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Project Talent [1] is a national longitudinal study that first surveyed 440,000 American high school students in 1960. Originally funded by the United States Office of Education (now the United States Department of Education) and conducted by the American Institutes for Research in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh, it began as a national survey of the aptitudes and abilities of American youth.[1] High school students in 1,350 schools across the country were administered an extensive and rigorous series of questionnaires that assessed cognitive skills, collected demographic information, and surveyed their personal experiences, extracurricular interests, and goals for the future. At 1, 5, and 11 years after projected high school graduation, participants were asked to complete additional mail questionnaires that focused on their work and personal life.[2] In 2009, the American Institutes for Research began preparations for additional follow-up studies. Over the past 50 years, researchers have utilized Project Talent data for studies in economics, sociology, psychology, psychometrics, history, health, education, and many other fields. Project Talent’s combination of aptitude, cognitive, social, psychological, and health measures make it a unique data source for lifecourse studies. The study is also of particular interest as a profile of a generation that came of age at a time of unprecedented cultural, social, and technological change.

Origins/Historical Context Edit

Project Talent was intended as “the first scientifically planned national inventory of human talents.”[3] The study was conceived and led by Dr. John C. Flanagan, the founder of the American Institutes for Research and a Harvard-trained psychologist. During World War II, Dr. Flanagan was commissioned by the United States Army Air Corps to head an aviation psychology program that sought to identify those who would excel at training and become able combat pilots. Rather than making military assignments based solely on educational attainment or general IQ, he designed and administered exams to match raw abilities to particular skill sets. In an interview with Time magazine in 1962, Dr. Flanagan explained that his experience in World War II convinced him that many Americans were entering professions to which they were unsuited. He described Project Talent as a mechanism for identifying individuals’ strengths and steering them on to paths where those strengths would be utilized. He also hoped that the nation, which faced challenges that included the Space Race and the broader Cold War, would benefit from a more qualified and talented workforce. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson reiterated this sentiment when he wrote to Dr. Flanagan that “it would be difficult to think of a more worthwhile undertaking than your efforts to assure that the best use is made of our nation’s most valuable resource.”[4]

Study Design Edit

Over 1,350 public, private, and parochial schools were chosen to participate in Project Talent based on their geographic location, school size, and student retention rate. With the exception of New York City and Chicago schools, where a random sample of approximately 1 in 10 students participated, every student in grades 9–12 in a participating school took the Project Talent tests. Ultimately, Project Talent included roughly 5 percent of all the high school students in the U.S. in 1960.[5]

The base-year tests Edit

Project Talent included standard aptitude tests (e.g., vocabulary and arithmetic) and subject tests (e.g., English and the sciences). It also measured students’ personality attributes (e.g., sociability and calmness) and innate capabilities (e.g., memory skills, creativity, and spatial and abstract reasoning). Students provided detailed information regarding their health status, family background, extracurricular activities, and plans for the future.[6] The results offered a glimpse look into the experiences and aspirations of American adolescents in 1960.

The Follow-ups Edit

Mail surveys were administered to each of the grade cohorts in the 1960 sample at 1, 5, and 11 years after their expected high school graduation. While each of the follow-up surveys differed slightly, they all collected information on participants’ postsecondary education, labor force participation and plans, family formation, military service, health behaviors, and life satisfaction.[7] After the mid-1970s, name and address changes hindered participant tracking efforts and the project fell into a 30-year hiatus.

Select Findings Edit

Project Talent data from the base-year and follow-up studies highlight the dramatic and long-term effects of individual personality, family background, and early life experiences. Across the country, students’ performance on the aptitude tests demonstrated the necessity of more individualized instruction in the classroom and more personalized career and college guidance.[8] For example, children with superior spatial skills were well-suited to careers in science but were often not encouraged to enter the field unless they also performed well in more traditional math and science courses.[9] Regardless of academic ability, parental involvement and socioeconomic status were the strongest predictors of students’ educational attainment.[10][11]

Project Talent documented the transformation in attitudes toward marriage and the role of women in the 1960s and ‘70s.[12] It also informed some of the earliest findings on gender-based wage inequalities and post-traumatic stress disorder among veterans from the Vietnam War.[13][14] More recently, Project Talent data has been used to study long-term changes in the American education system, work force, and family structure.[15] Data from the study has been used in more than 400 analyses and publications across a variety of disciplines.

Upon completion of current and future follow-up activities, the Project Talent dataset will both complement and extend current research endeavors on aging and the life course and will be comparable with aging datasets such as Health and Retirement Survey (HRS) (1992 – present) and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (1957 – present). Project Talent can be also compared with similar data sets, such as the National Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 and the National Survey of Young Women and Mature Women.

Current Activities Edit

Beginning in 2009, the American Institutes for Research, with support from the National Institute on Aging, began preparations for a large-scale follow-up study. The American Institutes for Research launched a major effort to relocate participants and reconstruct the data from earlier waves into more modern file formats. In 2011, AIR partnered with the University of Michigan to conduct a pilot follow-up study. Slightly fewer than 4,000 participants—approximately 1 percent of the original sample—received a survey regarding their career, family, and health. The study’s high response rates confirmed the feasibility of locating and surveying participants after an extended hiatus. Analysis of the pilot study is still underway and findings are forthcoming. Additional follow-up studies currently under development seek to examine the how the behaviors, abilities, and interests demonstrated early in life impact the well-being of individuals as they age.[16]

See alsoEdit

References Edit

  1. Flanagan, J.C. (1972). The Project Talent Data Bank: A Handbook. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences.
  2. Wise, L. L., McLaughlin, D. H., & Gilmartin, K. J. (1977). The American citizen: 11 years after high school, Vol. II. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research.
  3. (1962). Education: Talent Census. Time Magazine, 80.,9171,896531,00.html
  4. Shaycoft, M. (1977). Project Talent: A Short History of a L-O-N-G Project. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research.
  5. Flanagan, J.C. (1960). Designing the Study. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh.
  6. Flanagan, J.C. (1972). The Project Talent Data Bank: A Handbook. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research in the Behavioral Sciences.
  7. Wise, L. L., McLaughlin, D. H., & Gilmartin, K. J. (1977). The American citizen: 11 years after high school, Vol. II. Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research.
  8. Flanagan, J. C., Davis, F. B., Dailey, J. T., Shaycoft, M. F., Orr, D. B., Goldberg, I., & Neyman, C. A., Jr. (1964). The American high school student. American Institutes for Research.
  9. Wai, J., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. (2009). Spatial ability for STEM domains: Aligning over 50 years of cumulative knowledge solidifies its importance. Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(2).
  10. Sorenson, A. B., & Hallinan, M. T. (1977). A reconceptualization of school effects. Sociology of Education, 50, 273-289.
  11. Corazzini, A. J., Dugan, D. J., & Grabowski, H. G. (1972). Determinants and distributional aspects of enrollment in U.S. higher education. Journal of Human Resources, 7(1), 39-59.
  12. Thornton, A., & Freedman, D. (1982). Changing attitudes toward marriage and single life. Family Planning Perspectives, 14(6), 297-303.
  13. Abrams, D. L., Cassel, C. M., Crouse, J. H. (1977, April). Estimates of the determinants of men's and women's economic success. Presented at the Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY.
  14. Card, J. J. (1987). Epidemiology of post-traumatic stress disorder in a national co-hort of Vietnam veterans. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 43(1).
  15. Kuhn, P., & Weinberger C. J. (2005). Leadership skills and wages. Journal of Labor Economics, 23(3), 395-436.
  16. Stone, C. & Bandyk, J. (2012, May). All participants being unequal: A bias analysis of three contemporary strategies for locating longitudinal study participants after an extended hiatus. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Public Opinion Research. Orlando, FL.
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