Iowa Online AP Academy: Above-Level Testing and I-Excel

For many middle and high schools that partner with the Iowa Online AP Academy, a common question is how to determine which students may be ready for online above-level coursework. This is especially true for middle school students, as the high-level online format presents a challenge that many middle schoolers have not yet encountered. One of the best ways for educators to identify students that might be ready for this challenge is through the use of above-level testing.

What is above-level testing? Above-level testing is a process during which a student takes a test intended for older students. For many high-ability students, taking a regular grade-level test (e.g., a 4th grader taking a 4th grade test) can demonstrate that they are bright, but the results do not reflect the full extent of their skills and knowledge. An above-level test allows students to encounter material that they have not yet been exposed to, giving parents and educators a better idea of areas that will still challenge these students.  Above-level testing gives high-ability students the space to show what they know and what they are ready to learn.

above-level testing

What types of above-level tests might students take through the Belin-Blank Center? The Center offers opportunities for above-level testing through the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search. Students in grades 4 through 6 take I-Excel, our new online test, and 7th to 9th grade students take the ACT.

Why might I encourage my students to take above-level tests? Above-level tests not only give parents and teachers great information about their students’ abilities, they can also be used to help identify students who might be good candidates for Iowa Online AP Academy coursework. We especially encourage above-level testing for middle school students interested in IOAPA courses, but it can also help inform curriculum planning for younger and older students as well.

Another measure that schools might consider using with their students is Engage, a psychosocial measure that helps schools assess risk factors associated with academic success. Engage is available for free through the Center.

What are the above-level testing requirements for potential IOAPA middle school students? We strongly encourage middle school students interested in taking above-level coursework through IOAPA to take above-level testing before registering for courses. Our guidelines are as follows, and we consider scores to be valid for up to two years following testing:

Recommendation Measure Guideline
Very important* Above-level test
(6th grade: I-Excel; 7th-8th grade: ACT)
50th percentile or above
Very important* Any grade-level standardized tests taken within the last year
(e.g., Iowa Assessments)
95th percentile or above in the course content area.  This is also the recommendation for participating in above-level testing.
Important Teacher/parent confidence in student’s readiness for challenging, independent, online coursework High confidence
Important Previous relevant coursework within the past two years Sufficient background knowledge/skills*
Somewhat Important Additional test scores
(e.g., CogAT, other IQ)
Well above average
After Enrolling ACT’s Engage instrument
(measures psychosocial skills)
Results should be used for student support.

More about Talent Search can be found here. To learn more about IOAPA, visit

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