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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University August 22, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 42
Psychologist Julian C. Stanley, 87, Pioneer in Gifted Education

Julian Stanley

By Charles Beckman
Center for Talented Youth

Julian Cecil Stanley, 87, a noted psychologist, statistician and educator who reshaped the face of American education for hundreds of thousands of academically gifted young people after a chance meeting with a precocious 13-year-old boy, died on Aug. 12.

Born in East Point, Ga., in 1918, Stanley graduated from West Georgia Junior College (now the State University of West Georgia) and Georgia Southern University. After serving in the Army Air Corps Chemical Warfare Service during World War II, he entered Harvard University, where he received his doctorate in education in 1950. Both the University of North Texas and the State University of West Georgia awarded him honorary doctoral degrees.

After serving since 1967 as professor of psychology at Johns Hopkins, he retired in 1999 as professor emeritus in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Previously, he had served on the faculties of Vanderbilt University and the University of Wisconsin. Visiting faculty appointments took him to leading universities worldwide, among them Harvard, Stanford, the University of Louvain in Belgium, the University of New South Wales in Australia and Shanghai Teachers University.

Having begun his professional life as a teacher of math and science in Atlanta high schools, Stanley continued his keen interest in these subject areas. Widely noted for his work in the design of educational research, Stanley co-authored with Donald Campbell a book titled Experimental and Quasi-experimental Designs for Research, which remains a classic in the field.

His professional work as a quantitative psychologist continued until 1969, when a colleague introduced him to 13-year-old Joseph Bates, an eighth-grader who had run out of math options available to him through the Baltimore City schools.

Understanding that an objective measure of Bates� abilities was needed, Stanley had the youth take batteries of tests, including the College Board SAT, on which Bates scored very high on the math section. Subsequently, other similarly gifted students came to him for ability testing, and Stanley found the SAT to be a reliable measure of advanced mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities for highly gifted young people�often more reliable than teacher or parent recommendations.

Stanley quickly realized that high-ability students could be identified systematically through above-grade-level standardized testing, and throughout the 1970s he held regular talent searches and experimented with a variety of accelerated program options to serve the needs of high scorers. In 1979, the Center for Talented Youth was established at Johns Hopkins to carry out the mission of talent identification and development. Similar programs based on Stanley�s talent search model were established at Duke, Northwestern, the University of Denver and elsewhere, including Ireland and Spain. By 2005, these university-based programs enrolled more than 200,000 highly talented students into special testing programs and rigorous academic course work.

�Dr. Stanley�s work led directly to the creation of a robust national program that parallels the school program and offers gifted children the chance to take accelerated and enriched course work in the company of other extremely bright peers,� said Lea Ybarra, executive director of CTY.

�Benignly insidious� was the phrase Stanley himself used to describe the effect of his work on schools. Having met with skepticism from educators at the outset of his work, Stanley decided to let the students� impressive achievements speak for themselves.

Highly gifted students, denied the chance to work at their own, significantly faster, pace in their regular schools, would take accelerated summer courses in a subject and return to school in the fall having mastered the course they were scheduled to take that year. This forced the hand of school administrators to place students into courses appropriate for the student�s ability.

At the outset of Stanley�s work in the 1960s and �70s, educators were widely skep-tical of claims that a mathematically gifted child could master a year�s worth of Algebra I in a three-week residential program, or that a 12-year-old might know calculus.

Stanley documented the results of special programs and students through careful research. Consequently, most schools today make provision to respond to the special needs of these learners.

�Quite a few schools and school systems have been encouraged to adopt more flexible ways to accommodate their brightest children,� Stanley said in an interview in 2000. �The increasing acceptance of advanced instruction and acceleration has been gratifying to observe.�

Stanley retained directorship of his original research program, the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. Renamed in June 2005 the Julian C. Stanley Study of Exceptional Talent, the study enrolls students who before age 13 earn scores of 700 or higher on the math or verbal portion of the SAT, and provides counseling, mentoring and other support for these profoundly gifted students. Stanley continued to work in SET as an active researcher and author up until the time of his death.

In 2000, Stanley was awarded Mensa�s first Lifetime Achievement Award. At the ceremony in his honor, Linda Brody, his colleague of many years and director of the Study of Exceptional Talent, noted, �It is impossible to exaggerate the impact Julian Stanley�s work has had on creating opportunities for gifted students in our country. His work on behalf of gifted students during the last 30 years has profoundly influenced the lives of thousands of gifted children and led to the establishment of programmatic models that will be in place for generations to come. His research has increased our understanding of the characteristics and needs of gifted children, and he serves as role model for educators and researchers everywhere who are interested in this population.�

During his career, Julian Stanley wrote or edited 19 books and more than 500 articles in professional journals. He served as president of the American Educational Research Association, the National Council on Measurement in Education and two divisions of the American Psychological Association. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the National Academy of Education.

Stanley�s passion for developing academically talented young people took on an ethical and moral character later in his life, when, in speaking of the dear price paid by missed opportunities, he would inspire educators by quoting poet John Greenleaf Whittier:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: �It might have been.�

Stanley�s wife, the former Dorothy Fahey, survives him. His second wife, Barbara Sprague Kerr Stanley, and first wife, Rose Sanders Stanley, preceded him in death. He is also survived by his daughter, Susan Willhoft, of Tacoma, Wash.; a grandson, Spencer Willhoft, of Bellingham, Wash.; a sister, Lestina Webb, of Fayetteville, Ga; and nieces and nephews.

A date for a memorial service, to be held at Vantage House in Columbia, Md., will be announced.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Julian Stanley�s name to the Study of Exceptional Talent, Center for Talented Youth, 5801 Smith Ave., Suite 400, Baltimore, MD 21209.


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