Welcome to Another Year of Invention!

Are you a teacher who works with students during the invention process? Invent Iowa will return in a virtual format on April 18, 2022. Now is a great time to make sure your budding inventors and entrepreneurs are getting started on their projects!

We are excited to announce a new platform from our colleagues at Invention Convention WorldwideInHub is a collection of professional development, curriculum resources and information about experiences and field trips. This is a free resource to learn and share with other inventive educators and students. 

If you are a student or have a student who would like to participate in Iowa’s State Invention Convention, be sure to mark your calendars for these important dates:

  • January 20, 2022: Registration opens
  • February 22, 2022: Competition materials are due
  • March 22, 2022: Students are notified of their qualification status
  • March 28, 2022: Qualifying students must commit to State Convention
  • April 18, 2022: State Invention Convention

For a helpful overview of the Invention Convention program, be sure to check out this helpful How-To Guide. Happy inventing!

Professional Learning Continues this Fall!

Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

In Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery declared, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (Anne of Green Gables is a great read for young gifted readers, as well as for you, if you haven’t read the classic!)  We look forward to collaborating with you this October and beyond!

October brings the midway point in the fall semester, but we have more offerings coming up than classes that are ending.  If you have at least one other person from your school/district interested in taking a class with you, in the spirit of a Professional Learning Community (PLC), contact us at educators@belinblank.org, and we’ll give all the members of your PLC a 50% tuition scholarship (applied to graduate tuition, so $290/hour).

For those who are interested in continuing their professional learning about gifted education (whether earning the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement or not), consider some of these options, all critical for your practice. (All credits apply to one of the strands for the endorsement.)

Workshops

For these options, the cost is tuition without any technology fees.

Programming Strand

EDTL:4153:0WKA Gifted and General Education Collaboration (1 semester hour)
October 11 – 29
Instructor: Gerald Aungst
What is more important than collaboration to ensure the best for our gifted students?

EDTL:4025:0WKA Differentiated Instruction for Gifted (1 s.h.)
October 25 – November 12
Instructor: Debra Judge
One of the foundations of gifted education, especially since all educators have a responsibility to differentiate for gifted learners (e.g., see MTSS for Advanced Learners)

EDTL:4096:0WKB Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students (1 s.h.)
November 22 – December 14 
Instructor: Antonia Szymanski
HOT off the press, from Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, to help empower students who have been overlooked for gifted programs.

Administrative Strand

PSQF:5194:0WKB Leadership in Gifted Education:  ITAG Conference (1 or 2 s.h. )
October 21 – November 10 
Instructors: Laurie Croft & Randy Lange
Those interested in Iowa Talented and Gifted Conference credit, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  Automatic 50% tuition scholarship (applied to graduate tuition, so $290 / hour).

PSQF:5194:0WKA Leadership in Gifted Education: NAGC Convention (1 or 2 s.h)
November 17 – December 9 
Instructors: Laurie Croft & Randy Lange 
Those interested in NAGC credit, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  Automatic 50% tuition scholarship (applied to graduate tuition, so $290 / hour).

Practicum Strand

EDTL:4189:0WKA Practicum in Gifted/Talented Education (1 s.h.)
November 8 – December 3 
Instructor: Laurie Croft
Those interested in practicum, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  You can get started as soon as you enroll!

Extension Classes

The cost of these classes is tuition plus technology fees.

EDTL:4067:0EXW Conceptions of Talent Development (3 s.h.)
October 18 – December 17  
Instructor: Laurie Croft
Psychology strand (2 sh); Programming (1 s.h)
This credit applies to both the Psychology and the Programming strand, exploring issues that are important to the focus on talent development in our field.

RCE:4188:0EXW Practicum in Gifted Education (1, 2, or 3 s.h.)
October 25 – December 3
Instructor: Laurie Croft
Practicum strand
Those full-time students or those interested in more than one hour of practicum, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  You can get started as soon as you enroll!

The current schedule of courses is available at belinblank.org/courses; specifics about the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement are available at belinblank.org/endorsement.  Visit our website for instructions about registering with Distance and Online Education to take coursework as a non-degree-seeking student.  Share questions with us at educators@belinblank.org or give us a call at 319-335-6148!  We look forward to collaborating with you this fall to provide the best possible programming for gifted/talented children!

How Do We Prepare a Student for Academic Acceleration?

Josie is a 3rd grade student who gets high grades, has several good friends, and is in the school’s gifted program. It’s obvious to her parents and teachers that she is not challenged by the 3rd grade curriculum. The team of parents, teachers, and administrators met several times to talk about acceleration for Josie. They decided to move Josie up to 4th grade. BUT WAIT. Nobody has talked with Josie about this.

Let’s do a rewind and set this transition up for success.

At the beginning of the school year, Josie’s parents met with the gifted coordinator, Mrs. Fernandez, and talked about the possibility of acceleration for Josie. Mrs. Fernandez talked with Josie’s parents about discussing acceleration with Josie, and she made a plan to talk with Josie as well.

How might Mrs. Fernandez approach Josie with the idea of a possible grade skip?

  1. It’s helpful for both the parents/guardians and a teacher to have one or more conversations with the student before a formal meeting discussing acceleration.
  2. Change can be hard, even when we really want that change. The student might need some extra time to think about and discuss the change, even if she’s been complaining bitterly about not being challenged in school.
  3. How do educators talk with the student about acceleration? If you ask a student, “Do you want to leave your class and go to another one?” the tendency is to say no. It’s more helpful to ask broad questions, such as “What do you like about school?” and “What parts could be better?” or “If you were in charge of the school, what would you change for yourself?”
  4. Think about how much we should tell students before any changes are made, so they understand they are being considered for acceleration. Younger students need less information. Older students need more. Ask the student what he or she thinks about the possibility of subject acceleration or moving up into a higher grade.
  5. In conversation, you might ask the student if he or she knows older kids inside or outside of school (maybe older cousins or older kids in the neighborhood). Help them to realize they already know some older students and can build relationships with them.
  6. It’s helpful to let the student know that there are many ways to think about offering additional challenge, and academic acceleration is one of them. Let them know that you are having a meeting to talk about this possibility and to gather more information. 
  7. Answer the student’s questions. Let them know, “We want to make sure this is the right decision for you, and we are finding the right place for you.”
  8. If you ask, “What worries you?” the answer might be going into a room with a new teacher or being uncertain if they will know any of the other students in the new class. The student might be concerned that “The older kids will laugh at me.” What is a big issue to a 6-year-old isn’t necessarily a big issue to adults. But to this student, it is a big deal, so it should be addressed as a legitimate question or concern.
  9. Before the team meeting occurs, it’s helpful to prepare the student for different possibilities. If the decision is made not to skip a grade or move ahead in a certain subject, it doesn’t mean the student failed. It’s all about finding the right match for the student.
  10. No matter what the outcome, someone needs to talk to the student after the meeting to let him or her know (in age-appropriate terms) about any decisions made.
  11. If the student is accelerated, an educator should be assigned to the student to help with the transition for acceleration. This special teacher has the opportunity to develop a relationship with the student and be viewed as a trusted person who can help out on a hard day. Additionally, it’s important to consider what specific skills the student will need in order to make a successful transition to acceleration. These skills might be learning how to work a locker, figuring out lunchroom routines, or doing three-digit addition. A thoughtful transition period plan is key to success.
  12. Students will be reassured if they learn that other students have already done this successfully. It might even be helpful for the student to have a phone conversation with an older student who accelerated previously.
  13. Parents will also appreciate the opportunity to talk with other parents who have experienced acceleration with their children. If it isn’t easy to make these parent-to-parent connections,  they might enjoy reading some of the stories of acceleration included in Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered.
  14.  Acceleration decisions must be the result of a team approach. The adult members of the team need to remain student-focused during the process. This is best employed through open communication with the student, including during the transition period.

Integrated Acceleration System

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the acceleration decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month. If you have questions, contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

We’re planning an online professional development session about the Integrated Acceleration System in Spring 2022. Send an email to acceleration@belinblank.org if you would like to be notified about the date of that session.

Using BESTS for IOAPA Decisions

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) team up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers discover talented students and develop their abilities. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, IOAPA will require 6th or 7th grade students to have taken I-Excel in order to be eligible for IOAPA courses. We highly recommend using the ACT to inform eligibility for older students to take IOAPA courses. Testing is not required for students registering for Spring 2022 courses, although it is recommended.

In order to use this year’s above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for next spring’s IOAPA courses, now is the time to begin the above-level testing process. (Spring registration opens November 8, and we expect seats to fill quickly.) You may also use above-level test results from this academic year to decide which students you will register for fall 2022 classes, when that registration is available. There are four basic steps for participation in BESTS.

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge; these are the students who will be recommended for participation in BESTS. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. Contact assessment@belinblank.org as soon as possible to set up testing. We have two options for testing, one for 7th-9th graders, and one for 4th-6th graders.
  4. 7th-9th graders take the ACT. Due to the pandemic, ACT has been prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer above-level testing for our 7th-9th grade students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, visit belinblank.org/talent-search for specific information and email assessment@belinblank.org to be added to the notification list. ACT testing is not required, but it is highly recommended.
  5. 4th-6th graders take I-Excel. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are flexible to schedule. However, it’s still important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand. I-Excel testing will be required for students interested in taking 6th-7th grade courses next school year, so we highly recommend testing eligible 5th and 6th graders this year.
  6. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Costs

  • The cost for ACT registration will be announced at a later time. Students testing through the Belin-Blank Center will receive access to individualized reports explaining their test results and comparing them to other talented students in the same grade.
  • The cost for I-Excel is $45 per student when groups of 4 or more students are testing.  Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in the past 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations to try out I-Excel with their students. Schools receive group results as well as individual student reports following I-Excel testing. Families also receive the individualized report.
  • For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are available for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

What’s the Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education? Above-Level Testing — This post offers an overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Students’ Needs— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Update on IOAPA’s Computer Science Courses

This year, there are some changes with IOAPA’s computer science (CS) courses. Our curriculum for these courses is now provided by a non-profit organization called ProjectSTEM.

So, what will this transition look like for IOAPA students and mentors?  Much of the experience will be the same as before. The course material is the same, but there are some slight differences within the platform. You can find helpful information for navigating ProjectSTEM’s website on their help center or reach their support team at info@projectstem.org.

Below are some helpful notes about this transition:

  • Be sure to keep an eye out for emails from Project STEM. This includes adding emails from the projectstem.org domain to your safe sender list.   
  • Our middle school course formerly called Introduction to Computer Science is now called CS Python Fundamentals.  
  • The CS Python Fundamentals course is only offered as a full year course. A one-semester option is not available.

A common question about our CS courses is what does “more mentor involvement” look like? Mentors do not need to have any previous CS teaching experience or knowledge to facilitate a course within ProjectSTEM. The curriculum and lessons for these courses are already prepared. Additionally, the majority of assignments are assigned grades automatically as your students submit them. This is particularly true in the CS Python Fundamentals and AP Computer Science A courses.

The AP Computer Science Principles course requires the most mentor involvement, as has always been the case. This course requires students to submit some essay questions that need to be graded by mentors. However, these assignments have a rubric in the Teacher Resource Sidebar, which gives mentors the information they will need to accurately grade the essays. Additionally, mentors and students can ask ProjectSTEM’s Teacher Assistant team questions in their forums. While teacher assistants cannot make grading decisions, they can provide guidance and answer specific questions mentors may have about the content.

For more information about ProjectSTEM, visit their help center. If you have more specific questions, contact their support team at info@projectstem.org. And as always, please feel free to reach out to the IOAPA team with any questions or concerns at ioapa@belinblank.org

Message from the Director: First Days and Next Steps

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

“It’s not up to you to finish the task… neither are you free to ignore it.”  –Ethics of our Fathers (and Mothers) 

The first bell of a new school year signals a fresh start for millions of families, students, and teachers. Beginning a new year is a natural moment of transition and reflection as well as a shared human experience that evokes many emotions. 

Our first-year Bucksbaum Academy students arrived last week, a momentous first day for them. A week later, our upper-class students returned to campus. It is energizing to have students and their fresh approach to learning in our midst. 

As an educator for over four decades, I have experienced many unique and energizing first days. This year, my professional first day of school coincided with a personal one. My grandchildren had their first days of preschool, kindergarten, and fourth grade! When the current 4th grader started school four years ago, I was entering my 4th decade as an educator. 

At that time, I offered my wishes for her as she began her academic journey: 

  • Find challenges in learning, both in and out of school. Learners, and those who teach them, know the optimal learning environment contains challenges. Challenged learners are neither bored nor frustrated but empowered. They seek new knowledge and develop further the sense of curiosity with which we are all born. 
  • Build resilience to become an empowered learner. She will need to recognize that there will be favorite subjects and those that are not favorites. She will have good days and days that are not as good. The latter is important to practice bouncing back to enjoy the good days and revel in great days! 
  • Develop leadership skills for a meaningful life and a positive impact on society. Sure, that is a tall order for a kindergartner, but it is an important aspect of learning and becoming. When she looks back on her career someday, I hope she will be able to see how her leadership benefited society. 
  • Hone a sense of humility to be grateful for her opportunities and gifts and mindful of privilege. 

These last four years – like the preceding 40 — have flown.  

This year juxtaposes my own educational path with that of my family’s young learners. They are setting out on their journeys of lifelong learning. My professional journey is nearing the end because, after 45 years as an educator, I will retire at the end of the current academic year.  

Thus, the start of this school year was a momentous first day for me as well.  

I will always be an educator. But with the support of family, colleagues, University of Iowa leadership, and our visionary advisory board, it is time for new leadership at the Belin-Blank Center. Although I will step aside as a professional, I will continue on a new personal path of lifelong learning. 

I am pleased to say I have not “ignored the task,” and I find it reassuring to know that I am not obligated to complete it.  

I am enthusiastic about the opportunities that a new director will appreciate. They will lead an exceptional team dedicated to nurturing potential and inspiring excellence. Together, they will bring a fresh perspective to a well-established center.  

I will always be grateful for my energizing, creative, and dedicated colleagues. They made my career possible, and I look forward to acknowledging and supporting their creative endeavors throughout the year.  

As I look back on a long, yet rapid, journey and ahead to a new one, I have a few more wishes for all lifelong learners. From those starting their educational journey as preschoolers to those nearing the end of a career in education, I hope you will: 

  • Continue to be curious 
  • Keep a sense of optimism  
  • Express gratitude each day 
  • Convey a sense of compassion  

Astute readers note that I focused on the cognitive aspects of learning four years ago but am now placing an emphasis on the psychosocial. The COVID-19 pandemic makes me appreciate their equal importance to a lifelong learner’s educational journey. 

As I embark on the next stage of that journey, I wish you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling year.  

Coming Up at the Belin-Blank Center

Mark your calendars for the many exciting opportunities for students, families, and educators that are happening at the Belin-Blank Center this year! Even more to come soon.

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • Intro to Educating Gifted Students: August 23 – October 18, 2021
    • Practicums: October 3 – December 3, 2021
    • Conceptions of Talent Development: October 18 – December 17, 2021

For Students & Families

10 Reasons to Get Started on JSHS Projects

Now that the school year is underway, it’s time for Iowa high school students and teachers to get started on projects for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Your future selves will thank you!

If you are a high school student thinking that you would like to solve a problem, stretch yourself, and stand out – now is the time to get started on an original research project so you can present it at the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

If you are a teacher looking for opportunities for your students to present their work to an authentic audience of experts, explore STEM careers, and build a sense of belonging, start planning for JSHS now

Top 10 Reasons to Join Us at the 2022 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium:

  1. The symposium is returning to the University of Iowa campus!
  2. Learn how you can use publicly available data sets or working on a citizen science project to conduct research without a lab.
  3. Get hot tips from the brains behind a video series we made to teach you how to conduct a data science project. Check it out!
  4. Get a backstage pass to cutting edge University of Iowa research facilities like the National Advanced Driving Simulator. Since we know you can’t wait, here’s a 360 virtual tour to tide you over. 
  5. Trivia night is back! Geek out with nerds from across the state in a friendly competition. 
  6. Experience the wonders of the newest dining hall on campus where you can have sushi, a made to order burger, a Southwest salad, and pancakes all for lunch.
  7. Be inspired by research presented by students in Iowa who win big scholarships at National JSHS.
  8. Every high school in Iowa can bring 5 students and a teacher for FREE. We sponsor housing, meals, and all activities – including a trip down the lazy river
  9. Five students will win scholarships and an all expense paid trip to National JSHS in Albuquerque, NM.
  10. If we can’t meet on campus, we will meet online for virtual presentations, tours, and activities that span the globe. 

Join us on Monday, March 7 and Tuesday, March 8, 2022. 

The Integrated Acceleration System: Answering Your Questions About Grade-Skipping

Making a decision about acceleration, specifically a grade skip, can be intimidating.

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs. 

The Integrated Acceleration System includes:

  1. Numerous items that relate to the student’s social-emotional development, which is often a concern when we begin discussions about grade-skipping.
  2. Questions that are asked of the student. 
  3. A question about IEPs and 504 plans. An affirmative response provides access to Belin-Blank Center experts on twice-exceptionality.
  4. Guidance for collecting relevant data about achievement, ability, and aptitude.
  5. A report that is based upon the comprehensive responses of the team.

What are the Differences Between the Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale?

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (3rd edition, 2009, published by Gifted Unlimited) is a paper-and-pencil guide that provides a total score describing where a student fits as a candidate for acceleration. It focuses on students in K-8th grade.

The Integrated Acceleration System, developed by the Belin-Blank Center, is an online, interactive tool that produces a detailed report and a recommendation about the suitability of acceleration as an intervention for the student. The report details the data that were gathered as well as the comments team members made about the data and discussion. It focuses on pre-K through high school students. The Integrated Acceleration System currently examines the suitability of grade-skipping. The Belin-Blank Center team will soon launch modules focused on subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college.

​The Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale are not the same product, even though they both have the same authors and they both revolve around academic acceleration. The Iowa Acceleration Scale is still a useful paper/pencil guide. The Integrated Acceleration System is entirely online and interactive. It walks educators and families through the data collection process, explains which tests are needed for an acceleration decision, and facilitates conversations about acceleration. The steps of the process include Build the Team, Learn About Acceleration, Gather the Data, Interview the Student, Conduct the Child Study Team Meeting, and Create and Execute the Transition Plan.

What sets the Integrated Acceleration System apart is that it produces a detailed report with recommendations about acceleration and suggestions based upon the team’s responses. It also begins the process of developing a transition plan for the student, if a grade skip is determined to be the best intervention for that student. Additionally, it provides access to the experts at the Belin-Blank Center if the student is diagnosed as twice-exceptional.

An educator serves as the facilitator of the process. Parents are important members of the Child Study team, which also includes the current teacher, receiving teacher, administrators, and others who might have relevant information. Parents reading this article are encouraged to work with their child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, or administrator in starting this process.

We are excited to share this new tool with you!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System at an introductory price of $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. We invite educators to reserve yours today! If you have questions, you are welcome to contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Student’s Needs

talent-search-bridge-to-opportunity

It’s time to make a plan for testing your 4th-6th grade students using I-Excel. Why I-Excel? This test offers an opportunity for talented students to demonstrate their capabilities. Receiving scores helps educators and families to make better-informed decisions about their students’ education. Scores provide information useful for placement decisions, acceleration discussions, and gaining a better understanding of a particular student’s academic abilities.

I-Excel is considered an above-level test. It contains 8th grade content, but it is administered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders. Students scoring at the 95th percentile or higher on any subject of the grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments) have reached the ceiling of that test. An above-level test raises the ceiling, measures the student’s aptitudes more accurately, and can inform parents and educators about readiness for advanced curriculum. More information and a video about above-level testing can be found at this link.

For Educators Testing Groups of Students

I-Excel can be used to screen students for a gifted program or an opportunity in a specific subject, for example, for discovering students who would benefit from an advanced math class.

We recommend the following steps for educators:

  1. Look at the results from the standardized testing routinely administered at your school (for example, the Iowa AssessmentsStanford Achievement TestsTerra Nova, etc.).
  2. Select the 4th, 5th, or 6th graders scoring at or around the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the core content areas (such as reading, math, language, science, etc.).
  3. Invite those students to participate in I-Excel testing. We suggest that the students take all four subtests of I-Excel (Math, Science, English, and Reading) to get the most comprehensive information.
  4. Use the I-Excel information in combination with other information you have available to select students for your gifted program and/or other appropriately challenging programming.
    1. You might focus on only one area; for example, if you are seeking students in need of additional opportunities in math, you’ll want to look most closely at the Math subtest of I-Excel to identify high-performing math students.
    1. Once your students test using I-Excel, educators will have access to an individualized interpretation of the test scores as well as a group interpretation (if 10 or more students tested). This information is designed to help you make informed decisions about the types of programs to provide for challenging your students.
    1. For example, in a given school with a comprehensive TAG program, educators might decide to use all four subtests of I-Excel to identify students for the gifted program. In another school, where the TAG program is more focused on advanced science and mathematics, educators might use only the Science and Math subtests of I-Excel as part of their larger identification process. Students with very high scores on the English or Reading subtests may be ready for more advanced material in language arts.

I-Excel is useful for helping educators determine which students have specific talents in one area (for example, Science), and which students demonstrate high ability across the board (Math, Science, English, and Reading). Gifted programs and other advanced opportunities can be designed with the students’ varying strengths in mind, and different schools will choose different approaches to challenge their students. Get started here: https://belinblank.education.uiowa.edu/students/bests/.

Parents Can Set Up Individual Testing

Parents interested in learning more about their student’s capabilities can set up an individual testing session for their child. Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results. This interpretation includes recommendations for curriculum readiness. Testing can be arranged at a convenient date, time, and location. Families can set up individual testing with the assistance of a local educator who serves as the test proctor. After the testing, parents receive an individual student report, which they can share with educators at their child’s school. See detailed information about Individual Testing.  If you have questions, email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Using I-Excel for Acceleration Decisions

Because I-Excel is an above-level test, it can be used as an indicator of specific aptitude when making decisions about acceleration in school. I-Excel scores can be used for the aptitude section of the Iowa Acceleration Scale as well as for the Indicators of Performance in the Next Grade for the Integrated Acceleration System.

Have other questions?  Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details or email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Please note: If you’re interested in having your 7th-9th graders take the ACT, we are in the process of working out the details for this year. Due to the pandemic, ACT was prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer testing for our students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, email assessment@belinblank.org

Global Principles for Professional Learning in Gifted Education

The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC) hosted a virtual conference over the summer, and one of the most exciting things shared was the new “Global Principles for Professional Learning in Gifted Education.” 

In the United States, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has provided sets of standards to help define best practices in Pre-K – Grade 12 Programming, Teacher Preparation in Gifted Education (in collaboration with the Council for Exceptional The Association for the Gifted [CEC TAG], and Knowledge and Skills in Gifted & Talented Education for All Teachers. The new WCGTC principles suggest the 10 most important concepts for professional development in gifted education, to strengthen local and regional practices on behalf of gifted children around the world.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Several scholars involved in the development of the principles share a presentation available to the public. A poster with the 10 global principles is available to download and share or post. The full document, with research-based rationales that could be of interest to educators anywhere, is available at https://world-gifted.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/professional-learning-global-principles.pdf.

The last of the 10 principles, Empowering, is one of the most important to the Belin-Blank Center. The Center has long committed its professional development opportunities to empowering the gifted community, and throughout the academic year, educators can enroll in a variety of classes, including three-semester-hour coursework as well as one- and two-semester hour “workshops” that expand understanding about themes significant to identifying and understanding gifted children and their unique needs. Coursework, aligned with NAGC standards, encourages professionals to adopt best practices for meeting the needs of advanced learners, from acceleration to classroom differentiation to homogeneous grouping. Classes also provide insights into programming options that facilitate optimal learning environments.

The current schedule of courses is available at belinblank.org/courses; specifics about the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement are available at belinblank.org/endorsement. Visit our website for directions about registering with Distance and Online Education to take coursework as a non-degree-seeking student.  Share questions with us at educators@belinblank.org or give us a call at 319-335-6148! We look forward to collaborating with you to provide the best possible programming for gifted/talented children!

What’s the Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education? Above-Level Testing.

We have said it before: the secret of above-level testing is really not much of a secret. It’s used extensively by university-based centers of gifted education.  Unfortunately, it is under-utilized by schools. This secret is hiding in plain sight!

What is above-level testing and how can it be used? Above-level testing is useful for decisions about:

  1. Identifying a student for a gifted program
  2. Determining what a student is ready to learn next
  3. Informing decisions about subject-matter acceleration
  4. Informing decisions about readiness to skip a grade

“Above-level testing” is exactly what it sounds like:  Give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. 

This idea was pioneered over one hundred years ago by Dr. Leta Hollingworth, sometimes called the “mother” of gifted education.  This concept was fully developed by Dr. Julian Stanley in the 1970s when he devised the “Talent Search” in which 7th and 8th graders took the college admissions exam, the SAT. 

Fast forward to the present day, and above-level testing is used extensively in outside-of-school programs for gifted students. In fact, hundreds of thousands of students around the world take above-level tests each year as part of university-based talent searches, such as the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.  Some of these tests used are the SAT, ACT, and I-Excel.

Unfortunately, above-level tests are not used extensively in typical school gifted programs, but we would like to change that!

Academically talented students tend to perform extremely well on tests developed for their own age group. They do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, and we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be. 

Psychologists call this “hitting the ceiling” of the test.

Think of it like a yardstick: The grade-level “yardstick” measures only 36 inches. If the student is 40 inches tall, we can’t measure accurately by using only a grade-level yardstick. What we need is a longer yardstick, and a harder test. An above-level test, one that is developed for older students, provides that longer yardstick and successfully raises the ceiling for that talented student.

above-level testing

The advantages of above-level testing include discovering “talented” and “exceptionally talented” students. In the figure, the bell curve on the left shows a typical group of students. A few students (the dark blue portion of the group) earn very high scores. They score at the 95th percentile or above when compared to their age-mates.

These are the students who “hit the ceiling” of the grade-level test. 

If that group of students takes a harder test — an above-level test that was developed for older students — voila! We see a new bell curve (the one on the right). The harder test spreads out the scores of the talented students. Now, we can better see what these students have already mastered and what amount of challenge they are ready for.

Why does this matter? Knowing how students performed on an above-level test helps us to give the students, their families and their educators better advice about the kinds of educational options the students might need.

For example, does this student need educational enrichment? Would that student benefit from moving up a grade level or two in math? Would yet another student benefit from grade-skipping?

Organizations such as the Belin-Blank Center who have used above-level testing for years. We have developed rubrics to help educators and parents understand the student’s above-level test scores and relate them to appropriately challenging educational options. In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s aptitudes.

Imagine you are working with two 5th grade students, Jessica and Mary.

Both of them have scored at the 99th percentile on the mathematics portion of their state test when compared to other 5th graders. They are both strong in math, but we don’t have specific information about the extent of their skills.  What should they learn next?

Psychologists say that these students have “hit the ceiling of the test” because they got everything (or almost everything) right on the grade-level test. What we need is a harder test that would more accurately measure their talents and help us to tailor instruction to their specific needs.

Rather than creating a special test for these students, we gave them I-Excel, which contains 8th grade content.  Jessica scored at the 85th percentile when compared to 8th graders, and Mary scored at the 20th percentile when compared to 8th graders. 

Both students have shown on the 5th grade-level test that they are very good at math compared to typical students in their 5th grade regular classroom. But their above-level test scores show that Jessica is ready for much more challenge in math than Mary.

Jessica likely needs acceleration, while Mary may benefit from enrichment. It would have been impossible to see this difference if we had only been using their grade-level scores.

Above-level testing is key to helping us tailor educational programs for gifted students. It helps us to understand a student’s need for challenge in specific subject areas and to act on the information appropriately.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are thrilled to be able to provide educators with specific information about your students via the in-school testing option for I-Excel, an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders.

For more information about how this could work in your school, see www.i-excel.org and www.belinblank.org/talent-search, or contact assessment@belinblank.org.

Students in 7th – 9th grade also have an opportunity for above-level testing by taking the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center. Due to the pandemic, ACT has prioritized testing 11th and 12th graders. We expect to be able to offer above-level testing in spring 2022. If you would like to be notified when we begin offering ACT testing again, please email us at assessment@belinblank.org and we will add you to the list.

Research Study for Academically Talented Students

We understand that COVID-19 has affected everyone in many ways, and that, particularly as a family with a gifted and talented child, things may have changed dramatically for you over recent months. The Belin-Blank Center is conducting a research study to assess how COVID-19 is affecting families. We would like you and your child to participate in the study by completing this electronic survey. If you have more than one child, please make sure to select a child who is at least in 6th grade and if you still have more than one, please take the survey once for each child. 

Sharing your experiences, both negative and positive, will equip us with information that can help us be more efficient and effective in preparing and allocating future resources that can help families like yours. The survey will take about 5 to 10 minutes for you and about 15 minutes for your child to complete. It is completely voluntary. Your identity or any other identifying information will not be linked to the survey. Whether or not you participate in this survey will have no bearing on your standing with any of our programs.

SURVEY LINK: https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_02pwgvzVHGwYJ4W

We encourage you to consider sharing your experiences through this survey. We are so proud of all the ways that we have seen families respond with resilience and adaptiveness to the challenges of this pandemic. And, as always, if there are ways that we can help support you during this time, please let us know by reaching out to us.

Thank you, and stay well.

Brandon LeBeau

Belin-Blank Center

Message from the Director: Continuity and Change

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

In early June, the University of Iowa campus opened, and we returned to our offices at the Belin-Blank Center. The first day back was a little like the first day of school! Things had changed, yet there was a sense of continuity and familiarity.  

Sitting in my office on the 6th floor of the Blank Honors Center, I can see a sweeping view of the campus out my window. I reflect on those contrasting ideas of change and continuity as I look out at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. There, clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine occurred. I’m grateful to the frontline professionals and researchers who made it safe to return to campus after 16 months of remote work. They changed our lives and allowed us to continue to serve and pursue our mission in person.  

Shifting my view to the ground below, I see the top of a beloved 150-year-old copper beech tree. This tree suffered tremendous damage during the derecho of August 2020, yet the campus arborists did not give up on it. Although 25% of the tree was gone in an instant, it is full of leaves today. Its branches now represent survival through a challenging year, a metaphor for change and continuity.  

A large copper beech tree in front of the University of Iowa's Blank Honors Center.

The tree reminds us of our connection to the land, made up of the homelands of multiple tribal nations, upon which early Iowans built this campus. We acknowledge this complicated history by sharing the UI Acknowledgement of Land and Sovereignty. “To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory [we] reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial.” 

I reflect on the past 16 months, during which we continued our mission by adapting student and educator programming in response to the pandemic. The most recent of these efforts was the inaugural Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality in May. Over the past few months, we also welcomed new staff who will help us continue our dance of continuity and change.  

School is out, and summer is beginning. At the Belin-Blank Center, that means our summer programs have started. We have ongoing online programs for educators and students and the first of our in-person student programs begins again in late July. Our staff, like many people, are easing our way into a changed world. We continue to think about what that means for us.  What will remain consistent, as always, is our commitment to nurturing potential and inspiring excellence.  

Welcome back! 

Dr. Randy Lange Joins Our Staff

Dr. Randolph (“Randy”) Lange was recently appointed as the Coordinator for Professional Development and Curriculum at the Belin Blank Center.

Prior to joining the Center, he served as the Talent Development Services Program Coordinator for Illinois’ La Grange School District 102. There he developed a comprehensive K-8 program that includes: curriculum for accelerated mathematics & language arts, classroom-based differentiation, enrichment offerings (summer, evening and/or weekend), above level testing, mentorships, collaboration with community organizations, grade skipping, and support for families. Before joining District 102, he used his dissertation findings as a catalyst in developing a more equitable identification protocol in his former school district (Indian Prairie School District 204).

Randy has presented at the National Association for Gifted Children Convention, the Illinois Association for Gifted Children Conference, and the Center for Gifted Education National Curriculum Network Conference.  Over his career, he has taught a variety of courses through the Belin-Blank Center and professional development opportunities for educators. He currently serves on the Board of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children. Randy holds a Doctorate (Curriculum & Instruction, Educational Measurement, and Gifted Education) and Masters (Education Administration) from the University of Iowa, and a Bachelors (Elementary Education) from the University of Illinois.

We welcome Dr. Lange to the growing administrative team of the Belin-Blank Center and look forward to the many contributions he will make to programming, services, and research.

Save the Date for Summer

Summer means sun, fun, and learning at the Belin-Blank Center! Check out our many classes and events for TAG educators and gifted students.

FOR EDUCATORS

Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:

  • AP Summer Institute (online); credit option will be available
    • June 28 – July 2, 2021
  • Teacher Training for Advanced Placement Courses
    • July 1 – 22, 2021
  • Family Issues in Giftedness (Chautauqua)
    • July 5 – 23, 2021
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level
    • July 6 – 26, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics”
    • July 7 – 27, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Serving Visual/Spatial Learners in Gifted Ed”
    • July 9 – 29, 2021
  • Creativity: Issues and Applications in Gifted Education (Chautauqua)
    • July 12 – 30, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week I
    • July 12 – 16, 2021
  • Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Real World Problem Solving
    • July 14 – August 3, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week II
    • July 19 – 23, 2021
  • Individual Study: Leadership in Gifted NAG/NDE Virtual Conference
    • July 26 – August 13, 2021

FOR STUDENTS & FAMILIES

Summer 2021 Belin-Blank Chautauqua

“The Chautauqua movement pioneered the idea of extending learning opportunities to adults and nontraditional students.”

Scott Howell and Alma McGinn

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua offers a choice of six classes in a fast-paced (accelerated) format.

The first two days of each Chautauqua class include time for participants to interact with each other and the instructor on Zoom. Each class continues online for three weeks of asynchronous opportunities designed by each instructor to maximize the value of each class.

During the Belin-Blank Chautauqua (virtual in 2021), we are offering two new classes about meeting the needs of a broader range of gifted learners:

  • Talent Development: Arts, Academics, and Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB) focuses on the preparation required for gifted performers in the fields where these students stand out.
  • Serving Visual/Spatial Learners discusses ways to provide programming for students identified for advanced abilities beyond mathematical and English/Language Arts abilities. More than one educator has acknowledged the importance of identifying traditionally underserved students, but they are not sure what to DO for these students, since traditional programming will not match their strengths.

Chautauqua Week 1 includes:

Family Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4119)
Jul 5, 6 – 23 (Psychology strand)
Dr. Haley Wikoff and Dr. Erin Lane, Team Teachers

Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB)
Jul 7, 8 – 27 (Programming)
Kathy Green, Instructor

Serving Visual/Spatial Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKC)
Jul 9, 10 – 29 (Programming)
Dr. Vince Moore, Instructor

Chautauqua Week 2 includes:

Creativity (RCE:4129)
Jul 12, 13 – 30 (Psychology)
Dr. Clar Baldus, Instructor

Programming: Facilitating Student Research Projects (EDTL:4073:0WKA)
Jul 14, 15 – Aug 3 (Programming)
Lora Danker, Instructor

Evaluation of Gifted Programs (EPLS:4111)
Jul 16, 17 – Aug 5 (Administrative)”
Dr. Kim Chandler, Instructor

Automatic Scholarships

Scholarships for the cost of one class are available to those who enroll in three classes in either week. Those who take all six classes over the two weeks receive a full scholarship for the cost of one class each week.  

Registration

To take part in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student.

For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status. If you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars. Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest or benefit you. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg.

All our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org!

Excellence Gaps in Education

On June 22, we are offering a three-week book study about Excellence Gaps in Education (Plucker & Peters, 2016). This online class (asynchronous) focuses on strategies we can use to eliminate the achievement gaps that exist even among the students who perform at the highest levels (EDTL:4096:0WKD).  

This is a new class, and if you haven’t read Excellence Gaps, this is the time!  Excellence Gaps won the 2017 Book of the Year award from NAGC, and our need to understand excellence gaps—going beyond achievement gaps—is more important than ever.  The Harvard Education Press posted:

In Excellence Gaps in Education, Jonathan A. Plucker and Scott J. Peters shine a spotlight on “excellence gaps”—the achievement gaps among subgroups of students performing at the highest levels of achievement. Much of the focus of recent education reform has been on closing gaps in achievement between students from different racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds by bringing all students up to minimum levels of proficiency. Yet issues related to excellence gaps have been largely absent from discussions about how to improve our schools and communities. Plucker and Peters argue that these significant gaps reflect the existence of a persistent talent underclass in the United States among African American, Hispanic, Native American, and poor students, resulting in an incalculable loss of potential among our fastest growing populations.

This is one of the Belin-Blank Center classes this summer intended to help educators ensure that their districts are doing everything possible to ensure that they are identifying and serving ALL their gifted learners—including those that have been traditionally underrepresented.  The other two classes include 

  • Talent Development: Arts, Academics, and Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB), focus in on the preparation required for gifted performers, and 
  • Serving Visual/Spatial Learners, discussing ways to provide programming for students identified for advanced abilities beyond mathematical and English/Language Arts abilities.

To take part in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student. For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status. If you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars. Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest or benefit you. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg. All our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement, and the study of Excellence Gaps can apply to the Administrative strand.

Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org!

We look forward to having you join us for this one-semester-hour workshop, and for other classes available through June and July.

Art and Writing Summer Programs

High school students, don’t miss your chance to join our summer art and writing programs. Hurry – classes start soon!  

Summer Art Residency
Grades 9-12

High school artists will earn college credit for doing what they love! The University of Iowa houses a nationally ranked School of Art. Our talented faculty have been teaching art online all year long, and they know how to do it right! Students will receive 2 semester hours of graded University of Iowa credit. This will appear on an official university transcript that they can add to their college applications!

Summer Writing Residency
Grades 9-12

High school students will have the unique opportunity to work with world-class writing faculty from the University of Iowa – better known as the Writing University and home to the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop and landmark Prairie Lights bookstore. Students will receive 2 semester hours of graded University of Iowa credit. This will appear on an official university transcript that they can add to their college applications!

Workshop for Young Writers 
Grades 6-8

Middle school students will meet classmates from across the country and passionate instructors from the “Writing University” to help build a writing community. Accepted students can look forward to developing their writing skills, workshopping their pieces among peers, and expanding their creative abilities.

Belin-Blank Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Thank you to Bethany Erickson for this guest post about her experience at last month’s Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice Exceptionality. If you would like access to the recorded event, register by July 1 at belinblank.org/summit.


After attending the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, I am in awe and inspired.

I am in awe of the professionals who spoke: their expertise, experience, research and heart that came through their presentations. As a classroom teacher, I didn’t really know anything about neuroscience before this summit. Now, I wonder how can teachers be teachers without knowing more about how the brain works and learns.

The adage that ‘you don’t know how much you don’t know’ comes to mind. While learning from the presenters, three themes stood out to me over the course of the two days of lectures: the need for more collaboration, more research and more awareness to benefit twice-exceptional learners at all ages.  

Collaboration came up in almost every session.

So many of the presenters graciously gave credit to their teams and showed gratitude for the work they are able to do together. Parents talked about collaborating with educators. Students talked about the help they needed and received from their parents, medical professionals, and educators. Educators that work at the Belin-Blank Center, spoke to the importance of effectively communicating with each other as colleagues but also with parents and patients.

I was struck by several things during the student panel.

One student seemed to have had appropriate supports and interventions early on to help him cope with and understand his diagnosis. Another student didn’t find out about Autism Spectrum Disorder until later and had a harder path with fewer and later support services. Even so, both have found success and a way to overcome their difficulties by using their strengths and talents, which was another clear message from many sessions.  

I was impressed with how much these students could bravely tell us and it reminded me of the importance of knowing each individual.

I will be working with high school students for the first time next school year, and hearing the student panel reminds me that they are just looking for someone to listen and see them as a person, not just their diagnosis.

Another lesson on the importance of collaboration came from the parent panel.

The three moms on the panel gave such heartfelt and honest advice that I, as a teacher, will not forget. I wish more teachers could hear their stories. It stuck with me when they agreed that some of their most helpful teachers were the ones who admitted to not knowing about twice-exceptionality (2e), but being willing to learn along side them and see their child for more than just their behaviors or diagnosis.

I was so moved by the mom who explained what it felt like to drop off her son at a Belin-Blank Center summer program, and how it felt for her to know, for the first time, that he would be okay there without her because of the supports in place.

It made me think how much more school systems need to do for 2e students and parents to make school a safe place for them as well. A safe place where they can trust educators to be accepting of their talents and their challenges.

For students and parents to find schools as a welcoming and supportive environment for twice-exceptional students, teachers need to be made aware of 2e characteristics, talents, needs and challenges. It came up in the parent and student panel that they wished more people knew 2e students existed. As a teacher looking back, I can now think of several former students that were likely twice-exceptional, but I didn’t have the knowledge or resources at the time to help them.

This summit has given me an awareness that I am so grateful for.

The need to bring awareness to educators was mentioned in the student and parent panels. It was interesting to hear from the two teachers who were on the parent panel, as they shared how much they didn’t know as teachers until experiencing 2e as a parent. I wonder how many behavior issues could be prevented or diminished by addressing the needs of the students that are not being met due to undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders.

Before the summit, I was aware that students could have multiple diagnosed disabilities, but I didn’t know the symptoms, characteristics, talents and challenges. 

The research shared during the summit was so above and beyond what I expected.

An abundance of statistics, charts, graphs, and studies that all represent individual people and families, as one presenter pointed out.  Even in the midst of so much research, the case was continually made for how much more research is needed, all the things scientists still don’t know and want to know in order to better serve and accommodate for neurodiverse learners.

I was moved by how many presenters shared stories of their own children who have been diagnosed as twice-exceptional, and how that personal connection motivates their work.  

As I evaluate how this summit will affect my role as an educator, I hope it is by improving my collaboration with others – parents, students, colleagues, medical professionals, etc. I also hope it will affect my role as a talented and gifted teacher by granting me an awareness to help me see students that may need special education and gifted education services. Or notice characteristics of students that may come from having an indivisible disability and helping them to feel seen.

Experiencing this summit will help me bring an awareness back to my coworkers of what twice exceptionality is and how we can work together to find ways to support those learners and their families.

Research Study for Academically Talented Students

We understand that COVID-19 has affected everyone in many ways, and that, particularly as a family with a gifted and talented child, things may have changed dramatically for you over recent months. The Belin-Blank Center is conducting a research study to assess how COVID-19 is affecting families. We would like you and your child to participate in the study by completing this electronic survey. If you have more than one child, please make sure to select a child who is at least in 6th grade and if you still have more than one, please take the survey once for each child. 

Sharing your experiences, both negative and positive, will equip us with information that can help us be more efficient and effective in preparing and allocating future resources that can help families like yours. The survey will take about 5 to 10 minutes for you and about 15 minutes for your child to complete. It is completely voluntary. Your identity or any other identifying information will not be linked to the survey. Whether or not you participate in this survey will have no bearing on your standing with any of our programs.

SURVEY LINK: https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3qNkTWbi8XPmA5f

We encourage you to consider sharing your experiences through this survey. We are so proud of all the ways that we have seen families respond with resilience and adaptiveness to the challenges of this pandemic. And, as always, if there are ways that we can help support you during this time, please let us know by reaching out to us.

Thank you, and stay well.

Brandon LeBeau

Belin-Blank Center

Social Skills Group for Adolescents

Our colleagues at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital Center for Disabilities and Development are starting a social skills program for adolescents with high functioning autism.

This 14-week intervention aims to assist teens (and their parents) who are interested in learning new ways of making and keeping friends.

If you are interested in participating, check out the information below and contact Matt Kressin at 319-353-6140 or matthew-kressin@uiowa.edu.

Message from the Director: Blue Sky Beyond

Susan Assouline

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

“Even when the sky is filled with clouds, the sun still shines above.”

Janet Donaghy

This sentiment strikes me as an apt description of our personal and professional lives during the past year.

We experienced literal clouds with the August 2020 derecho. We saw the figurative dark clouds of social injustice through systemic racism and health and economic disparities.  Yet, our university’s campus leadership steered our students, faculty, and staff through the clouds of the past year.

Through it all, they never lost sight of the notion that the sun still shone above.

We discovered not only blue sky beyond the clouds of lockdown but many silver linings.

We stayed connected through Zoom meetings. We stepped up with creativity and resiliency to convert our on-site services and programming to online opportunities. We collaborated to create new, innovative programs and services.

Last April, it seemed daunting to sustain our mission without one of our most visible services: summer student programs.  Yet, our team of creative and dedicated professionals committed to providing students the specialized programming for which the Belin-Blank Center is known.

The student programming team re-imagined opportunities for K-12 students, which have been available throughout this past year. To do our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, we have moved our signature high-school residential programs online this summer. While a bit different from our traditional on-campus experiences, our team has worked hard to create impactful programming that students will remember for a lifetime.

Our excellent Assessment and Counseling Clinic professionals continued to see clients through telehealth technology.

As soon as they were able, with appropriate safety protocols in place, they resumed in-person assessments and have been conducting these for nearly a year.  We have even added new services and hired two new licensed psychologists, Dr. Amanda Berns and Dr. Katie Schabilion.

Professional learning opportunities had already transitioned to online learning over the past several years and were well-positioned to continue. In addition to the many courses and workshops planned, we will host an online Advanced Placement Summer Institute. Additionally, individuals attending the upcoming Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality can earn a semester hour of credit for the course associated with it.

By being online, the Summit will share crucial research with many more people throughout the world. Because we will record each presentation, a broader group of people will have access to the knowledge for a longer time.

Photo by Sunsetoned on Pexels.com

During this year of unprecedented challenges, UI President Bruce Harreld and his leadership team demonstrated excellent governance. The College of Education (our academic home) also offered significant leadership during the pandemic.

President Harreld’s service to the campus and the state gained admiration because he fostered transparency and shared governance. People appreciated his service as a staunch supporter of public universities, recognizing their importance at both a state and national level. President Harreld has served our campus for five years. When he announced last fall that he planned to retire, new clouds of uncertainty about the future appeared on the horizon.

Now those clouds have dissipated.

The University of Iowa expects to announce its 22nd President later today (update). We are looking forward to working with new leadership to move into the future. We also wish President Harreld and his wife, Mary, the best as they embark on this next phase of their lives.

Today, the sky is blue.

Opportunities for students, educators, and families seem unlimited.  We know there will be clouds again, but we will find new opportunities to be supportive and collaborative when they appear.

We will remember that there are silver linings and blue sky beyond.

Mark Your Calendars for Summer!

Summer means sun, fun, and summer programs at the Belin-Blank Center! Check out our many classes and events for educators, students, families, and gifted education researchers.

FOR EDUCATORS

Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:

  • Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality
    • May 17 – 18, 2021
  • Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted: Neuroscience of Twice Exceptionality
    • May 20 – June 10, 2021
  • Math Programming for High Ability Students
    • May 25 – June 14, 2021
  • Counseling and Psychological Needs of the Gifted
    • June 7 – 25, 2021
  • Reading for High Ability Students
    • June 14 – July 2, 2021
  • Academic Acceleration
    • June 14 – August 6, 2021
  • Belin Fellowship
    • June 21 – 25, 2021
  • AP Summer Institute (online); credit option will be available
    • June 28 – July 2, 2021
  • Teacher Training for Advanced Placement Courses
    • July 1 – 22, 2021
  • Family Issues in Giftedness (Chautauqua)
    • July 5 – 23, 2021
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level
    • July 6 – 26, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics”
    • July 7 – 27, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Serving Visual/Spatial Learners in Gifted Ed”
    • July 9 – 29, 2021
  • Creativity: Issues and Applications in Gifted Education (Chautauqua)
    • July 12 – 30, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week I
    • July 12 – 16, 2021
  • Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Real World Problem Solving
    • July 14 – August 3, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week II
    • July 19 – 23, 2021

FOR RESEARCHERS

FOR STUDENTS & FAMILIES

Professional Learning in Summer 2021

Author Jenny Han said, “Everything good, everything magical, happens between the months of June and August.”

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

We have plenty of courses available for anyone working toward the 12 required hours for the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement.

We do begin in May, with two wonderful workshops. Teachers can earn academic credit with a 50% tuition scholarship* at our Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (PSQF:4128). We are also offering Math for High Ability Learners (EDTL:4022). After that, we packed the summer months with classes that will increase your understanding of giftedness.

Join us for the magical professional learning opportunities this summer!

Serving Underrepresented Students

Gifted education programs focus on ways to identify and serve underrepresented gifted learners.

In June, we offer a book study about Excellence Gaps in Education (Plucker & Peters, 2016). This class focuses on strategies we can use to eliminate achievement gaps among the highest-performing students (EDTL:4096:0WKD).

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua, taking place online this summer, will also address the needs of these students. We are offering two new classes about meeting the needs of a broader range of gifted learners. Talent Development: Arts, Academics, and Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB) focuses on preparation for gifted performers. Serving Visual/Spatial Learners discusses ways to identify talent beyond mathematical and English/Language Arts abilities.

Belin-Blank Chautauqua

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua offers six classes in a fast-paced (accelerated) format. (Learn more about acceleration in Academic Acceleration (PSQF:4123:0EXW), a three-semester-hour class offered from June 14 – August 5.) The first two days of each Chautauqua class include time for participants to get to know each other on Zoom. Each class lasts for three weeks.

Chautauqua Week 1 includes:

  • Family Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4119)
    • Jul 5, 6 – 23 (Psychology strand)
  • Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB)
    • Jul 7, 8 – 27 (Programming)
  • Serving Visual/Spatial Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKC)
    • Jul 9, 10 – 29 (Programming)

Chautauqua Week 2 includes:

  • Creativity (RCE:4129)
    • Jul 12, 13 – 30 (Psychology)
  • Programming: Facilitating Student Research Projects (EDTL:4073:0WKA)
    • Jul 14, 15 – Aug 3 (Programming)
  • Evaluation of Gifted Programs (EPLS:4111)
    • Jul 16, 17 – Aug 5 (Administrative)

Scholarships for the cost of one class are available to those who enroll in three classes in either week. Those who take all six classes over the two weeks receive a full scholarship for the cost of one class each week*.

Online and Asynchronous Classes

Our online classes offer educators many options for better understanding their gifted and talented students. These classes take place over three weeks, but they have no scheduled synchronous meetings. These are designed to help you with your hectic schedule!

June

  • Counseling / Psychological Needs (RCE:4125)
    • Jun 7 – 25 (Psychology strand)
  • Reading for High Ability Students (EDTL:4026)
    • Jun 14 – Jul 2 (Programming)
  • Academic Acceleration (PSQF:4123:0EXW)
    • June 14 – Aug 5 (3 semester hours: 1 in Psychology, 1 in Programming, 1 in Administrative)
  • Topics: Excellence Gaps (EDTL:4096:0WKD)
    • Jun 22 – Jul 12

July

  • Advanced Placement credit for those participating in the University of Iowa Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI, formerly APTTI) :
    • (2 s.h., EDTL:5080)*
    • Jul 1 – 22 (Programming)
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level (EDTL:4074)*
    • Jul 6 – 26 (Programming)
  • Leadership Skills for G/T Students, K-12 (EDTL:4029)
    • Jul 13 – Aug 2 (Programming)
  • Current Readings/Research in Gifted (EDTL:4085)
    • Jul 20 – Aug 6 (strand determined by readings)

Practicum

Those earning the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement must have at least one semester hour (s.h.) in each of the four strands (Psychology, Programming, Administrative Issues, and practicum). Workshops vary over the two years teachers can use to complete their endorsements. We offer practicum every semester (EDTL:4189 for one s.h. and EDTL:4188:0EXW for two or three semester hours).

Registration

To take part in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student. For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status. If you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars. Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest or benefit you. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg. All our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Questions? Email educators@belinblank.org!


*Classes with an asterisk provide an automatic scholarship for those registered as graduate students.

National Center for Research on Gifted Education Surveys on Acceleration

Our colleagues at the National Center for Research on Gifted Education are providing an opportunity for teachers to be involved in research on academic acceleration. Parents/Caregivers are invited to participate in a separate survey about their child’s school experience.  

Please see the official announcements below: 

Teachers

Are you an elementary teacher (K-6)? If so, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education is looking for educators like you to complete a survey on teachers’ perceptions about acceleration. The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. The survey is anonymous and will help us better understand what factors related to acceleration are important to teachers. For more information visit ncrge.uconn.edu/teacher-survey.

Parents/Caregiver

Are you the parent/caregiver of a child in 2nd – 5th grade? If so, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education is looking for people like you to complete a survey on parent perceptions of their child’s school experience. The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and will ask you questions about your perceptions of your child’s academic challenge, academic success, academic placement, and social well-being. The survey is anonymous; however, at the end of the survey you will have an opportunity to have your child complete a related survey on their attitude toward school (this is optional). If you elect to have your child complete a short survey about their attitudes towards school, you will be asked for an email where we can send the link for your child’s survey. For more information visit ncrge.uconn.edu/parent-survey.

Congratulations to Dr. Katie Schabilion!

We are proud to share that our Assessment and Counseling Clinic’s Dr. Katie Schabilion has successfully completed her postdoctoral training and is now a Licensed Psychologist and Health Service provider in Iowa! 

Dr. Katie Schabilion is an Iowa native who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Education Specialist in School Psychology, and Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology from the University of Iowa. During her graduate training, Dr. Schabilion gained experience supporting students through their school districts, outpatient assessment clinics at the University of Iowa Center for Disabilities and Development, and the Grant Wood AEA Early ACCESS Autism Resource Team.

portrait of Dr. Katie Schabilion
Dr. Katie Schabilion, Licensed Psychologist

Dr. Schabilion completed a practicum experience at the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic and spent 5 years as a graduate assistant at the Belin-Blank Center in various roles. She worked with the Acceleration Institute, provided administrative support during the publication of A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, assisted students and teachers involved in the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA), and served as a graduate teaching assistant with Belin-Blank Center Director Dr. Susan Assouline.

Dr. Schabilion completed her predoctoral internship at the Avondale Elementary School District in Avondale, Arizona, before returning to Iowa and the Belin-Blank Center to complete her dissertation investigating factors related to diagnosis of specific learning disorder in writing among high ability students. She remained on staff at the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic as a postdoctoral scholar, providing clinical assessment and counseling services to gifted and twice-exceptional students and supporting the Center’s twice-exceptional research agenda. Dr. Schabilion is excited to continue conducting twice-exceptional evaluations and providing counseling services in her new role as a Licensed Psychologist. She is also involved in Belin-Blank Center events such as the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality.

Congratulations, Dr. Schabilion!

Career Assessment Services at the ACC

The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic offers a range of assessment and therapy services to help high ability and twice-exceptional students access opportunities and achieve their goals. Our career assessments are a useful tool in helping an individual explore their interests, abilities, personality characteristics, and personal values to assist in exploring potential careers.

You may wish to consider our career assessment if your child is:

  • Overwhelmed by the possibilities of the next stage of life and desires guidance to narrow the options.
  • Looking for information about the suitability of different career paths based on individual factors like interests and personality factors.
  • Seeking greater self-understanding but do not have a need for a comprehensive educational or diagnostic evaluation.
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

During a career assessment at the Belin-Blank Center, a student would participate in a brief interview with our counseling staff. Afterward, the student would complete computerized and paper-and-pencil rating scales to provide information relevant in making career choices. Our psychologists would then discuss the results and their implications with the student. Following the assessment, the student and their parents are provided with a report detailing the results and our recommendations.

The cost of a career assessment is $250. Because career evaluations are not medical in nature, fees for these services cannot be submitted to insurance for reimbursement.

In addition to career assessments, available clinic services include educational evaluations (to assist with academic planning), twice-exceptional evaluations (for psychological diagnosis), and therapy with licensed psychologists or trainees.

Could a career assessment be beneficial for your child? You can request an appointment through our online intake form.

Strength-Based, Talent Focused Learning

Thank you to Marcy Dann, M.A. for writing this guest post!


Families who have been provided with assessment services at the BBC in the past year may also be interested in a supplemental service that is being offered temporarily at a reduced rate through the Bridges 2e Center, where the motto is “Educating the Exceptional”.

The Suite of Tools™ is an assessment process to discover, organize, analyze and prioritize information for strength-based, talent focused learning. The evidence-based tools that are used have been refined at Bridges Academy, an independent school for the twice exceptional student population. These tools can lead to big changes in motivation and achievement.

The process involves having the child complete My LearningPrint™ and the Quick Personality Indicator (QPI™).  A team meeting, moderated by Marcy Dann, is held online with the parents to explore the results of their child’s Belin-Blank Center psychoeducational assessment. The meeting will include an in-depth discussion about the child’s strengths, talents and interests.

Parents will also receive a summary report with a personalized talent plan to supplement a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, folder and/or recent Belin-Blank Center evaluation. The report will include insights into when and how a particular student performs optimally, challenges to address, essential elements for learning, and the environmental conditions conducive to his or her development.

For more information, please contact Dr. Doobay at alissa-doobay@uiowa.edu.

Marcy Dann, M.A.

Marcy Dann, M.A. is a board-certified educational therapist who has been in clinical practice for over 35 years using a strength-based approach with school aged clients and their families and is a consultant at Bridges Academy, a school for twice-exceptional students in Los Angeles, California.  She relies on the parents’ perspectives when listening carefully to the vignettes they share about their child. She recognizes the academic, cognitive, social-emotional, creative and physical issues that must be addressed for students to access the curriculum and to show what they’ve learned in school and at home. Dann is currently collaborating with the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic (BBC) by providing strength-based assessments.

Congratulations to the 2021 Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Winners!

In March, the Belin-Blank Center hosted students from across the state to compete at the premier high school science competition in Iowa, the 2021 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). Students competed for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of original research projects.

A panel of experts judged 10 impressive oral presentations, and the finalists were: 

  • 1st place: Meena Ramadugu (John F Kennedy High School) — “Comparison of nickel chelator to current standard triple antibiotic therapy to treat Helicobacter pylori infection” 
  • 2nd place: Kayla Livesay (Van Buren High School) — “Analyzing the effectiveness of nutrient placement on crop production and soil fertility: A study of the law of limiting factors” 
  • 3rd place: Shreya Khullar (Iowa City West High School) — “Dendrochronological data analysis to measure climate sensitivity and to develop climate reconstructions”  
  • 4th place: Claire Gu (Valley High School) — “Predicting harmful algal blooms in Iowa’s green valley lake using a machine learning model”  
  • 5th place: Karshana Kalyanaraman (Johnston Senior High School) — “Novel miRNA and gene enrichment associated with cardiac function in athletes”

In addition to scholarships, these five students qualified to compete at the 59th Annual National JSHS in mid-April. 

Approximately 160 high school students from all over the world attended the National JSHS to compete for scholarships and recognition in the fields of environmental science; life sciences; biomedical, cellular and molecular sciences; medicinal, behavioral and health sciences; engineering; mathematics and computer science; physics; and chemistry and material sciences. 

For the fourth consecutive year, Iowa regional finalists placed at the national competition! Kayla Livesay (Van Buren) and Meena Ramadugu (Cedar Rapids) both took home 3rd place in their respective divisions of the prestigious oral presentation competition, along with $4,000 scholarships.

This year marks the first time two Iowa regional finalists placed at National JSHS! It is also the first year an Iowa finalist has placed at National JSHS for a second time.

In 2019, Kayla earned third place in the Life Science division of the poster competition for her project, “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III.” This year, Kayla earned third place in the Environmental division of the oral presentation competition.

Congratulations to all who participated in both the Iowa Regional and National Junior Science and Humanities Symposia! For more information on getting started with student research or the JSHS program, visit: 

Transition Planning for Grade-Skipping

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

An important part of the discussion concerning skipping a grade includes considering how the transition to acceleration might occur. Grade-skipping happens after careful discussion and planning, with contributions from a team that includes teachers, administrators, and parents. These team members play an important role in developing the transition plan.

Some schools have a formal transition plan document that the team completes as part of the discussion.  If there is not a specific form to complete, below is a list of items that can be included in the transition planning discussion.

  • Answering the receiving teacher’s questions. This teacher might be uncertain about how to support the accelerated student, if the teacher has no previous experience with grade-skipping. The student’s current teacher might meet with the receiving teacher to make suggestions about ways to support the student, specific strengths, concerns the student has, etc.
  • Opportunities for the student to visit the new classroom and meet the new teacher before the acceleration occurs.
  • Other transition activities might include a tour of the school (if the student will move to a new building), learning about the cafeteria system, learning how to use a locker, and other activities that might help the student to become more comfortable in the new environment.
  • Support for the student, and a go-to person (such as the school counselor) if the student wants to chat about any concerns.
  • Identifying and filling in any academic gaps. Diagnostic testing will help to document gaps. The student might need time to meet individually with a teacher to learn new content, have questions answered, and clear up any misunderstandings about the content. It should be noted that the beginning of the school year is often a time for review for all students, and this review period will also help fill in the student’s gaps, if the acceleration will occur early in the year.
  • Trial period. Educators often plan for a trial period of 4 to 6 weeks before the decision to skip a grade is finalized. This amount of time allows the student to adjust to new routines and the new level of challenge. It is common for a student to feel somewhat overwhelmed or discouraged at first. Those feelings are normal.
  • Regular check-ins with the student. These might occur weekly or even daily at first.
  • Regular communication with the family.
  • Someone specifically assigned to monitor the transition. This is often the person who facilitated the team meeting in which the grade-skipping decision was made. This individual would be responsible for any follow-up and check-ins with the student as well as others who need to be made aware of the student’s progress and the success of the acceleration.
  • After the student has moved into the new grade, it will be helpful for the student and parents to meet with the school counselor to discuss the acceleration as well as how it might have an impact on course scheduling now and in the future.
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

Indicators of a successful acceleration include:

  • The student is motivated and enthusiastic about the acceleration and is challenged (but not overly frustrated) by the new academic work.
  • The student makes new friends but keeps old friends.
  • The student has a positive attitude about school.

Ohio provides examples of Written Transition Plans that help you to consider factors to include in the transition plan. Michigan also provides some guidance about the transition to acceleration.

You might be interested in learning more about the recently-launched online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

Interested in learning even more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 14-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

We would like to thank Wendy Behrens and Dr. Randy Lange for helpful discussions contributing to this article.

Introducing the Integrated Acceleration System

We are excited to announce the launch of the Integrated Acceleration System!

Making decisions about whether to accelerate a student can seem intimidating. We can help. 

The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that integrates all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a complete, multi-page report that offers an evidence-based recommendation, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the students’ academic needs. 

What do educators say? 

“The Integrated Acceleration System is exactly the tool all districts need to do the right thing for a student. I found it to be comprehensive and easy to use. Once our team experienced the depth of data included in the Integrated Acceleration System, they felt comfortable in the process to determine the appropriateness of a grade skip…. An excellent tool!”

Dr. Randy Lange, Talent Development Services Program Coordinator at LaGrange District 102, Illinois  

We’re celebrating with introductory pricing!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System for $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. This introductory pricing ends with the 2020-21 academic year, so reserve yours today!

Congratulations, Invent Iowa Winners!

On April 19, the Belin-Blank Center announced the 2021 Invent Iowa State Invention Convention winners who will advance onto the National Invention Convention. Young inventors from schools across Iowa submitted their inventions to the state competition. We were impressed to see so many creative inventions to everyday problems!

Winners qualified to compete at the virtual National Invention Convention. The Belin-Blank Center awarded the top 5 inventions with all expenses paid to advance to the next level of competition. Check out this Google Earth tour of the winning inventions!

Congratulations to our 2021 Winners:

1st place: The B.O.S.S. (The Beneficial On-Site Skin Scanner) by Charles Smith from Ottumwa

Firefighters have a higher risk of cancer because they are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals in fires.  There is not an on-site method to locate the toxins on the skin, which greatly increases their cancer risk.  The B.O.S.S. (The Beneficial On-Site Skin Scanner) is a dermal scanner that will allow firefighters to locate the carcinogenic chemicals quickly, enabling them to remove the toxins while on-site.  This helps decrease the chemical absorption through their skin, which would reduce their cancer risk and could save lives.

2nd place: SSS (Smart Sensing System) by Sujan Vijayraj Shadrak from Marion

The SSS is a system that can be used in an automatic sliding door. The SSS runs through a Rasberry pi 4 and is coded in NODERED. The SSS will use Artificial Intelligence and human image detection to first take a picture of the person standing outside, then process it, and if the picture resembles a human the door will open. This invention will prevent animals from entering public places and can also act as a filter by tracking who enters and leaves the area. We have made the SSS prototype along with a visual example of a sliding door.

3rd place: Ring Around the Dog Collar by Carolyne Jorgenson from Treynor

Leather dog collar that has multiple D-rings for easier leash attachment.

4th place: Aqua Cleaner by Manasvi Devi Reddy from Marion

It solves the problem of oil spills making the oceans and rivers clean. This in turn helps the ecosystem.

5th place: Reptile Pedicure by Mason Smith from Dyersville

The purpose of the Reptile Pedicure is to make it easier to get the toe shed off your reptile’s toes.  This allows your reptile to be comfortable during the process and the owner to have more control.  Those that own reptiles know that the shed on the toes is the hardest for the reptile to get off on their own.  This results in deformities and their toes to fall off.  It also changes their walking pattern.

Finally, we want to say a big thank you to our generous sponsor McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. Congratulations to all who competed, and keep inventing, Iowa!

Registration Open for AP® Summer Institute

Registration is now open for the University of Iowa’s AP® Summer Institute (APSI), hosted by the Belin-Blank Center! APSI will take place online from June 28 – July 2, 2021.

“Even if you are not going to teach an AP® class, the content and methods from the APSI at the Belin-Blank Center open up a myriad of teaching possibilities. I admit it—I was so energized about content after attending APSI!!”

-Jill Schany, APSI participant from Emmetsburg High School

APSI workshops offer online professional learning for these AP® courses:

  • Calculus AB
  • Computer Science Principles
  • English Language and Composition
  • English Literature and Composition
  • Human Geography
  • Physics 1
  • Psychology
  • Spanish Language
  • Statistics
  • US Government & Politics
  • US History
  • World History
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

AP® courses introduce high school students to academically challenging material and offer a chance to earn college credit by taking AP® exams. APSI prepares teachers to develop and teach an AP® course.

College Board-endorsed AP® consultants instruct each workshop. APSI participants will discuss questions about AP® subject-area content and receive an overview of the Advanced Placement program®. They will also learn how to complete the College Board’s required AP® Course Audit. 

Participants can also earn academic credit (with a 50% scholarship!) or Iowa Licensure Renewal Units for successful completion of an APSI workshop. Grants of $450 are available to Iowa teachers through the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA).  

Click below to learn more or register today!

IOAPA Registration is Open for Fall 2021

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) offers Iowa students free access to online advanced course offerings for students who would otherwise be unable to find these courses offered in their school district.

Additionally, the Belin-Blank Center provides AP exam scholarships to eligible IOAPA students each semester, in an effort to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa.

IOAPA registration for Fall 2021 classes is now open! This includes full-year courses, as well as one-semester fall courses. Registration for Spring 2022 one-semester courses will open in November.

Visit our website for a wealth of helpful information, including our course catalog, important dates, registration, and information about getting started along with support materials designed to help you and your student make decisions about course selection.

COURSES OFFERED

  • 15 AP courses are available to high school students. 
  • 14 courses are available to middle school students. These courses are designed for high school students and made available to students in grades 6-8. While not yet required, we still recommend above-level testing as the best method in identifying students for advanced coursework. When in doubt, you can also review our guidelines here.

Course descriptions and syllabi for each course can be located by clicking “Learn More” on the course’s entry in our Course Catalog.

REGISTRATION DETAILS

To begin, visit our website (belinblank.org/ioapa) and review the Getting Started information. When you are ready to register, navigate back to belinblank.org/ioapa and click Register.

Step-by-step course registration instructions are included below:

  • Register your school and assign a site coordinator and mentor. The first step is for principals to register their schools. They can do that on our website (belinblank.org/ioapa) by clicking on Register. As part of this step, schools assign a site coordinator and a mentor. They can be the same person or different people; however, the mentor needs to be a certified teacher at the school.
  • Nominate the student(s) taking IOAPA course(s). Completing the school registration page sends the principal an automated email with a link in it to nominate the student. The principal either needs to complete the nomination or forward the link to the site coordinator or mentor to complete.
  • Confirm that student has self-enrolled in the course. Once the student has been nominated, an email will be automatically sent to the student to enroll himself/herself in the actual course. Be sure to have students check their junk mail folders, as the automated emails sometimes get filtered there. Students should complete this process and be sure to click submit when they’re done.

After registering, be sure to complete any College Board requirements for offering AP courses:

  • Register your school with the College Board.
  • Complete the AP Course Audit process for Online/Distance Learning courses by the end of January in order to be able to label courses as “AP” on students’ transcripts.
  • Encourage high school students to take the AP exam, and order all AP exams by the College Board’s deadline.

As always, please feel free to reach out to us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions or concerns.

Apply for the Belin-Blank Fellowship in Gifted Education

This summer, the 41st Belin-Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education will be a virtual event.  Launched in 1981, the Fellowship is one of the oldest professional leadership programs in the United States, and the Belin-Blank Center welcomes teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, and administrators to apply.  Because the Fellowship is virtual, educators who would find travel to Iowa difficult can dedicate the time for this program from their home computers.

More than ever, all educators need to know more about the unique needs of gifted and talented students—and about how to meet those needs—because of today’s ever greater challenges.  This professional learning opportunity facilitates professional understanding about best practices in serving advanced learners, including those who traditionally have been overlooked for gifted programs. Participants will interact virtually with others who have a commitment to understanding more about research-based strategies that promote authentic talent development among your school’s most capable students.   

Participants will need to be fully present throughout the week because the presentations, activities, and extended discussions will inspire your thoughtful engagement with new ideas and approaches.  For an overview of the program, please download a brochure (safe to open). Educators should review the program at belinblank.org/fellowship and apply online.  Selection of the 12 Belin-Blank Fellows will be based on a review of applications, as well as a review of the statements of support from administrators (also completed online).  

This unique Fellowship was originally designed for the general education teacher—the individual who spends the greatest amount of classroom time with gifted and talented learners. In recent years, we also have welcomed teacher leaders, school counselors, school psychologists, and administrators, knowing they work closely with teachers to ensure best practices for all students. 

An endowment covers the cost of opportunities to interact with nationally recognized experts in gifted education; it will also cover other costs associated with the program, including access to the online University library and a 50% tuition scholarship for two semester hours of credit (if credit hours would be useful for you). This year, when the program is a virtual one, we are waiving the request that the district support its participant(s) through a payment of a $250 resource fee.  You will leave the program with extensive resources that will enrich you and your district.

Please share this information about the Fellowship with those in your building. Encourage general education teachers, school counselors and psychologists, and administrators to apply online. Each applicant is responsible for completing the application process by April 15; must ask for a brief statement of support from you, the Superintendent, or another district administrator, also submitted online by April 15.

All of us at the Belin-Blank Center are confident this summer will continue a tradition that prompted one participant to relate:

“This is a game changer for me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

If you have any questions about the Fellowship or the application process, please contact Dr. Laurie Croft, Associate Director for Professional Development at educators@belinblank.org or 319-335-6148. We look forward to having an educator you know join us this summer!

Research Opportunity for Autism Study – Recruiting Participants with and without Autism

Our friends in the Kliemann Lab are currently recruiting participants for a research study on autism. Please consider reaching out if you are interested! Details below.


Researchers in the Kliemann Lab of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at the University of Iowa are currently inviting participants for a study investigating social behavior in individuals with and without autism. You may be eligible if you:

  1. Are between 18 – 50 years old.
  2. Are fluent in English.

For interested participants with autism, you may be eligible if you fill the above criteria and you:

  1. Have been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

This study consists of completing one or more of our ongoing experiments in this study. These range from simple behavioral tasks, to measuring where participants look at during a task using noninvasive eye-tracking, to questionnaires assessing social behavior, to a research brain scan.

The specific parts (behavioral, eye tracking, and/or MRI) you participate in will depend on the current needs of the study, your eligibility for each procedure, and your desire to participate in each procedure. You may choose to participate in one, multiple, or none of these procedures upon our further correspondence and confirmation of your eligibility. These procedures will take between 1-3hours each and can be spread over multiple days.

Participants receive a compensation amount of $10 to $15 per hour depending on which procedures you are eligible for and choose to participate in.

If you are interested in participating, please email our lab at PBS-kliemann-lab@uiowa.edu, or call us at 319-467-3161.

Conversations on Autism Diagnosis and Assessment

Written by Dr. Alissa Doobay, Supervisor for Psychological Services at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic.


Last fall, I received an email from Emily Kircher-Morris asking if I would be interested in recording a podcast. Emily is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Missouri. She is perhaps best known as the host of the thought-provoking and informative Neurodiversity Podcast (previously called Mind Matters Podcast). Her podcast focuses on the development of gifted and twice-exceptional (2e) people throughout the lifespan. 

I always feel more comfortable expressing myself with a keyboard than a microphone. Still, I felt deeply honored by Emily’s interest in my work. I quickly grew excited for the opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic resource for families. A few short weeks later, I found myself chatting easily with Emily over Zoom while sitting in a very professional-looking recording studio, courtesy of the University of Iowa.

Emily asked that I present on the topic of autism assessment in the twice-exceptional population. We discussed the obstacles families face in getting gifted children evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We also talked about differences in the presentation of ASD symptoms in the high-ability population, ASD in high-ability girls, and advice for parents seeking an assessment for their child. The information I share on the podcast comes from my 15 years of research and direct clinical work with 2e learners and neurodiverse students at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic

My experiences at the Belin-Blank Center –first as a student, later as a licensed psychologist, and now as the supervisor of psychological services–shaped my current knowledge and expertise. I am exceedingly grateful to the families with whom I have worked over the years who have shared their stories and were willing to put their confidence and trust in me. I am continually awed by the kindness, tenacity, bravery, and resilience of these families. All of them share a goal of improving understanding, services, and support for their loved ones and the broader twice-exceptional community.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to listen to Emily Kircher-Morris’s Neurodiversity Podcast. You won’t be disappointed! If you are interested, you can listen to our discussion on episode 70, “Understanding Autism Diagnosis and Assessment.”

Is Grade-Skipping Right for Your Student?

Making the decision for a student to skip a grade involves several steps. A facilitator leads the process; the facilitator might be a gifted coordinator, teacher, or principal, or another building or district administrator. The facilitator helps the team members to learn about acceleration, gathers appropriate data about the student, and leads the team meeting where grade-skipping is discussed. The facilitator might also be responsible for monitoring the student’s transition to acceleration if the decision is made to skip a grade.

Build the Team. Required team members  include the facilitator, parents, current teacher, and receiving teacher. Other team members might be administrators, additional teachers, school psychologists, counselors, other school support staff, local educational agency staff, or coaches or other adults who know the student well.

Learn About Acceleration. Team members, including the parents, might have questions about the efficacy of acceleration and why it is being considered for the student. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has accumulated documenting that acceleration is an effective intervention for challenging gifted students. A Nation Empowered gathers that research into an accessible format; Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and Volume 2 includes the research supporting this educational option.  The research documents that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not create a negative impact on social/emotional development, which is a frequently mentioned concern.

Gather the Data. Data needed to inform the decision include achievement, aptitude, and ability testing, student behavior, extracurricular activities, social/emotional development, physical development, demographic information, and school history. It is also important to discuss the potential grade skip with the student, answer questions, and discover hesitations or concerns.

The Team Meeting. After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, the team meets to discuss and decide the best option for the student. If the decision is made to accelerate, it is important to develop a transition plan and determine who will be responsible for follow-up with the student, teachers, and family. No matter the decision, changes might be required in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who is not accelerated now might need acceleration a year or more from now. Additionally, acceleration will not solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Students who have already skipped a grade might also benefit from individually paced instruction in a strength area, academic summer programs, concurrent enrollment, additional enrichment in school, and other educational opportunities.

Three Important Reasons Not to Skip a Grade. (1) Students who have a sibling in the next grade or in the current grade are not recommended for a grade skip. Developers of the Integrated Acceleration System highly recommend against acceleration in this case, due to concerns about family dynamics. For example, if a younger student moves into an older student’s grade, the older student might question his or her abilities and performance in school and possibly will resent the younger sibling. If the age of the sibling is an issue, it is important to devise other opportunities to challenge the student, such as subject acceleration, online courses, and enrichment experiences. (2) The overall ability of the student (as measured by an IQ test, such as the Cognitive Abilities Test, Wechsler Intelligences Scales, or Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales) should be at least one standard deviation above average; students with average or below average ability are not likely to be successful if they skip a grade. (3) If the student is not in favor of acceleration, the acceleration will not be successful. The student needs to be committed to the idea of moving ahead. Even if one of these important reasons is present, it is still often helpful to go through a formal discussion process about acceleration; gathering data and meeting with the team will provide opportunities to discuss different options for challenging the student.

Making the Transition to the Next Grade. If the decision is made to grade-skip a student, the next important task is to discuss a transition plan. This might include establishing a trial period, having the student visit the new classroom and meet the teacher, and regular check-in meetings with a school counselor or other adult who will monitor the student during this time. Including the receiving teacher in these discussions is critical, because of this teacher’s important role in making the grade skip work well. It is also important to keep the lines of communication open between the receiving teacher and the family, so both are alerted to issues or concerns early.

All of the factors discussed above (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). The Belin-Blank Center anticipates launching the Integrated Acceleration System in mid-April.

Interested in learning more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 14-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Need a Spring Break?

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To Test or Not to Test: Is That the Question?

Written by Dr. Susan Assouline, Director of the Belin-Blank Center

Susan Assouline

We sometimes hear from parents, educators, and students who question the value of standardized tests, particularly as colleges and universities suspend testing requirements due to the pandemic. While there are valid concerns among these questions, I propose that test bias, rather than the value of testing itself, represents the more relevant question.

Test bias is an important topic that merits more significant discussion than is possible in this short blog post. Nevertheless, it’s important to offer guidance on such a complex issue because the many ways we discover talented students include standardized testing.

The test-development industry, state and federal courts, and higher education institutions have considered the complex topic of test bias for several decades. Early in the 20th century, tests contained blatant content, cultural, and ethnic bias. However, the field has evolved and established new standards, guidelines, and principles related to assessments. Now, three decades into the 21st century, the simple response to the question, “Are tests biased?” is, “It’s complicated.” 

Today’s standardized testing industry aims to reduce content bias in test items through the test development process. However, there is still the potential for ethnic and cultural bias during the administration and interpretation process. Moreover, our current education system’s inequitable nature means that not all students receive the same opportunities to learn.

Educators’ understanding of issues of equity in assessment is crucial. Educators can choose a test that research supports as equitable. They can administer the tests fairly, interpret results correctly, and provide the supports and challenges that help students learn and grow to the best of their abilities. 

People often make claims of test bias based on how schools have used tests to exclude students from gifted and talented programming. A common practice is to use standardized tests to limit the number of students eligible for specialized programs and services. The Belin-Blank Center takes the opposite approach. We use standardized tests to discover high-potential learners who need growth opportunities. 

The licensed psychologists in the center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic rely on tests to better understand individual students’ unique needs. Two of our grant-funded outreach programs, STEM Excellence and Javits Talent Identification-Career Exploration (TICE), use a standardized test called I-Excel as the first step in providing an academic challenge to traditionally underserved students. Because I-Excel administers 8th-grade content to 4th through 6th graders, it serves as an above-level test. The Belin-Blank Center expanded the guidelines to include more students in the above-level testing process. In this way, we discover a broader pool of middle-school students ready for advanced academic challenges.   

To create best-fit interventions that benefit learners, we must use the appropriate tools. In many cases, this includes standardized testing. However, whenever we use tests, we have an ethical responsibility to recognize the ever-present potential for bias. Thus, it’s complicated.

We use tests because we know they can help us better understand learners’ needs. Still, we also know that test results are only one useful tool in a more extensive toolkit. It is essential for those using the results to interpret and supplement them in a manner that accounts for potential bias.

Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Co-hosted by the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute

May 17-18, 2021
Online

Bridging psychology and neuroscience, the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute will collaborate to bring researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents together to address the current state of research on twice-exceptionality. Part of the purpose of this interdisciplinary summit is to form partnerships with other institutions in furthering twice-exceptional research and best practice.

The summit will take place on Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The event will be completely online and feature a variety of keynotes and breakout sessions delving into recent research’s insights into twice-exceptionality. Registrants will have access to the live sessions, as well as recordings of all presentations after the event.

How to Register

Registration is available now!

If you currently attend or are employed by the University of Iowa, email us at summit@belinblank.org to register for free.

Outside of the UI, standard registration is $145 and non-UI current students may register for $45.

A credit option is available to those who participate in the summit through PSQF:4128:0WKA – Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted Ed: Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (May 20 – June 10). The Belin-Blank Center provides a tuition scholarship equal to 50% of the cost of graduate-level tuition. Whether you choose undergraduate or graduate credit, your tuition for this one semester hour of credit will be $280.). Learn more.

Speakers

We feature speakers sharing research from several different domains, including neuroscience, genetics, gifted education, special education, psychology, and psychiatry.

Belin-Blank Center – Iowa Neuroscience Institute Presenters

Members of the Belin-Blank Center and Iowa Neuroscience Institute collaborative team look forward to sharing their current work with attendees through presentations and panel discussions.

Ted Abel

Edwin G. Abel, Ph.D.

Molecular Mechanisms of Memory Storage

Jake Michaelson

Jake Michaelson, Ph.D.

Genetic Signatures of Twice-Exceptionality

Thomas Nickl-Jockschat, Ph.D.

Disrupted brain growth patterns – a key mechanism underlying autism

Susan G. Assouline, Ph.D., Brandon LeBeau, Ph.D., and Katie Schabilion, Ph.D.

Integration of the Medical Model and Talent Development Model in Understanding 2e Students (Panel)

Alissa Doobay, Ph.D., Megan Foley-Nicpon, Ph.D., Duhita Mahatmya, Ph.D.

From Data to Diagnosis: Complexity of Understanding 2e Students with ASD and Anxiety Disorders (Panel)

Featured University of Iowa Speakers

Lane Strathearn, Ph.D.

Epigenetics and Social Experience in Autism: Discovering Modifiable Pathways for Intervention

Hanna Stevens, Ph.D.

Neurodevelopmental disabilities and striatum: insights from mentoring smart trainees

Dorit Kliemann, Ph.D.

Brain Networks in Autism

Seth King, Ph.D.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Research for Individuals with Multiple Exceptionalities

For a full list of speakers and topics, be sure to check out our webpage. We hope to see you in May!

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Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Using Achievement, Aptitude, and Ability Tests for Acceleration Decisions

Achievement, aptitude, and ability tests:  What do those terms mean, and how are these three types of tests used in academic acceleration decisions?  Since the words can be a bit confusing, let’s take them one step at a time. 

Achievement testing is common in schools. Achievement tests measure the student’s learning in specific content areas in the student’s current grade. They are called “achievement” tests because they were developed to measure past learning. “Standardized” tests are typically developed to measure the progress of groups of students. All students are tested under similar conditions and the test items are from a specific item bank. They differ from teacher-made achievement tests, which are not subject to the rigorous test item development usually seen in standardized testing. Examples of standardized achievement tests are the state tests such as ISASP in Iowa or STAAR in Texas. Other examples of standardized tests include Terra Nova, Stanford Achievement Tests, or Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The Belin-Blank Center highly recommends using the Iowa Assessments (available through Riverside Publishing) if other achievement tests are not already available. For acceleration decisions, we recommend using achievement test data from the past year. Achievement testing is important in acceleration decisions to determine if the student has already mastered the material he or she will be skipping. Frequently, students who are considered for grade-skipping have already scored in the 90th or 95th percentile in many subjects compared to agemates. 

Aptitude testing is important for acceleration discussions because these tests provide information about what a student is ready to learn. Aptitude testing is less dependent on specific content (which is why it is in the center position in the graphic above). General aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability that is unrelated to specific instruction in a school setting. Specific aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability for material in a content area that has not yet been formally presented to the learner. One of the best indicators of a bright student’s aptitude in a specific content area is the student’s performance on an above-level test, a test that was developed for older students. These tests include I-Excel, ACT, SAT, and above-level Iowa Assessments (usually two grade levels above the student’s current grade). For purposes of acceleration decisions, aptitude testing should have been completed within the past two years. Students earning scores in the 50th percentile and above when compared to older students might be considered for acceleration in their strength area. These guidelines are intended to help us predict that the student will continue to be successful in the higher grade if accelerated. 

Ability testing rounds out the trio of types of tests. Ability testing tells us about a student’s potential for success in school. An intelligence test (also known as an IQ test or cognitive ability test) is required for acceleration decisions, especially grade-skipping and early entrance to kindergarten. A group or individual test may be used. Measures of verbal ability are highly correlated with performance in school, so verbal IQ scores are especially useful. Tests include: Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Ability testing should have been administered within the past two years for acceleration decisions. The Belin-Blank Center recommends that students considered for grade-skipping would have scored at least one standard deviation above the mean (average) on a cognitive ability test; in other words, the student scores 115 or higher on an intelligence test that has an average score of 100. In contrast, students earning average cognitive ability test scores are more likely to have their learning needs met with grade-level curriculum and at the same pace as their grade-level peers. 

Data gathered from all three of the above types of tests are important in making acceleration decisions. This objective information helps us to compare students to other bright students and to determine if acceleration is indeed in the best interests of a particular student. Other information is important in the discussion about acceleration, including psychosocial factors, school support, and family support. All of these factors (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). 

Interested in learning more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 7-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Making Research-Backed Educational Placement Decisions During a Pandemic: IOAPA and Other Opportunities

Spring is coming, and that means it’s time to start planning for next year. In a typical year, this is when we would recommend having students participate in above-level testing. Above-level testing helps educators to determine which students might need advanced programming, such as subject acceleration, because it measures students’ aptitudes in specific subjects. Using an objective measure such as an above-level test helps us to make informed decisions. During the challenging year brought upon us by COVID-19, we might have wondered if it was possible to conduct this sort of testing in a school setting. The good news is, yes, it can be done!

Over the last few months, the Belin-Blank Center has assisted numerous educators throughout the country, including in Iowa schools, to conduct above-level testing with their 4th-6th grade students using I-Excel. We require an in-person proctor, so that means testing sessions have had fewer students spread apart in a classroom with other appropriate safety precautions in place. When considering your options for testing, please make sure to consult local and national public health guidance. Schools that typically test large numbers of students have provided the testing in several different sessions, so there were fewer students in each group. Schools have then been able to use the test results to inform decisions about placing students in advanced programing, such as IOAPA.

IOAPA, a longstanding online accelerative program for students in Iowa, has an impressive record of student success. Middle and high school students take advanced online courses in a program administered by the Belin-Blank Center and in cooperation with local school mentors. The IOAPA program was created especially for students in rural Iowa schools who do not have access to advanced courses in their home schools. They work online, with the support of a local teacher/mentor. We have found that one of the best predictors of success in IOAPA courses is the objective information gleaned from above-level testing, where we measure a student’s aptitude in specific subjects.  Currently (due to the pandemic), we do not require above-level testing. However, we highly recommend it. The data provided by I-Excel testing can help educators determine which students would benefit from the rigors of the IOAPA program. If at least 10 students from a particular school or district have participated in testing, educators receive an aggregate report that helps them to see how students’ scores compare to each other and assists them in making these decisions.

In some cases, parents are interested in having their children tested individually, so they can learn more about their child’s aptitudes. They can set up individual testing with the assistance of a local educator who serves as the test proctor. After the testing, parents receive an individual student report, which they can share with educators at their child’s school.

It has indeed been a challenging year. It is good to know that, in spite of the challenges, we still have a systematic process in place for assisting educators and their talented students to find the academic opportunities that they need.

Message from the Director: Doing No (Educational) Harm

Susan Assouline

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

The famous medical phrase, “do no harm,” has been echoing in my mind. Specifically, I consider the potential for harm when well-meaning educators or parents believe that the best academic intervention is to maintain the status quo. In other words, to do nothing.

Students with high cognitive ability need advanced and challenging educational experiences in order to be engaged in the learning process. Doing nothing is harmful because it may cause these students to disengage. If high-ability learners drop out from learning, both the student and society suffer the loss.

The Belin-Blank Center is a leader in research on twice-exceptionality and academic acceleration. Twice-exceptional students, as well as students who need academic acceleration, are equally at risk of disengaging from the learning process if their unique needs go unmet. Appropriate educational interventions, informed by research findings, keep them engaged. Below, I describe a few ways that the center supports parents and educators in supporting twice-exceptional students and students who need academic acceleration.

Practitioners in gifted education know much about high cognitive ability and the necessary interventions to help high-ability students. Educators with a background in special education have excellent training in supporting students with a diagnosed learning or social-emotional disorder. However, traditional assessment and intervention approaches often do not detect when a student has high cognitive ability plus a diagnosed learning or social-emotional disorder. In other words, they miss twice-exceptional students, which jeopardizes those students’ engagement in the learning process.

We continue to learn more about identifying and supporting twice-exceptional students. We’ve uncovered unique patterns of strengths and difficulties for twice-exceptional students through our collaborative research with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI). These patterns have important implications for educational interventions. We are excited to share these findings as part of the inaugural Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, held virtually on May 17 and 18. All registrants can access the live sessions and the recording of all presentations after the event.

Our work in academic acceleration encompasses a broad set of services, including above-level testing, student programs such as Advanced Placement coursework through the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy, and reliable resources through the Acceleration Institute. These resources enhance awareness about academic acceleration, guide advocates in creating acceleration policy, and help child study teams make decisions about various forms of acceleration.

The Integrated Acceleration System, our newest resource, is an online, interactive system. This tool integrates the necessary information for deciding whether acceleration is an appropriate intervention for a particular student. The Integrated Acceleration System synthesizes the data and generates a report with recommendations specific to that student. When it comes to academic acceleration, parents and educators need no longer assume that doing nothing is the best way to “do no harm.”

Educators and parents are essential advocates for appropriate placement and services for high-ability and twice-exceptional students. Taking action through tailored intervention is the best way to ensure that we do no educational harm and actively engage students in the learning process.

Springing into More Professional Learning

Dr. Laurie Croft, Associate Director for Professional Development

“Spring semester” began long before spring, and a few of our classes are already under way, but we have several classes coming up. The 19th-century Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, said, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.”  We want your plans to include professional learning with the Belin-Blank Center!

The Center, in partnership with the University of Iowa College of Education, offers both “extension” classes and “workshops.”  The “extension” classes, usually either 2 or 3 semester hours, have course numbers that end with something like 0EXW, and they unfold over several weeks.  The “workshops,” either 1 or 2 semester hours, have course numbers that end with something like 0WKA, and they are scheduled over three-week periods. Everything is fully online, and most workshops tend to be completely asynchronous, while most extension classes tend to be organized so that work is required each week.

The next extension class available to you is EDTL:4066:0EXW, Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (3 semester hours; Mar 22 – May 14); one of my favorite classes (and I get to teach this one), Curriculum Concepts explores various curriculum models, curriculum needs of gifted learners, and introduces options for differentiation.

Our upcoming one-semester-hour workshops address issues we know are important to you:

The following workshops are considered summer term at the University, so enrollment has to be for summer rather than for spring:

  • PSQF:4128:0WKA – Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted Ed: Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (May 20 – Jun 10)
  • EDTL:4022:0WKA – Math Programming for High-Ability Learners (May 25 – Jun 14)

Practicum is available every semester; email educators@belinblank.org for permission to enroll.

Get Registered

To participate in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student.  For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status; if you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars.  Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest you the most at belinblank.org/educators/reg.  All of our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Questions?

Email educators@belinblank.org with questions about any of our upcoming classes.

Autism, Gender and Sexual Identity Conference

Looking for opportunities to learn more about autism?  The Autism Society of Iowa (ASI) will be hosting a one-day online seminar on Autism, Gender, and Sexual Identity.  Attendees will have the opportunity to:

  • Increase their understanding of the role that Autism might play in the consolidation of gender identity.
  • Enhance their knowledge base of environmental and psychological factors that play central roles in adolescent identity formation in all adolescents, and the distorting impact of STIGMA leading to psychopathology.
  • Review the emerging data base supporting a higher rate of gender diversity (GNC/GE/etc.) in youth with autism, and vice versa.

For more information or to register, click here.

Mark Your Calendars!

Although it may be cold outside, we are already gearing up for spring and summer at the Belin-Blank Center! We are offering many exciting online opportunities for educators, students, families, and gifted education researchers. Mark your calendars with these upcoming dates.

FOR EDUCATORS

FOR RESEARCHERS

FOR STUDENTS & FAMILIES

A New Face at the Belin-Blank Center

We are excited to welcome a new staff member!

Dr. Amanda Berns is a Licensed Psychologist who is joining the clinical staff in the Assessment and Counseling Clinic. She attended the University of Iowa while obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Education Specialist, and Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology. Dr. Berns gained experience working in schools, outpatient clinics at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the local homeless shelter, and children’s homes through the Early Access Autism Resources Team at Grant Wood Area Education Agency. She also completed an iLEND fellowship and externships at Nisonger Center and St. David’s Center.

Dr. Amanda Berns, Licensed Psychologist at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic

For two years in graduate school, Dr. Berns held an assistantship providing mentorship to talented and gifted college students at the Belin-Blank Center, as well. Dr. Berns attended a predoctoral internship at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health and a postdoctoral fellowship at The Counseling Center of Nashua. She also worked in public schools as a traveling school psychologist and Autism Consultant, and outpatient settings at Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP).

Besides having a wealth of clinical experience across these settings, Dr. Berns has particular expertise in assessment and intervention services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In particular, her research background is in the social-emotional experiences of those who are twice-exceptional. She is excited to join the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic, where she is conducting twice-exceptional evaluations and providing counseling services.

Be sure to check out all of the clinical services we provide in our Assessment and Counseling Clinic. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment or requesting more information, you can do so here!

Who Makes the Decision about Academic Acceleration?

It shouldn’t be left to one person to make a decision about academic acceleration, especially whole-grade acceleration (also called grade-skipping). It takes a team to consider all the relevant information and implement a plan.

At the Belin-Blank Center, we recommend that this child study team include:

  • at least one parent or guardian,
  • a facilitator (often a gifted coordinator),
  • the child’s current teacher, and
  • the “receiving teacher” in the higher grade with whom the child would be placed.

An administrator, such as a principal, might also participate in the team meeting. Additional individuals who might be consulted during the process include other teachers, the school counselor, the school psychologist, and the gifted education teacher.

Of course, the student needs to be included in the discussions in an age-appropriate manner, although not in the final meeting where the data are discussed and the decision is made.  

You might wonder about which teacher would be considered the “current teacher” if a student has different teachers for different subjects. Consider selecting a teacher who knows the student well. It is certainly appropriate to request feedback from any teacher who is currently working with the student. More than one might participate more actively in the process and attend meeting(s) about the student. For receiving teacher, consider asking several teachers who would have that student in the future to participate in the discussion.

One person on the team (often the gifted coordinator) serves as facilitator and gathers appropriate information such as test scores and feedback from other team members. Once the information is gathered, the facilitator schedules a team meeting to discuss the “fit” of acceleration and to make a decision. Finally, the facilitator helps to develop and implement a transition plan, so the move from one grade to another is smooth.

The Belin-Blank Center is in the process of developing the new Integrated Acceleration System, which will help educators and families investigate the “fit” of subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college for their student, with special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you’re interested in learning even more about academic acceleration, the Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online from June 7- August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment.

And be sure to check back for the upcoming launch of the Integrated Acceleration System or click here to be notified when it is released.