E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) started in 1990 through federal funding under the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act of 1988. From 1990 to 1995, researchers from the University of Connecticut, University of Georgia, University of Virginia, and Yale University outlined a number of research studies responsive to this legislation. We investigated issues related to identification, programming, classroom practices, theories of intelligence, and evaluation. We looked in classrooms, studied past practices, evaluated service delivery models, and created programming options to meet the academic and affective needs of gifted and talented students. From the start, we wanted to be responsive to practitioners, researchers, and others interested in academic and affective needs of gifted and talented students. We created a national research needs assessment survey to determine our research priorities and to ensure that our studies would be relevant to school districts throughout the country. Results of our needs assessment survey provided information from individuals, groups, and states (Renzulli, Reid, & Gubbins, 1992). State directors of gifted and talented education played key roles in analyzing and interpreting state-level data. They convened meetings of practitioners, parents, researchers, and community members to examine findings, rank priorities, and propose possible research questions to guide decisions as to which questions would be most relevant. Results of state deliberations were then presented to our National Research Center Advisory Council who, at that time, comprised elected representatives from state departments of education and appointed members who could expand the views of researchers associated with the NRC/GT consortium of universities.
The needs assessment process allowed us an opportunity to look at multiple perspectives, conduct statistical analyses of research priorities, develop potential research questions, and create quantitative and qualitative research designs. A comprehensive overview of the process is described in Setting An Agenda: Research Priorities for the Gifted and Talented Through the Year 2000 (Renzulli, Reid, & Gubbins, 1992).
Gathering national data on research priorities has served us well and will continue to do so through the year 2000. When we recompeted for The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented in 1995, we reviewed the needs assessment data and studied priorities established by the United States Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Using suggested topics, the current consortium (University of Connecticut; City University of New York, City College; Stanford University, University of Virginia; and Yale University) designed theory-based studies that would lead to sound practices. These multi-year studies culminate in the year 2000, and we will disseminate findings to practitioners, parents, researchers, and policymakers.
Obviously, developing and implementing a national needs assessment is a complex process. We wanted data on possible lines of research; therefore, we asked respondents to determine the importance of topics such as:
- program organization
- curriculum development
- program evaluation
These topics are central to program development. They are listed as separate categories, but they are also interdependent. These categories could serve as topics for your own district-level needs assessment. Even if your programs and services for gifted and talented students are relatively new or firmly established, it is helpful to take another look at what you are doing and what is being accomplished. How would you and your colleagues respond to the following questions?
- What are the characteristics of gifted and talented students?
- What are the academic needs of gifted and talented students?
- To what extent do current programs and services meet students’ academic needs?
- What are the talents and abilities of our students in the arts?
- To what extent are we meeting the needs of students in the arts?
- What are the benefits of various organizational patterns (e.g., separate class, pullout program, within-class options, Saturday program, after-school program)?
- How comprehensive are available programs and services?
- Do the programs and services constitute a value-added approach to school effectiveness?
- How does the current organizational plan maximize the talents and abilities of students?
- What is challenge level of the regular curriculum?
- What curricular options are available to challenge students’ talents and abilities?
- To what extent does the curriculum promote high-end learning for all students?
- How does the curriculum address complex concepts, principles, and generalizations?
- Do the programs and services produce desirable student outcomes?
- What is the long-term impact of programs and services?
- How do the accomplishments of gifted and talented students involved in available programs and services compare to those of gifted and talented students who do not have access to programs and services?
- To what extent do programs and services create a “radiation ofexcellence”? (Ward, 1981, p. 76)
You might pose these questions to small groups of teachers and administrators as a way of a checking the status of programming opportunities. If your district is considering new programs and services, these questions will guide your planning process.
Check our web site for abstracts and briefing sheets on The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented studies to date. Several studies address the suggested questions above and provide research-based guidelines. Of course, we recognize the importance of connecting district needs, students’ needs, and resources to create the best opportunities. Use comments and suggestions gathered through a needs assessment to make programmatic decisions and chart your next steps. Programs and services need to be studied periodically to ensure their relevance and effectiveness. Start asking questions, studying answers, and raising new questions. Teachers and administrators can provide an internal assessment of programming. Don’t forget other constituents! Think about developing a set of relevant questions for students and parents. Do they understand the purposes of programming options? How do they view the outcomes?
How about asking program developers from other districts to review findings from your needs assessment? They may provide insights and critical information that will strengthen your programming opportunities. Just as we asked state directors to work with a select group of constituents to gain additional perspectives on needs assessment findings, you may find that involving others in data analyses will enhance your understanding and interpretation of program effectiveness.