FAQs about the IOAPA + BESTS Partnership

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) are teamed up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities. This partnership helps (1) students remain challenged and engaged after they master the classroom curriculum, and (2) assists teachers school districts in identifying students who are ready for additional challenge. Above-level testing and the implementation of advanced coursework can help with these issues.

This partnership has been around for many years. In this blogpost, we discuss and respond to the most frequently asked questions related to how IOAPA and BESTS work together.

What is above-level testing?

In short, above-level testing is giving a younger student a test that is developed for older students.

Is above-level testing a new concept?

No! It is extensively used at universities with centers for gifted education, but unfortunately it is often not used by schools. The idea of above-level testing was pioneered over one hundred years ago by Dr. Leta Hollingworth. 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. Currently, hundreds of thousands of students around the world take above-level tests each year as part of a university-based talent search (including the Belin-Blank Center)!

Why above-level testing?

Scores from grade level tests demonstrate that students have mastered grade-level material, but they don’t tell us how much additional challenge the students need.  If students do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, then we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be.  Psychologists call this “hitting the ceiling” of the test.

In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s aptitudes, which allows us to make good recommendations about the types of educational challenges the student needs.

How can above-level testing be used?

  1. Identifying a student for a gifted program
  2. Determining what a student is ready to learn next
  3. Deciding whether or not a student is ready for subject-matter acceleration
  4. Deciding whether or not a student is ready to skip a grade

What is the cost of I-Excel?

The cost of I-Excel in Iowa is $45 per student if groups of 4 or more students are tested. The cost is $22 if student is eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. For students testing individually, the cost is $90 ($45 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch). If students test on campus in June at the testing session (this year, June 11 2020), we sponsor $70 of the fee ($35 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch).

I’m ready to set up I-Excel testing – Where do I start?

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge. 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. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but 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 fall registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand. (Note: that if you have 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing, they will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit belinblank.org/talent-search for specific information).
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

How do I help students prepare for the I-Excel?

The best preparation for taking a standardized test such as I-Excel is to get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast. This helps to set the student up for success.

Before taking I-Excel, we recommend that students try the sample items so they become comfortable with the format of the test. Beyond that, we do not recommend that students study for the test. The most useful scores result when students understand the format but do not study for the test.  Families receive a link to the sample test in their confirmation email. Registered students can use the email address associated with the registration to access the sample items, or contact assessment@belinblank.org to receive the link and a temporary access code.

If the test is not during a regular school day, make sure they know what time to arrive and where to meet.  They should bring:

  • A simple calculator for use during the Mathematics test.
  • A snack to eat during a break. We recommend something healthy, such as an apple.
  • Two pencils.
  • Scrap paper will be provided.

What is the outcome of I-Excel testing?

I-Excel test results will better equip teachers and students to make decisions about which students would benefit from advanced coursework, specifically through the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA). Scores at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test are indicative of a need for additional challenge, such as that provided by IOAPA courses.

Content Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility

Above-level assessments can provide individual domain scores specific to each content area measured, and an overall composite score reflecting performance across areas. IOAPA recommends using these content-area scores, rather than overall scores, to ensure the advanced learning opportunities are available to all talented students in their area(s) of strength. The table below details the relevant content area score(s) for each of our IOAPA middle school course.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are thrilled to be able to provide educators with specific information about your students via I-Excel, an above-level testing option for talented 4th – 6th graders. For more information about how this could work in your school, visit  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. We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

IOAPA: Funding for Spring Course AP Exams

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to continue offering scholarships to pay for the cost of Advanced Placement exams for low-income students in rural schools who are currently participating in IOAPA courses.

We are now accepting applications for AP exam scholarships for students enrolled in one-term, spring semester courses! As a reminder, the deadline to order all one-term, spring semester AP exams in March 13, 2020.

IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors can apply for this funding opportunity by February 21, 2020! For more information and for access to the application, click here.

The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. If schools are already paying for AP exams, they should not request this funding. Funding for this application is only available for students who are taking a one-term, spring semester IOAPA Advanced Placement (AP) course in the 2019-20 school year.

The per-exam cost for the 2019-20 school year is $64 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools should pay the $64 per student to the College Board. Schools should submit an invoice to the Belin-Blank Center after students have taken the AP exams along with documentation showing they have paid the College Board for these students’ exams. There will be no reimbursement if a student does not take the exam.

Awards will be announced by March 1, 2020.

As a reminder, the College Board’s new deadline to order one-term, spring semester AP exams is March 13, 2020.

Please email us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

Message from the Director: Visions for 2020

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  

-Jonathan Swift

With the year 2020 staring us in the face and ushering in a new decade, it’s hard to resist “vision” metaphors.  I’ve always appreciated this quote by Jonathan Swift; in fact, we featured it during the January 2004 opening of the Blank Honors Center, where the Belin-Blank Center is housed.  In retrospect, this quote was a great choice for the occasion, because it characterizes the optimism and collective energy that the Belin-Blank Center’s staff pour into our work for bright students and their teachers. Over the past 16 years, we have enjoyed this wonderful space and created many engaging opportunities, always looking toward the goal of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence. 

Looking forward, opportunities in 2020 abound! Indeed, there is no better time than the shortest days of winter to envision the long, warm days of summer 2020 and the classes being planned for students and teachers. We are pleased to let you know that applications for our student summer programs are now open!

In our planning, we aspire to be as responsive as possible to the needs of our program participants.  For example, for several years, we’ve offered University of Iowa credit to high school students enrolled in the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) and the Scholastic Art and Writing Residencies.  New in 2020, we will offer 1 semester hour of University of Iowa undergraduate credit to students attending the Perry Research Scholars Institute (PRSI).

2020 brings additional changes to our elementary and middle school student programming. Two of our previous programs, Blast and the Junior Scholars Institute, have joined forces to create a new commuter program for 2nd – 8th graders, called the Junior Scholars Academy (JSA)! Through JSA, the full complement of coursework offered in the two former programs will be available to students who live within commuting distance to the Blank Honors Center (on the University of Iowa campus).

Our high school programs have always been residential because that aspect is a very important component of the whole-student experience.  We will maintain a residential component for 7th and 8th graders through the Blank Summer Institute (BSI).  BSI, a signature program for junior high school students, was the original Belin-Blank Center student program.  Co-founders Myron and Jacqueline Blank had phenomenal vision; they saw what was invisible to others, which is that junior high is a critical time for students to have enriching and engaging learning experiences in order to be successful in school.

Educators will also have a new opportunity this summer. In addition to the Chautauqua series, professionals will be able to participate in our inaugural Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, co-hosted by the Belin-Blank Center and our Iowa Neuroscience Institute colleagues.

A proper December message requires mention of New Year’s resolutions, which are usually intended to help us improve in some way.  Making a resolution requires vision.  Take a peek at our many opportunities available for students and educators seeking improvement through engagement and challenge, especially during the long days of summer when school is not in session.  Such experiences are life-changing and profound in ways often invisible to others. We hope to see you next summer!

May this season of gratitude and giving usher in a bright new year and a decade of promise and inspiration.

Professional Development in 2020

Oprah Winfrey is one of the many notables that have contributed thoughts for the new year, saying, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

At the Belin-Blank Center, we have been getting professional development right for four decades!  We invite you to join us through the gifted-teachers listserv (belinblank.org/listserv), through our Facebook (facebook.com/BelinBlank), and Twitter (@belinblank) accounts, through our blog (belinblank.wordpress.com), and through our professional development opportunities coming up (belinblank.org/educators/courses).  We know that you are committed to understanding the varied needs of gifted/talented children, and learning about ways that parents, teachers, and friends can meet those needs. 

To participate in our classes, you must register 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; follow belinblank.org/educators/reg.  All of our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Here is a list of what’s coming up, organized in chronological order. All of these are online and asynchronous. Courses with no instructor listed are facilitated by Dr. Laurie Croft):

  • Current Readings & Research in Gifted Education (EDTL:4085:0WKA – 1 semester hour), winter session class shaped to your needs, December 30, 2019 – January 17, 2020.
  • Practicum in Gifted Education (various start dates for different populations—EDTL:4188:0001 is for full-time students in the College of Education and spans the entire semester; EDTL:4188:0EXW is for educators who want to earn more than one hour of practicum, March 24 – May 9; and EDTL:4188:0WKA is for educators who want to earn the one required hour of practicum, April 14 – May 4.  One ICON site that opens in January.).
  • Program Models in Gifted Education (EDTL:4199:0EXA – 3 semester hours), first spring class offered in an accelerated format from January 21 – March 14.
  • Identification of Students for Gifted Programs (PSQF:4121:0EXW – 3 semester hours), offered in an accelerated format from January 28 – March 27. (Dr. Susan Assouline)
  • Administration and Policy in Gifted Education (EPLS:4110:0EXW – 2 semester hours), offered from February 4 – May 1. (Dr. Randy Lange)
  • Math Programming for High Ability Students (EDTL:4067:0EXW – 1 semester hour), February 26 – March 24. (Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik)
  • Gender Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4123:0WKA – 1 semester hour), March 23 – April 11. (Dr. Jolene Teske)
  • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (EDTL:4066:0EXW – 3 semester hours), offered in an accelerated format from March 23 – May 15.
  • Differentiated Instruction for the Gifted (EDTL:4025:0WKA – 1 semester hour), April 13 – May 1. (Debra “Debbie” Judge)

The one-semester-hour classes included in the list above are offered in the three-week workshop (0WKA) format.  These classes have no additional technology fees and focus for three weeks on one topic.

Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org.

Belin-Blank Fellowship Program

The new year, 2020, will be the 40th year for The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education.  This prestigious fellowship program attracts applicants from across the United States and often has at least one participant from another nation. 

The Belin-Blank Fellowship is designed for educators who are NEW to the field of gifted education and have not already had opportunities to learn as much as they want and need to know about the gifted/talented students in their schools and districts. 

Please share details about the Fellowship with colleagues and friends who have an interest in Gifted Education!

Forty years of experience have convinced the Belin-Blank Center that the most effective way to provide meaningful educational experiences to gifted students is to provide a special program for classroom teachers, school counselors and psychologists, and school administrators.  Through an immersive educational journey, educators will develop the skills to better understand and work with gifted students as well as the knowledge and skills to provide leadership for others.

Varying approaches to professional development in gifted education exist, but no program provides the incentives for educators, as well as the intensive individualized approach, offered by this fellowship program.  The Belin-Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education makes it possible for a select number of educators, nominated by their schools/districts, to participate in professional development in gifted education.

The Fellowship will take place from June 21 – 26, 2020; the application process begins by January 27 and ends on March 2, 2020

Please visit belinblank.org/fellowship for more details.  Invite those who will serve as effective allies in developing the talents of our gifted learners to apply in late January.  Contact educators@belinblank.org with questions.

Invent Iowa Winner Featured on Good Morning America!

Congratulations to 6-year-old Charles Smith (Ottumwa Community School District) for his appearance on Good Morning America! Charles is a winner of our 2019 Invent Iowa competition who went on to win 1st place in his grade level at the National Invention Convention

Charles invented the Benge Beacon, a device to help firefighters find the exits in a smoky house. See his invention in action and watch his national television debut! (Trust us, you won’t regret it.) 

Charles also won $5,000 in seed money and a mentorship opportunity with entrepreneur Chelsea Hirschhorn through the SSK Kidventor $25,000 giveaway! 🤩 (Watch the announcement here: https://gma.abc/2O3XmJW)

After all that excitement, Charles got a hero’s welcome open returning home to Ottumwa and getting back to school. Watch here: https://www.kyoutv.com/home/2019/11/11/first-grade-inventor-welcomed-home-at-eisenhower-elementary/

We are so proud of you, Charles! Keep up the GREAT work.

For information about how your student can follow in Charles’ footsteps, check out Invent Iowa!

New 2020 Summer Program for Students!

Two of our previous programs, Blast and the Junior Scholars Institute, have joined forces to create the Junior Scholars Academy (JSA)! Students from 2nd to 8th grade with a deep curiosity, a love of learning, or a lot of talent in a particular area will feel right at home in this program.

JSA is a summer commuter program designed specifically for bright elementary and middle school students who want to thoroughly explore a topic – all while having fun with other kids who share their enthusiasm for learning. Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t just any regular classes! With past options like Harry Potter, STEAM, Mixed Media Art, Virtual Reality, Programming (and more!), we’re sure to have something for any curious kid.

Applications open December 15th and will be reviewed by a selection committee composed of Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff. Program acceptance is based on a review of the student’s strengths and interests. The selection committee works to ensure that the class is a good academic fit to nurture the student’s potential. Participation in a school’s gifted education program is not required.

Grade bands for JSA will be 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th, 6th-8th, with the structure consisting of four 1-week sessions. Choose any one (or more!) that works best for you:

  • Session 1 is June 15-19
  • Session 2 is June 22-26
  • Session 3 is July 6-10
  • Session 4 is July 13-17

Find more information here: www.belinblank.org/jsa.

Looking for a residential opportunity for 7th and 8th grade students? The Blank Summer Institute (BSI) is a prestigious one-week residential summer program for 120 of Iowa’s most talented 7th- and 8th- grade students, nominated by their schools.

Applications for all of our student summer programs open December 15th at belinblank.org/summer. Please email us at summer@belinblank.org with any questions!


We hope to see you this summer!