SMPY is now in its fourth decade; it continues to provide data for the evaluation and refinement of Talent Search programs. The data provide information about the development, needs, and characteristics of intellectually precocious youth. The primary long-term goal of the longitudinal study is to characterize the key factors that lead to creative work, adult productivity, and high academic achievement, primarily in mathematics and the sciences.

The data collected during SMPY's first three decades have shown that most Talent Search students do achieve their potential for high academic success in high school, college, and even graduate school. They are off to a great start as productive adults. Yet it is also clear that intellectually talented students will not necessarily achieve their full potential unless provided with appropriate educational opportunities.

Because the SMPY longitudinal study and the research studies, completed by other university-sponsored Talent' Searches have generated such a wealth of data and information, we limit our discussion here to only four questions.

What Evidence Supports the Validity of the Talent Search Tests?
Benbow and Wolins (1996), Brady and Benbow (1990), Minor and Benbow (1996), and Stanley (1977-l978) all support the notion that the SAT-M is indeed an aptitude test that measures mathematical reasoning ability especially well among gifted seventh graders. The SAT measures a specific aptitude that develops over time. Educational experiences in math and science, over a protracted period, are correlated with higher SAT-M performance. Similarly, experiences in the humanities are correlated with enhanced verbal scores. (Brody & Benbow, 1990).

The SAT was the first Talent Search instrument used, and consequently there is considerably more research reported on student performance on that test than on other tests currently in use. Research with the SAT has shown that talented students can be identified before age 13, and that the SAT has predictive validity for achievements in college, graduate school, and careers. Also important is the finding that those individuals with exceptional mathematical abilities relative to verbal abilities tend to gravitate toward mathematics, engineering, and the physical sciences, while those with the inverse pattern are more attracted to the humanities, law, and social sciences. Studies of other tests used in Talent Searches have demonstrated that talented students can be identified as early as third grade, and these Talent Search instruments (e.g., EXPLORE) also help to differentiate talented from exceptionally talented students (Colangelo, Assouline, & Lu, 1994; Lupkowski-Shoplik & Swiatek, 1999; Mills & Barnett, 1992).

What Have We Learned about Talented Individuals from Studies of Talent Search Participants? Studies in bath the psychometric and cognitive traditions indicate that extraordinary intellectual talent is best conceptualized in terms of precocity (Dark & Benbow, 1994; Jackson & Butterfield, 1986). The problem-solving strategies used by intellectually precocious students seem to be reflections of what emerges developmentally several years later for mast individuals. Mathematically talented individuals seem especially adept at manipulating information in working memory, especially numeric/spatial stimuli, while verbally talented students excel in retrieving information from long-term memory and in representing word stimuli in working memory (Dark & Benbow, 1994).

Intellectually talented students tend to be socially well adjusted and have positive self-concepts, self-esteem, and attitudes toward school (Swiatek, 1993). They possess an internal locus of control, and on average their psychological health does not differ much from that of normative or socio-economically privileged samples (Jensen, 1994). There are indications, however, that modestly gifted students appear to be somewhat better adjusted than the highly gifted, and that verbally gifted females are at a somewhat greater risk for emotional distress than verbally gifted males (Brody & Benbow, 1986). Highly talented individuals’ vocational preferences are dominated by theoretical and investigative interests, and they tend to come from advantaged and stimulating homes (Benbow, 1992).

The Talent Searches have given us evidence that gifted students are underchallenged, beginning as early as elementary school. In one study (Assouline & Doellinger, 2001), academically able students in sixth grade and younger performed as well as or better than average eighth graders on the, EXPLORE. Further analysis of the data revealed that talented elementary students performed well in the content areas of Statistics and Probability, Geometry, and Pre-algebra.

A huge amount of research has been conducted on gender differences using the Talent Search data, and some of these findings have been striking. More males than females score extremely high on the mathematics sections of the SAT, EXPLORE, and SCAT (Benbow, 1988; Benbow & Stanley, 1980, 1982, 1983; Mills, Ablard, & Stumpf, 1993; Swiatek, Lupkowski-Shoplik, & O'Donoghue, 2000). Highly able males and females have different ability and preference profiles (Lubinski & Benbow, 1992, 1994; Lubinski, Benbow, & Ryan, 1995; Lubinski, Schmidt, & Benbow, 1996). The psychological profiles of mathematically talented males are more likely to be congruent with studying in the physical sciences than are the profiles of similarly talented females, and these predictions have been supported by SMPY's longitudinal study (Lubinski & Benbow, 1992; Lubinski, Benbow, & Sanders, 1993). As adults, mathematically talented males are more heavily represented in the physical sciences and at the highest educational levels than their female counterparts. However, males and females who select math/science have similar psychological profiles (Benbow, Lubinski, Shea, & Eftekhari-Sanjani, 2000; Lubinski & Benbow, 1992; Lubinski, Benbow, & Sanders, 1993; Lubinski et al., 2001).

While it has long been thought that intellectually talented youth struggle with multi-potentiality issues - swimming in a sea of possibilities-further analysis has revealed that not to be the case (Achter, Lubinski, & Benbow, 1996). Vocational preferences assessed at age 13, which clearly are differentiated, are stable over 20 years and add incremental validity beyond ability measures in predicting educational outcomes (Achter, Lubinski, Benbow, & Eftekhari-Sanjani, 1999).

What Do Longitudinal Studies Tell Us about Talent Search Participants Over Time? One study involved two cohorts of intellectually talented individuals who were identified by SMPY in the early and late 1970s and then tracked. After 20 years, at age 33, they demonstrated exceptional academic achievements-90 percent earned a bachelor's degree and over 25 percent earned a doctorate (Benbow, Lubinski, Shea, & Eftekhari-Sanjani, 2000). (In the general population, about 1 percent earn doctorates.) The men and women in the study demonstrated equivalent educational achievement, earning the same percentages of both bachelor's and doctoral degrees. On the whole, males were heavily invested in the inorganic sciences and engineering, whereas greater female participation was in the medical and biological sciences, as well as in the social sciences, arts, and humanities. On all indicators examined, these males and females reported feeling equally good about themselves and their success, even though the males, on average, reported higher incomes (but they also reported working longer hours). Perhaps this income finding emerged because the males and females differed somewhat in how they preferred to allocate their time. Males seemed to place greater emphasis on securing career success, while their female counterparts were more balanced in their priorities involving career, family, and friends. Overall, the men and women appear to have constructed equally satisfying and meaningful lives that took somewhat different forms.

In a second study we learned clearly that identifying profound precocity during adolescence isolates a group at promise for truly exceptional adult achievement and creative production. Lubinski, Webb, Morelock, and Benbow (2001) surveyed Talent Search participants who had been identified in the early 1980s as scoring in the top .01 percent in ability. Over half of these individuals were pursuing doctorates and, almost without exception, were attending some of the most elite universities in the world-twice the rate of the top 1 % sample (described above). By their mid-twenties, many of these exceptionally talented individuals had published scientific articles, written for literary publications, created video games, or secured patents for their inventions. A sizable number had won prestigious awards or secured fellowships. One of these individuals had become a full professor before age 25 at a major research university.

This group of profoundly gifted individuals had, as students, strongly preferred educational opportunities tailored to their precocious rate of learning (i.e., appropriate developmental placement) and they were able to experience this optimal match.

What Evidence Supports the Programmatic Options Advocated by Talent Searches? The results of studies evaluating the Talent Searches' programmatic innovations have been uniformly positive (e.g., Benbow & Lubinski, 1996; Benbow & Stanley, 1983, Brody & Benbow, 1987; Kolitch& Brody, 1992; Olszewski-Kubilius, 1998a; Richardson & Benbow, 1990; Stanley & Benbow, 1983; Swiatek & Benbow, 1991a, 1991b, 1992). Even though intellectually gifted students as a group achieve academically at a high level, it does appear they do not achieve as highly if deprived of a developmentally appropriate education. Moreover, Talent Search students evaluate these programs positively, seeing them as satisfying and beneficial even several years later. Especially valuable, beyond the sheer intellectual stimulation, was the acknowledgment of their abilities and the contact with intellectual peers. This seems to be particularly true for the young women.

Although the sheer number of studies on the short-term and long-term effects of the variety of accelerative experiences that are promoted by the various Talent Search programs is voluminous (Benbow & Stanley, 1996), the results can be summarized rather succinctly. When differences are found, they favor the accelerates over nonaccelerates irrespective of the mode of acceleration. And, Terman's data indi¬cate that this is true even 50 years after the acceleration occurred (Cronbach, 1996).


Both elementary and secondary students may participate in a Talent Search at one of many universities. Academically talented students take an above-level test. Talented youngsters who perform well on the above-level test may participate in many academically challenging opportunities the Talent Searches offer, including fast-paced academic summer pro distance learning classes, and enrichment programs.

Talent Searches have conducted extensive research studies on the characteristics and needs of academically talented youth. These studies h indicated that the Talent Search model effectively identifies profoundly talented youth, who lat. demonstrate truly exceptional adult achievements. These studies also highlight the fact that talented youth benefit from academic experiences that are tailored to their needs and that the impact of Talent Search programs on students extends well beyond high school.

Since the first Talent Search in 1972, millions of students have been identified through the Talent Searches and have benefited from the early identification and special programming options that they offer. There also has been an exponential increase in the opportunities available to gifted students.

... [T]he accomplishments of thousands of these academically able young people are dramatically large. They are accomplishments unheard of prior to the start of the Talent Searches. In research studies documenting the value of the SAT as a predictor of academic success, the findings are not merely statistically significant. The programs are profound in their capacity to enable highly able and eager students to proceed educationally as fast and in as great a depth and breadth as they wish (Cohn, 1993, p. 170).

Since 1972, the impact of Julian Stanley's ideas has been tremendous. Literally millions of students' lives have been touched by his work. We can only imagine how the Talent Search model and the programs the Talent Searches offer will influence the lives of future students. We owe this to the vision of Julian Stanley.


  1. What is meant by "above-level testing"? How and why is it useful for identifying students with exceptional abilities?

  2. How might a local school district use the concept of above-level testing to help identify students for its gifted programs? (Do you see problems?)

  3. Beyond identifying G/T students for a program, how might a school system use the information about their students provided by the Talent Searches?

  4. Consider two bright eighth graders. One performed extremely well on the SAT in a Talent Search (e.g., top 1 percent). The other student also qualified to participate in the Talent Search but did poorly on the SAT. How might educational recommendations differ for these two students?

  5. Why has longitudinal research been an important component of the Talent Searches? What have we learned from research on former Talent Search participants?


  1. See Benbow (1991), Cohn (1991), Keating (1976), Keating and Stanley (1972), Lubinski and Benbow (1994), Stanley (1977), Stanley (1996), Stanley and Benbow (1986), Stanley, George, and Solano (1977), and Stanley, Keating. and Fox (1974) for a more detailed presentation of the history of the Talent Searches.

  2. See Stanley and Brody (1989) for a discussion of the merits of the history and rationale of cut-off scores for middle school students participating in the Talent Search. and Lupkowski-Shoplik and Swiatek (1999) for a study concerning cut-off scores for elementary students taking the EXPLORE assessment.

  3. Interested readers may consult Achter, Lubinski, Benbow, and Eftekhari-Sanjani (1999) for further discussions of validity.

  4. See Chapter 40 by Lubinski.

The authors want to thank Mary Ann Swiatek for helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.


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