Using Above-Level Testing for IOAPA Decisions: Focus on Current 5th and 6th Graders 

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 middle school courses. Additionally, we highly recommend using the ACT to inform eligibility for older students to take IOAPA courses. Two programs that are part of the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS), work together 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.  

Why Test? 

The Belin-Blank Center has instituted a requirement for above-level testing with I-Excel for current 5th and 6th graders (who will be in 6th or 7th grade in the fall) for a number of reasons. 

  1. On average, IOAPA students taking middle school courses seemed to struggle more than IOAPA students taking high school courses. We want to help educators find the students who are ready for these rigorous courses.  
  1. Research shows that above-level testing provides an excellent method of discovering students who are ready for advanced coursework such as IOAPA courses for middle school students (Assouline & Lupkowski-Shoplik, 2012). 
  1. The Belin-Blank Center has developed I-Excel to provide an above-level test that is affordable and accessible. The use of I-Excel also allows IOAPA to offer reduced-cost group testing sessions, as well as no-cost group testing for schools that have not provided I-Excel testing in the past three years.   
  1. Research shows that even the short-term intervention of taking an above-level test such as I-Excel provides a boost to student’s academic achievement (Rogers, 2015). These opportunities may be especially important for low-income and disadvantaged students. 

Now is the time to begin the above-level testing process for current 5th and 6th graders. (IOAPA fall registration opens April 1, and we expect seats to fill quickly.)  There are several steps for participation in BESTS testing prior to IOAPA registration. 

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenges; 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. Students who have earned scores at the “Advanced” level on ISASP are also good candidates. 
  1. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in above-level testing using BESTS. 
  1. as soon as possible to set up I-Excel testing for 5th and 6th graders. I-Excel testing sessions for current 5th-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). 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. 
  1. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing. 
  1. Use the recommendations found in the individualized student test report to help determine which students to recommend for IOAPA middle school courses. 


  • 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. 
  • These individualized reports explain their test results and compare them to other talented students in the same grade. 
  • Fee reductions are available for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program. 

PLEASE NOTE: We do not require ACT testing because ACT testing has been difficult to obtain for 7th-9th graders in the last few years, due to COVID. (ACT has prioritized the testing of 11th and 12th graders.) However, the Belin-Blank Center highly recommends that 7th to 9th graders take the ACT before taking high school IOAPA courses. For more information about ACT registration, see  

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. 


Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2012). The talent search model of gifted identification. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 30(1), 45-59. 

Rogers, K. B. (2015). The Academic, Socialization, and Psychological Effects of Acceleration: Research Synthesis. In S. G. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. Lupkowski-Shoplik (Eds.), A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses That Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, Vol.2 (pp. 19-29). Iowa City, IA: Belin-Blank Center. 

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