November 14, 1990 4 min read

Mathematically talented 12-year-olds whose high abilities are supplemented with special curricular opportunities are likely to be high academic achievers in science, a study by two Iowa State University researchers concludes.

The study, which analyzed the careers of 1,247 talented youths after high school and after college, found that the overwhelming majority of those who were identified as talented at age 12 tended to succeed in school. Some 85 percent of them, the study found, received bachelor’s degrees, and nearly half of the students graduated in the top 10 percent of their class.

But such early-identified ability is a poor predictor of whether the students will become high or low achievers, the study found. Instead, it argues, differences in school programs “appear to have a profound effect on levels of ability and achievement, even among the academically talented.”

“Intellectually talented students will not achieve as highly if not provided with appropriate educational opportunities,” the study says. “This contradicts conventional wisdom that intellectually talented students make it on their own.”

The study, “Predictors of High Academic Achievement in Mathematics and Science by Mathematically Talented Students: A Longitudinal Study,’' by Camilla P. Benbow and Olya Arjmand, appears in the September issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology.

A separate study by Duke University researchers, meanwhile, disputes previous reports that linked academic giftedness to specific biological traits.

A 1986 study by Ms. Benbow had concluded that academically gifted 12- and 13-year-olds tended to be left-handed and to suffer from allergies more often than their less-gifted peers. That study contributed to research that suggested that such biological differences helped explain why males tended to perform better than females in mathematics and science.

But a new study by David Goldstein, director of research and development for Duke’s Talent Identification Program, argues that the existence of such biological “markers” of giftedness “doesn’t hold up.”

Comparing groups of students who had scored high on the Scholastic Aptitude Test with those who had scored much lower, Mr. Goldstein and Jenny Wiley, a Duke undergraduate, found that about 10 percent of students in each group were left-handed, and that one-third of each had allergies.

“Insofar as a lot of people believe in biologically based male superiority in mathematics and spacial abilities, that’s counterproductive,” said Mr. Goldstein. “You’re shutting the door on half the population.”

Mr. Goldstein’s study, presented last summer at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, is expected to be published in the January issue of the Journal for the Education of the Gifted.

Due to an editing error, a widely quoted estimate of demographic changes in the American workforce understates the number of white men who will enter the labor force by the end of the century.

An executive summary of the Workforce 2000 report, written in 1987 by staff members of the Hudson Institute for the U.S. Labor Department, states that “15 percent of the new entrants to the labor force over the next 13 years will be native white males, compared to 47 percent in that category today.”

That statistic has been used to bolster efforts to enhance the training of women and minorities.

But in fact, the department’s bureau of labor statistics confirms in a new estimate, 35 percent of the new entrants to the labor force will be non-Hispanic white men. What the executive summary omitted--and what the full text of the report makes clear--is that, because 48 percent of those who will leave the workforce are white men, the lower figure represents net additions to the workforce.

The bureau’s new estimate, moreover, suggests that white males will make up only 12 percent of the net additions, according to Ron Kutscher, deputy commissioner of labor statistics. And the figures still suggest that minorities and women will make up a growing proportion of the labor force, he said.

“It’s been widely reported that 85 percent of the new entrants to the workforce will be women and minorities,” Mr. Kutscher said. “The true number is 68 percent. That’s still more than half.”

As part of its investigations, the new federally sponsored National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented has created a “national repository” listing instruments used to identify gifted students and to evaluate programs for the gifted.

Center officials said they plan to gather and distribute information on the effectiveness of such instruments, particularly those identifying gifted handicapped, disadvantaged, minority, and non-English-speaking students.

School officials who have used nontraditional identification procedures or unpublished instruments that have proved effective, can send information, along with a contact name, to: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Curry School of Education, 405 Emmet St., University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. 22903. For more information, call (804) 982-2849.--RR

A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 1990 edition of Education Week as Research