National Research Needs Assessment Process

June 1991 Masthead

Brian D. Reid
University of Connecticut

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) was conceived as a vehicle to bring together all segments of the gifted education community to develop a consensus regarding research needs, and to work collaboratively to plan and conduct research deemed to have the greatest significance to the field. In accordance with this objective, a national research needs assessment process was developed to determine the research needs of practitioners in the field.

Research in the field of gifted education, and educational research in general, has been initiated by the interests of individual researchers and graduate students rather than practitioners in the field (Renzulli, et al, 1989). According to Weaver & Shonkoff (1978), however, little thought has been given to whether educational research has addressed the immediate concerns or needs of practitioners. If the research carried out by the NRC/GT is going to have an impact on the field, it had to be viewed as relevant by the consumers of research in education. In order to pursue this goal of greater impact through the enhancement of consumer relevance, it was important to allow practitioners to have a part in determining the most important research to be conducted within the field(Kagan, 1989; Husen, 1984). As Moore (1987) has pointed out, Planning for organizational change should involve those who are likely to be affected by the change” (p. 30).

If educational practice is to be changed or modified by research, practitioners must become partners in making decisions about important areas of research needs as well as in the planning and conducting of research directed toward the improvement of school and classroom practices. However, a history of poor relationships between schools and universities has created a rift that has made collaborative research difficult. Researchers build theories and seemingly lack empathy for the problems encountered by teachers. Teachers tend to discount educational research because of the researcher’s unwillingness to provide practical solutions to problems (Renzulli, in press). The rationale for collaboration was plainly evident. Teachers possess important knowledge about the classroom milieu that researchers often do not understand, and researchers are better able to provide a systematic approach that practitioners are usually not aware of through their own experiences (Floden & Klinzing, 1990). A process that melds these two disparate perspectives should provide better research and better implementation of the research. Moore (1987) describes several reasons for using groups in conducting research. Most importantly, he believes that a group was more likely to accept research findings if they have participated in the process, especially if the research has political implications. “If you want to effect policy, it was wise to include those responsible for acting on the policy” (p. 16).

The plan of operation of the NRC/GT was to use the results of the needs assessment as a starting point to provide input for local, state, and national groups of practitioners that are directly and indirectly involved in programming for the gifted and talented. The NRC/GT intends to create a network of stakeholders and practitioners who, having participated in the research process, are better able to use the information provided.

The intent of the needs assessment study was to include as many people as possible in the process. According to McKillip (1987), the use of multiple methods of assessing needs in the human services and education is essential. This requirement dictates the use of a multilevel and multitechnique assessment. The needs assessment process was a departure from previous needs assessments and was made up of several different stages. As a result of the decision to include very large numbers, a mailed questionnaire was used to gather data. The data were collected from the survey and “filtered” through the State Research Advisory Council (SRACs) to the National Research Center Advisory Council (NRCAC). The final product was a list of recommendations prepared by the NRCAC.

The first step in the process of developing research recommendations through this advisory process was to identify key groups that should respond to the research needs assessment survey. This survey was designed for teachers of the gifted, classroom teachers, school administrators, parents, school board members, and others active in the delivery of services to bright students. The next step was the dissemination of surveys to the targeted groups. Surveys were mailed to the Collaborative School Districts (CSD), and distributed in a systematic manner to teachers of the gifted, classroom teachers, administrators, parents, and others involved in the gifted program. Surveys were also mailed to a random sample of teachers of the gifted stratified by state as well as national parent groups, state department of education personnel and SRACs, national educational organizations, and others as located.

The second step in the needs assessment process was to use the data from the surveys to create a list of state research needs. After the surveys were returned, a summary of the responses was distributed to State Research Advisory Councils. The members of these councils represent the arts, vocational and technical education, private schools, urban and rural programs, gifted females, ethnic minorities, handicapped gifted, preschool and primary students, at-risk students and any other population present in the state. These councils were charged with the responsibility of clarifying the research priorities within the state based on the surveys. Each SRAC generated a list of research topics that were of the highest importance in their respective states.

The data from the SRACs were provided to the National Research Center Advisory Council. This group was composed of 12 persons who are recognized leaders in education. They represent minority populations, non-public schools, the arts, and vocational and technical students. Five members of this group are regionally elected representatives of the state departments of education. Representatives also participated from Collaborative School Districts, the Consultant Bank and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement. This group used the state research priorities and the actual data from the survey to develop a national list of research priorities.

The final NRCAC list of recommendations for research is included in Table 1. These topics were determined to be the most important topics for research in gifted education. These recommendations were used in planning the research for the second year of the National Research Center. In addition to the continuation of these first year projects: Investigations into Instruments and Designs Used in the Identification of Gifted Students and the Evaluation of Gifted Programs, and Evaluation of the Effects of Programming Arrangements on Student Learning Outcomes (University of Virginia); A Theory-Based Approach to Identification, Teaching and Evaluation of the Gifted (Yale University), several new studies were planned. These studies will be A Study of Successful Classroom Practices, Longitudinal Study of Classroom Practices, Case Studies of Gifted Students with Learning Disabilities Who Have Achieved, and Cooperative Learning and the Gifted (University of Connecticut Site); A Research-Based Assessment Plan (RAP) for Assessing Giftedness in Economically Disadvantaged Students (University of Georgia Site); Qualitative Extension of the Learning Outcomes Study (University of Virginia Site); and Motivation and Underachievement in Urban and Suburban Gifted Preadolescents (Yale University Site).

Table 1
NRCAC List of Prioritized Recommendations

  1. Impact of gifted programs on student outcomes (longitudinal)
  2. Regular curriculum modifications
  3. Teaching training/staff development necessary for curriculum modification or development
  4. Grouping patterns and impact on learning outcomes
  5. Individual vs. curriculum approaches to education
  6. Motivation
  7. Effectiveness of differentiated programs for economically disadvantaged, underachieving and other special populations
  8. Cultural/community reinforcement
  9. Policy implications
  10. a. Teachers as assessors
    b. Grouping by special populations
  11. Program options in relation to student characteristics, settings, training, articulation
  12. Process vs. content
  13. Use of research in assessment
  14. Impact understanding of gifted/talented “differences”
  15. Effects of grouping on all students when gifted are grouped
  16. Assumptions/stereotypes of underachievement
  17. Student characteristics associated with success
  18. Cooperative learning
  19. Relationship between community and program


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Moore, C. M. (1987). Group techniques for idea building. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
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Renzulli, J. S. (1991). The national research center on the gifted and talented. The dream, the design, and the destination. Gifted Child Quarterly.
Renzulli, J. S., Archambault, F. X., Frasier, M. M., Callahan, C. M., & Sternberg, R. J. (1989). The national research center on the gifted and talented. (CFDA No.:84.206R). Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Weaver, P., & Shonkoff, F. (1978). Research within reach: A research-guided response to the concerns of reading educators (Report No. CS 004 487). St. Ann, MO: Central Midwestern Regional Educational Lab. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 162 283)


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