When Dana Gorman was a senior at Baldwin High School in 1961, she participated in a study that left her unsure about her future.
The 67-year-old Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., woman is now a contract manager in the aerospace industry, where she spends much of her time analyzing word use and sentence structure to prevent mistakes in agreements.
The study that left Gorman wondering about her future was named Project Talent and was conducted from 1960 to '63 at 1,300 U.S. high schools. About 440,000 students across the country -- including every senior at Baldwin in the Class of 1961 -- participated. The study, in which students were given a standardized test, was conducted by the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science research organization based in Washington, D.C.
“I totally flunked the score,” Gorman said of the percentile-based results. “The worst part, which kind of surprised me, was memorizing sentences.”
But Gorman said she scored very high in a section of the exam where she had to recognize when a word was used improperly, a skill she says she uses every day.
Now 50 years after Gorman and her classmates took the test, AIR is attempting to contact them to update the study.
The study "has the potential to be ongoing,” said Sabine Horner, communication specialist for AIR, who attended the class’ 50-year reunion two weeks ago in hopes of getting graduates to participate in the follow-up. “We’re hoping to track these people through their retirement.”
AIR hopes to measure how household and family structures, as well as economic status in childhood, affect health and success outcomes in life.
Carol Ellison, 67, a graduate of Baldwin’s Class of 1961, moved to Palm Harbor, Fla., about 15 years ago after spending her professional life working in the Long Island real estate market. She doesn’t remember participating in the study but said she could gauge how she did based on her attitude back in high school.
“I just didn’t have the same passion,” she said. “I was a totally different person than I am now. My personality, my outlook on life, what I was going to do ... I would take it again in a heart beat.”
Mark Skrotzki, 68, has been fascinated by Project Talent ever since he participated in 1961. When told about Gorman’s experience, he said results like hers are vital to the study.
“Isn’t that important, though? To find out, ‘Gee, the tests aren’t foolproof,’” he said,” noting that for some of his classmates, English was not their first language. He also pondered how the test could account for those who might take the results as inspiration to work harder.
Although he insists the exam should not have been a deciding factor in anybody’s life, he says his high scores in the study’s science sections changed his. His father was an engineer, the one thing Skrotzki said he never wanted to be. Despite the test’s results, he attended the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Psychology for a year with the scores haunting him.
“I became very disenchanted by psychology,” said Skrotzki, who now lives in Denver. He ended up transferring to Columbia University’s School of Engineering.
“I’m sure it had to do with [the test] being in my mind.”
If you are a 1961 graduate of Baldwin High School and want to contact AIR via email, click here.