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.

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