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.

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