Gifted and Talented Programs in America’s High Schools: A Preliminary Survey Report

Spring 2000 Masthead

Rachel Sytsma
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

Research on gifted and talented programs in elementary and middle school grades abounds. Research addressing gifted and talented programs at the high school level is relatively scarce. There are two primary reasons for the apparent lack of research information pertaining to high school level programming. First, much of the literature and survey work on gifted and talented programming is grouped into two categories—elementary and secondary. This breakdown makes it difficult to identify programs particular to high schools. We can infer, from the quantity of literature available on middle school program models and teaching strategies and the scarcity of similar literature for high school level programs, that much of the information associated with “secondary” programs is generated from middle school data. Second, there exists a common conception that Advanced Placement and Honors courses at the high school level sufficiently address the needs of gifted and talented students. The result is either that educators do not perceive a need for a gifted program in high schools or that Advanced Placement and Honors courses define a program.

The 1998-1999 State of the States Gifted and Talented Education Report (1999) reveals mandatory identification of gifted and talented students for 30 states (12 states do not have a mandate, while 9 states—including the District of Columbia—did not submit information) and mandatory programming for gifted and talented students for 26 states (16 states—including the District of Columbia—do not have a mandate, while 9 states did not submit information). The academic levels to which these mandates pertain are not specified. There is a discrepancy between mandatory identification and mandatory programming or servicing—several states mandate identification, but do not mandate programming.

No comprehensive, national data exist about both the prevalence and nature of gifted programs specifically for grades 9 through 12. We designed a survey to determine how gifted and talented students’ needs are being addressed within America’s high schools. The sample is the Collaborative School District (CSD) network, associated with The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, who report having gifted and talented programs at their high schools (N=227). Rural, suburban, and urban districts are nearly equally represented (urban is slightly under represented). Our hope is that the survey will begin to clarify the types of programs and services available for high school gifted and talented students. It is essential to note that the results addressed below highlight a small number of the questions from the survey because of the preliminary nature of this report. A more thorough report will be published after more surveys have been returned and analyzed.

Preliminary Analysis

Results of preliminary survey analysis (N=90) indicate that 86% of the respondents’ high schools do not offer academic opportunities beyond some combination of mentorships/internships, early college programs (sometimes called dual enrollment), independent studies, and academic clubs/competitions. When asked if the gifted and talented program extended beyond mentorships/internships, dual enrollment, independent studies, or Advanced Placement/Honors/International Baccalaureate courses, 34% responded “Yes” while 66% responded “No.” Additional offerings clearly fall into one of four groups: special classes (seminars, research courses, or gifted and talented courses), academic competitions, affective/counseling component, and/or special schools (residential, summer, magnet, or Governor’s) that are accessible to students. Special classes are offered by 55% of the respondents, special schools offered by 19%, and both affective/counseling components and unique academic competitions representing 13% each of respondents’ additional offerings.

Recall that the survey sample was drawn from the CSD network reporting a gifted and talented program at the high school level. Survey results show that 5% of the respondents do not offer a high school gifted and talented program. This discrepancy is most likely the result of changes in programming, funding, or personnel since the last CSD database update (1997).

While 95% of respondents claim to have a gifted and talented program, less than half (35%) have a consultant or coordinator associated with those programs. Additionally, several of the respondents whose programs do have consultants or coordinators indicated that consultants or coordinators are often either servicing the entire district or simultaneously functioning in another capacity (such as special/regular education teacher or administrator).

A few interesting and unexpected trends are emerging. First, several schools that have gifted and talented programs at the high school level are servicing students who were last identified in middle school or even elementary school. Second, (and perhaps as a result, in part, of the first) several respondents commented that gifted opportunities at the high school level are open to students regardless of whether they are identified.

When respondents were asked for additional comments, responses included expressing awareness of a need to better address gifted and talented programming in our high schools as well as expressing frustration or a lack of clarity with regard to state mandates for gifted and talented identification and servicing. The latter responses are the result of respondents’ feeling that the mandates are insufficiently communicated, enforced, or monitored.


There are two levels of limitations with regard to this survey. The sample was convenient rather than random. The Collaborative School District network is a mutually beneficial, voluntary partnership between The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented and 368 districts, representing all 50 states and a few territories. The second limitation is consequent to the first. We must be cautious in interpretation of data. The results of this survey will provide an idea about what programs currently exist, but the fact that the survey is drawn from a convenient sample prohibits generalization of our analyses.

There are also limits to this preliminary report. As mentioned earlier, this analysis addresses only some of the questions and responses. Additionally, as this survey is being field tested with this sample, areas for survey improvement have emerged. The changes in the survey will improve clarity of questioning, thus yielding more specific and reliable data from the respondents. Because it is preliminary in nature, our snapshot view may change as additional surveys are returned. A final report will be available at the conclusion of this survey project.

Future Plans: The Big Picture Versus the Snapshot

This survey will provide initial indications of what high school gifted programs entail; it is a means for updating our knowledge about programming within the Collaborative School District network as well as a field test for an expanded research project. Targeting the Collaborative School District network provides us with a snapshot view of programming options offered by schools with a high school gifted and talented program. To see beyond the snapshot to the bigger picture, a national survey will be sent to school districts or high schools. The current survey will be revised according to respondent difficulties identified during the field test. The revised survey will then be sent out to districts or high schools randomly selected in every state. The results from that survey will provide a more thorough picture of high school gifted and talented program availability and programming options on a national level.


It is important for us as an educational community to continue to strive for learning environments that optimally meet the needs of all our students. To collectively work toward that end, we are challenged to define clearly what we can offer students as well as how those offerings help us work toward school, district, community, and national goals. Please feel free to contact us with information you feel may be helpful to our research. We are particularly interested in school or district publications describing programming options for gifted and talented students at the high school level.


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