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College Programs a 'Lifeline' for the Gifted

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At an increasing number of other colleges and universities around the country, teachers and researchers are working on ways to develop programs outside the schools that can provide very able students with a chance to study more advanced material at their own pace.

The largest and most ambitious of these outreach programs began several years ago at Duke University in North Carolina, where 12- and 13-year-old students from 16 states may take part in the Talent Identification Program (tip) (See Education Week, Oct. 12, 1981.) Robert N. Sawyer, the psychologist and educator who directs tip, described the university's approach at a symposium at last week's annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The program begins recruiting students in the 7th grade, but one major goal of tip is to provide students with an ongoing, multi-year program, Mr. Sawyer said. tip staff seeks to identify the intellectually gifted students, and also to follow their progress, nurture their talents, and help them choose a suitable college. The university offers commuter and by-mail programs during the school year for those who want to study a subject that their high school does not offer. Project officials also plan to conduct studies to establish a better research base in the area of gifted education.

The system of identifying intellectually precocious students was developed at The Johns Hopkins University, and modified to suit the needs of Duke's program.

Seventh-grade students who achieve scores in the top 3 percent on standardized achievement tests are eligible to apply for the program. The students take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (sat), which normally is administered to college-bound high-school juniors and seniors.

Whether a student is accepted for the summer program depends on his or her sat scores and area of interest. For example, a student who wanted to participate in the summer mathematics program would have to score 550 out of 800 on the mathematics section, or 500 in mathematics and 450 on the verbal section.

Admission to the summer program is based almost entirely on the sat scores, according to program officials. Higher verbal scores are required for students who are interested in English or humanities courses, and these students are also required to take a test of standard written English.

Duke officials are also working to increase minority participation in the program; a special program funded by several foundations has been established.

The tip program focuses on intensive academic studies, but it also operates on the premise that students should not be accelerated in one area of development--academics--at the expense of others, according to Mr. Sawyer. Hence, tip provides numerous recreational activities as well as educational counseling.

In 1981, 150 students came to Duke for three weeks. Each studied one subject intensively for that period. In 1982, 407 students attended two three-week sessions; some were returning for their second summer.

So far, program officials have found the students enthusiastic and eager to progress as quickly as possible. Mr. Sawyer also pointed out that the tip data show that sat scores are valid predictors of intellectual precocity.

Duke is the largest of five talent-identification programs programs nationally, Mr. Sawyer said. A midwestern talent search program operates out of Northwestern University; Arizona State University and the University of Denver offer similar programs for the west; and the Johns Hopkins program serves the east.

Programs like the one at Duke are laudable, noted James E. Webb of Wright State University, another speaker, but they, too, probably fail to identify as many gifted students as exist in the student population at large.

Nevertheless, he said, the programs offer a "lifeline" to students who might otherwise receive few opportunities for accelerated learning. "Here you have people in the upper 1-to-2 percent who you are temporarily rescuing from an educational system designed to teach the other 98 percent," he said.

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