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Project Talent to reconnect with BHS grads

Five decades ago, a nonprofit research institute put 400,000 U.S. high school students - including 1,180 students from Baldwin High School - through two days of testing and surveys to examine “why so much of the nation’s human potential is lost and what schools, counselors and parents can do to reduce this loss.”

The Project Talent study covered the aptitudes and abilities and hopes and expectations of about 5 percent of high school students in the U.S. in 1960 and provided educators, parents and policymakers with information about how the U.S. educational system was faring. Among the study’s key findings were that students’ socioeconomic background and parents’ level of education had a greater impact on educational success than per-pupil spending, school resources and teacher quality and that the majority of students did not plan to enter careers that fit their talents.

The study by the American Institutes for Research and the U.S. Office of Education included follow-up surveys of students after one, five and 11 years.

Fifty years later, Project Talent has more questions, especially for the Baldwin High School Class of 1961. The 297 students, who took the test and were juniors in 1960, will be celebrating their 50-year reunion this year - which is why Project Talent is seeking them out, said Sabine Horner, Project Talent’s director of outreach and communications.

She said the expected golden reunion provides an opportunity for Project Talent to survey a gathering of the class members.

The follow-up study in the works by the American Institutes for Research will focus less on education and more on the health and retirements of the students in their twilight years and be a “kind of a national history project,” said Horner.

“The Project Talent generation is very important in the history of the country,” said Horner, noting that they experienced the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the moon landing. “They came of age during an era of great upheaval, and they transformed the United States as we knew it. Project Talent is an opportunity to share their perspectives and experiences in a meaningful way that can benefit future generations.”

The new information will mesh with the old. Project Talent is the only large-scale national study that tracks participants from childhood to retirement, its website said.

“This enables researchers to study how experiences, abilities, interests and personality types demonstrated early in life impact the health and well-being of individuals as they age,” the website said. “Researchers hope to discover patterns that indicate why some people continue to thrive mentally, physically and financially throughout their lives, while others are challenged in these areas.”

While the survey has not been written yet, it won’t take two days like the first test, Horner said. The goal is to survey 4,000 former students, or 1 percent of the original sample.

Baldwin High’s classes of 1960 to 1963 participated in the test survey that was front-page news in The Maui News in March 1960. Baldwin was one of three schools statewide selected for the survey, the others being Leilehua High School and University High, both on Oahu.

Warren Shibuya, who is a member of the Class of 1961, recalled the test being “not hard . . . tiring because I was trying to do well.’‘

There were many multiple choice questions and many involved complex computing and analogy, and tested reasoning and IQ, Shibuya recalled. English comprehension was critical.

“For many not performing well on tests, their capabilities probably were not accurately measured,” he said. “Testing was more reflective of a test-taker’s English comprehension, not reasoning abilities.”

The survey questions were “more like an inventory of lifestyle,” Shibuya said in an email. His responses included recollections such as “I grew up in HC&S Camp 5 Puunene, swam in irrigation ditches and Baldwin Park’s pool, watched the pig slop collector collect, cook, feed and clean pigs . . . rode my bike to Puunene Library.”

Shibuya recalled completing follow-up surveys in the ensuing years and even carried a Project Talent card.

Test and survey results of Shibuya and his schoolmates showed that Baldwin students and families were typical in many ways to the average students and families in the survey of 1,353 public, private and parochial schools nationwide.

Some Baldwin highlights:

* The percentage of seniors who went to college, both male and female, was 20 to 29 percent, which was lower than the national average of 30 to 39 percent.

* The average age of the first date was 16 and the average number of dates was one per week.

* Thirty-five percent of students’ parents were both born in the U.S., slightly lower than the 38 percent national average.

* Thirty-one percent of students had no TV or phone.

Looking to the future, the average Baldwin student in the survey expected to be married by age 23 or 24, have two children and earn $10,000 to $12,500 annually 20 years after graduation. The leading career aspiration for males was engineering and for females, elementary school teacher.

Before the test was administered in 1959, Lawrence W. Derthink, U.S. commissioner of education, said that “the purpose of the study is to find out why some students learn and others do not; why some students do poorly in high school and then seem to come into their own in college, while others who do well in high school fail to adjust to college.

“Above all, it is an attempt to determine why so much of the nation’s human potential is lost and what schools, counselors and parents can do to reduce this loss.”

While more than 50 years have passed since the original surveys and tests were done, Leslie Scott, principal research analyst for Project Talent, said that the data remain useful today, offering a view of changes over time and providing an opportunity to examine why those factors have changed.

The research that could come from a follow-up survey “is almost limitless,” said Horner. Researchers from a wide range of disciplines could study the impact of early-life experiences, characteristics and environmental factors on later-life outcomes, such as health, career success and emotional well-being.

“Understanding these relationships can help inform important policy and funding decisions,” she said.

Members of Baldwin High’s class of 1961 may contact American Institutes for Research to register their interest and to provide details of where they may be contacted to receive further information. Project Talent also is interested in information about upcoming 50-year reunion plans for the Class of 1961.

Those interested in participating in the survey may call (866) 770-6077, send an email to projectalent50@ air.org or go to the Project Talent website at www.projecttalent.org.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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From: The Maui News | Read Original Article