What Happens to Students in Programs for the Gifted?—The Learning Outcomes Project

November 1991 Masthead

Marcia A. B. Delcourt, Dewey G. Cornell, Lori C. Bland, Marc D. Goldberg
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Virginia

Why do we place students in programs for the gifted? According to educators, theorists, and other authorities in gifted education, we place high ability students in special programs for several reasons. First, we believe that special programs will help them to learn more and to achieve their potential. Second, we believe that challenging and enriching programs will stimulate creativity and foster positive attitudes toward learning. Finally, we believe that placement in a gifted program will have a beneficial effect on socio-emotional adjustment, enhancing self-concept or ameliorating problems stemming from lack of challenge and absence of contact with peers of similar ability and interests. Broadly speaking, we might say that the reasons for instituting programs for the gifted are Achievement, Attitudes, and Adjustment: the three A’s.

Although these reasons make sense, and we may believe them to be true, there has been no large-scale research study focusing on both cognitive and affective learning outcomes of high ability students from different types of programs. The need to investigate learning outcomes leads to another important question arising from discussions of gifted programs—”Which type of program for the gifted has the greatest impact on students?” The Learning Outcomes Study is one study conducted by The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented and is a two-year longitudinal study of student achievement, learning attitudes, and general interest in over 1,100 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students from 16 districts in 10 states. School districts were selected to represent rural, urban, and suburban communities. They were also selected so that we could examine the effects of programs on students from minority populations and disadvantaged backgrounds. The researchers will investigate the relationship between four general strategies for delivering services to high ability students: within-class programs, pull-out programs, special classes, and special schools. The purpose of the study is also to compare the achievement, attitudes and adjustment of students in these programs to non-gifted students and to students of high ability who do not attend gifted programs.

In the fall of 1990, the researchers completed the first round of data collection by administering a series of educational and attitudinal tests to a sample of elementary school students across the country. These students had either just started their involvement in one of the programs listed above or were students not in programs. Teachers and parents completed questionnaires assessing the children’s learning characteristics, interests, and behavioral adjustment. More specifically, to assess student achievement, scores from a group achievement test were collected, as were grades. In addition, attitudes about learning, self-concept and self-motivation are being assessed in all students. Teachers completed surveys about each student’s creativity, learning, motivation and adjustment while parents indicated the types and frequency of student activities and completed a survey of student adjustment. All tests and surveys were administered in the spring of 1991 and will be administered during 1991-92 to assess what changes have taken place.

What happens when elementary school students are first placed in gifted programs? Does achievement or do attitudes change over time? How does placement influence self-concept or behavioral adjustment? How are students from minority groups affected by different types of programs? These are some of the key questions we are addressing. The researchers are also collecting information on each program’s identification criteria, curriculum, teaching methods, and goals, as well as the background and training of program teachers. The long-term effects of participating in different types of gifted programs and program characteristics associated with positive learning outcomes will be examined.


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