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Tuesday, 13 February, 2001, 00:57 GMT
US model for elite academy
Student taking a test
Above grade level standardised tests help identify gifted students
By BBC NewsOnline's Kevin Anderson in Washington

A proposed national centre for gifted and talented pupils proposed as part of an overhaul to the secondary school system in England draws its inspiration from a centre in the US.

The Centre for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University was formally established in 1979 growing out of the studies of psychology professor Julian Stanley, who began his work with exceptionally gifted students in the early 1970s.

One of the key aspects of the programme is an academic talent search that tries to identify exceptional students based on their scores on above grade-level standardised tests.

Five universities across the US now operate talent search programmes, and in 2000, 90,000 students participated in the talent search at the centre at Johns Hopkins University alone.

Roots of the programme

The talent search programme began after the parents of a 13-year-old approached Dr Stanley in the early 1970s, according to Charles Beckman, spokesman for the Centre for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University.

The boy had already exhausted all the maths teaching at his school district by the age of 13. The parents wanted to know what options they had.

"Dr Stanley came up with the idea that academic tests could be used to identify children like this 13-year-old," he added.

Dr Stanley began working with the boy and children with similar abilities. He formalised the programme in 1974, and the talent search began in 1979.

Accelerated learning

When Dr Stanley began his research, the only avenue for such students was to start university full time, Mr Beckman said, but the Centre for Talented Youth offers accelerated summer study programmes in the humanities and the sciences at 16 locations in California and on the east coast.

Students who quality on the verbal portion of a college entrance examination can take a variety of courses in the humanities and social sciences, including psychology, formal symbolic logic, Latin and fictional and expository writing.

These kids can be slowed down by teachers that think kids are predestined to work at a certain pace

Charles Beckman, Centre for Talented Youth

For students who qualify on the math portion of the test, they can enroll in a wide range of classes including geology, paleo-biology and individually paced mathematics.

"These kids can be slowed down by teachers that think kids are predestined to work at a certain pace," Mr Beckman said, adding, "when the pace is lifted off, it's amazing what these kids can do."

The students are often able to complete a year's course of maths study in three weeks, he said. They study probability, statistics, number theory, and the foundations of computer science and digital logic.

The students are allowed to do one course per three-week session.

Expanding programme

In addition to the talent search, the centre also has a fast-growing online programme that has study material on a CD and a tutor either at Johns Hopkins or at the student's location, Mr Beckman said.

We kept listening to the needs voiced by parents and the kids

Charles Beckman, Centre for Talented Youth

Last year the programme doubled to 1,200 students.

The centre also hosts career fairs.

"The kids we work with are insightful and self-directed. They have more questions about what kind of career to go into and what type of college the can get into," Mr Beckman said.

The programme did not have any set design when it started, he said, adding, "we kept listening to the needs voiced by parents and the kids".

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