Guest Author - Lorel Shea
No, this has nothing to do with American Idol, or anything that involves artistic performance. I'm talking about academic talent searches, which exist to recognize our brightest young minds. What exactly IS an academic talent search? I'm glad you asked! To begin with, a parent or a teacher needs to nominate a child to take part in a talent search. These children must be identified as gifted, or as being roughly in the top 5% intellectually when compared to same age peers. The parent pays a small fee to the organization running the search, as well as an additional fee for the test itself. The child is then scheduled to take a timed, standardized, above-level test. Some are offered at local schools, others are available through for-profit testing centers.
These tests show how gifted kids compare to other gifted kids who take the same test. They can also demonstrate how a younger child compares to the older set for whom the test was developed. Participants may gain recognition for scoring exceptionally well on a test designed for children several years older. That's what “above-level” testing is all about. Perhaps every one of the talent search kids has scored in the top percentiles for their grade, but what happens when they are given access to a test with a significantly higher ceiling? The eight year old who scores in the top percentiles on a 6th grade test may reap all kinds of benefits from this experience. Aside from whatever certificates and awards are offered through the talent search itself, the child may be given more challenging schoolwork if the parent shares the results with the child's school. Distinguishing scores on talent searches are great supplementary material for selective school admissions, and can lead to admittance to other academic programs for gifted students.
There are various organizations around the US that run academic talent searches. Each is a bit different, so you need to pay close attention to the rules of the particular search for which your child is registered. Talent searches tend to be regionally based, though there is some opportunity to register for a search if you live outside of it's usual domain. The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) serves the east coast from Virginia on up to Maine, and also the west coast states. Duke TIP covers central states and southern states from Texas to Florida. Northwestern CTD provides services for those in the midwestern states. The Rocky Mountain talent search operates from Idaho and Montana down to New Mexico. The Belin-Blank Center in Iowa also conducts a talent search, which primarily serves Iowa. If you are unsure of what talent search is typical for your area, just google the name of your state and the words “talent search”.
Each talent search has rules about what grade level may take part and what instrument will be used to test. Johns Hopkins starts talent search testing as early as grade 2, utilizing the SCAT. Other talent searches offer the SCAT or the EXPLORE for elementary grades, but not until grade 3 or 4. Northwestern gives sixth graders the option of either the EXPLORE or high school level testing through the ACT or SAT. The other talent searches allow SAT or ACT testing for grades 7 to 8, or 7 to 9. Registration is generally done months in advance, though there are some options for late registration, with payment of a late fee.
A talent search is a sort of competition, though that aspect of the search is not the real selling point. The talent search model provides recognition to all participants, and special recognition to those who score at certain percentiles above the norm. There are state and national ceremonies, which tend to occur in the Spring. Kids who score highly enough to be invited may enjoy the chance to step on stage and receive applause and congratulations for their efforts. Top scorers may be awarded a one course scholarship for a particular college. There are also summer camps and online classes which require qualification on the talent search tests, though they do involve tuition.
Talent searches in the elementary and middle school years can help to prepare children for college entrance exams in high school. Test anxiety and lack of familiarity with test procedures can cause individuals to test lower than expected. Those who have plenty of experience with standardized testing may have less trouble showing their potential on important pre-college exams such as the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. For a relatively small cost, talent searches have a lot to offer.