Kaplan Study Receives Grant from the U.S. Department of Education

Dr. Sandra Kaplan

Dr. Sandra Kaplan

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $3.9 million in grants to 10 universities, including USC’s Rossier School of Education, as part of the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education grant program. Rossier’s award—$1.7 million over five years—will support Project CHANGE, a program led by Professor of Clinical Education Sandra Kaplan that seeks to extend the reliability of efforts to identify prospective gifted and talented students in preschool through the second grade. The Javits awards are targeted at programs aimed at students that are economically disadvantaged, limited in English language skills or have disabilities.

“In California, the majority of evidence shows that teachers don’t start identifying talent or giftedness until the second grade,” says Kaplan, “and most of that process occurs through standardized testing. The goal of this study is to develop nontraditional methods to identify underrepresented children—and at a younger age.”

By looking at nontraditional curricular tasks, Kaplan hopes to identify preschoolers to second graders who show potential, talent or giftedness. For example, a teacher might show students a set of task cards, including one that pictures a lion in a cage constructed with bars made of plants. The teacher might then ask, “How many different ways can the lion escape the cage?” There is no correct answer, says Kaplan, but teachers in this study look for answers that include evidence of problem solving, creative thinking and logical thinking. A kindergartner might respond by saying, “Well, the lion could eat the plants, if lions eat plants.” That kind of answer is indicative of potential, says Kaplan.

The Javits grant program highlights preexisting identification and curriculum models that have proven effective at a small scale. With the funding, Kaplan can expand on an earlier project supported by the California Foundation for the Gifted that focused on six schools. The Javits-supported effort, Project CHANGE, expands that earlier program to schools and districts throughout California and will include an online curriculum available at EmpoweredU.

Kaplan is one of the most preeminent scholars in gifted learning. In 2012 she received the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Legacy Award, making her the sixth awardee in the history of the organization.

During her accomplished career, she has published more than a dozen books on teaching gifted children, consulted for numerous special projects and provided teaching training to incorporate gifted education into classrooms internationally.

Joining Kaplan on the project team are Professors Pat Gallagher, Robert Keim and Eugenia Mora-Flores of USC Rossier and Jessica Manzone, a research assistant at the school. The project also includes the support and involvement of the California Department of Education.