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COMPARISONS OF GIFTED AND AVERAGE STUDENTS IN

THE PROJECT TALENT POPULATIONS

INTRODUCTION

Project TALENT, initiated in the spring of 1960, was a massive survey of approximately 450,000 secondary students throughout the United States. The students spent two days taking various achievement and aptitude tests and responding to questionnaires. From the total population data, analyses were made of findings from a stratified random sample which represented 51 percent of the 1960 high school youth of the nation. Subsequent studies were made at one- and fiveyear intervals to determine the validity of initial educational and vocational choices.

Since Project TALENT included students representing the range of abilities within the usual secondary school population, it is possible to make some comparisons of the characteristics of the gifted and average within the group. Therefore, certain data on the highest 21/2 percent in ability were compared to similar data on the 212 percent closest to the mean of the total population. These comparisons generally substantiate data from other research and from testimonials at the regional hearings summarized elsewhere in this report; the data offer as well some added insights into persistent waste of human talents.

HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT

At the regional hearings and in the testimony of experts, concern was expressed frequently about inappropriate school offerings and resultant underachievement among the gifted. The research summary (appendix A in this report) cited studies which indicated unsatisfactory achievement in many gifted youth. Project TALENT added supporting data on this problem with respect to curriculum choices, grades in general, and grades in selected subjects.

While the great majority (92 percent) of the gifted high school seniors in Project TALENT pursued a college preparatory course in high school, as opposed to 31 percent of the average, 8 percent were en

8 rolled in general or terminal vocational courses. It can be assumed, therefore, that a significant number of the gifted were taking courses of little or no intellectual challenge to them. This occurred when much greater emphasis was placed upon college attendance by all those capable of success than during the present era.

Another indication of underachievement (at least as judged by teachers) is found in the grades of the gifted. Grade point averages for 3 years of B's and C's or lower were reported by 20 percent of the gifted

Detaild information may be found in Operations Research, Inc. Analytical Studies of Selected Educational Data. Silver Spring, Md. : ORI, April 1971. The tables at the end of this summary come from the ORI Report.

students. One out of 5 of the gifted performed at no more than an average level as measured by grades, which posed problems if they chose to attend college. Certainly their performance would have barred them from admission to top-rated institutions, although their ability should have enabled them to succeed easily.

Table 1 (page E-7) shows that, while 4 out of 5 gifted students earned grades of A or B, one in 5 failed to achieve according to expectations. Actually, the true expectation of performance in relevant and challenging courses should be that the vast majority of the gifted would earn A's.

The highest incidence of average or below average grades was in foreign languages (29 percent), with science, social sciences, mathematics, and English ranging between 15 percent and 19 percent. Whether this drop was due to teaching methods or course content in foreign languages is unknown but it is interesting to note that the average students attained their highest grades in this area. The discrepancy in performance of the gifted and average certainly indicates a need to examine the relevance of foreign language teaching for the gifted.

Recognition by the gifted themselves that their high school grades were substandard compared to their potential is shown in table 2 (page E-8). Although nearly one-third of the gifted felt that their grades were a fair reflection of their ability, 38 percent stated that their grades were representative of their ability only half of the time or less. A universal problem in the use of letter grades is indicated by the responses of both the gifted and the average students.

In summary, the information from grades, from curriculum choices, and from composite grade point averages shows that significant numbers of the most gifted high school students are failing to achieve, and are curtailing or eliminating their opportunities for meaningful achievement as adults. This waste of human resources is a serious national problem.

HIGH SCHOOL ACTIVITIES Numerous major studies have shown that the gifted participate more actively than the average in a wide variety of activities, including ont only intellectual and aesthetic, but also organizational and athletic pursuits. Project TALENT has verified this finding. As table 3 (page E-9) shows, less than 1 percent of the gifted belonged to no organization, as contrasted with 19 percent of the average. The extent of participation by the gifted was greater in all of the categories of membership between 3 and 7 organizations.

Only 5 percent of the gifted stated that they were not active in their chosen organizations, compared to 19 percent of the average; twice as many gifted as average students were active in 5 or more organizations.

The majority of the gifted served as president of one or more organizations, while only about one-third of the average held this office. The gifted were elected more frequently, and served more frequently in other offices within their organizations than the average. In addition to serving as president, one-fourth of the gifted had held other offices 5 or more times.

The stereotype that the gifted young person is an isolate has been discredited by all major studies during the past 50 years. Added evi

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dence of the extent to which the gifted participate in various group activities comes from Project TALENT data on team sports. As table 4 (page E-10) shows, the gifted participated in athletics more than the average students.

In other activities, such as attendance at cultural events, and even in individual sports such as golf, swimming, and tennis, the gifted participate more extensively than the average. The composite impression is of young people whose performance is both more universal and more outstanding than that of the average population.

FUTURE EDUCATIONAL PLANS

While the number of students planning to complete college was much higher among the gifted than among the average, approximately 13 percent of the gifted planned either no education beyond high school, or some type of terminal education with less than a bachelor's degree. These plans, as shown in table 5 (page E-11), were found to be highly accurate in the first-year follow-up

study. Significant also is the information in table 6, (page E-11), which indicates that many parents of the gifted underestimate the educational potential of their children. While all of the gifted have ability for probable success at the graduate school level, only 17 percent of the parents desired this level of education for their children. Even more significant is the fact that 18 percent of the parents limited their educational aspirations for their children to vocational or terminal levels or less, or failed to communicate goals of any kind.

FOLLOW-UP STUDIES

The first-year follow-up study found that nearly one-fifth of the gifted either did not attend college, or were not enrolled in a 4-year college. The reasons for non-attendance differed between the gifted and average, with lack of funds cited much more frequently by the gifted. While lack of funds also affected the average, as table 7 (page E-12) shows other categories were mentioned more often than was the case with the gifted. Among the reasons categorized, lack of money was the only single one mentioned by more than 3 percent of the gifted sample.

Of the gifted who had planned to enter college, 84 percent were in college at the time of the followup. Approximately the same number of gifted and average youth had dropped out by the end of the freshman year (7 percent). Of those actually entering, 90 percent of the gifted were enrolled at the end of the first year, but an unexpectedly high percent had dropped out because of either failure or fear of failure, as table 8 (page E-13) indicates. This may have been due to the well-known problem of gifted students who develop poor work habits because of unchallenging courses in secondary schools.

The second follow-up study, after 5 years, gave some indications of both college success and probable career choices. The highest number of the gifted were employed as accountants or high school teachers. As table 9 (page E-14) indicates, an appreciable number of the gifted also were employed as secretaries or typists; this number probably accounted for one-fourth of the gifted female population, and included more gifted than average. Some inference may be drawn by scanning table 9 and reflecting on the probable job satisfaction for the gifted in the various occupations.

It is apparent that the gifted are less interested in permanent roles as secretary-typists or as structural workers than the average. Indeed, at least 90 percent of the gifted secretary-typists planned to leave these occupations, as opposed to a much less dramatic decline among the average. It is apparent also that the changes desired by the gifted are for positions which call for less routine work and more challenge.

SUMMARY

The gifted in the Project TALENT sample, while found to be more versatile than the average on a number of counts, also were a group with certain problems and needs. Numbers of them failed to achieve satisfactorily as high school students. Too many failed to attain satisfactory post-high school educations, and 5 years after they left high school, at least 17 percent were in occupations which did not utilize their capabilities. Dissatisfaction with their occupations, and intention to leave them were expressed by many. While success in making the adjustment is not know at present, the waste of many significant years is apparent. Both those who are occupationally unhappy and those with whom they associate are the losers.

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