Author Archives: Ann Shoplik

Homeschooling Resources and Reflections

We have collected some resources that might be helpful to families and educators during these challenging times. First, though, we want to offer some unsolicited advice. Be gentle with yourself. If that online assignment or other school-related task is just too much for you and your child to deal with right now, let it go. Today, you might simply need to prioritize simpler things, such as making sure your child gets some fresh air or plays a game with you. One of our neighbors told us that her goal for today is to teach her 11-year-old to clean up the kitchen after dinner. In these uncertain times, it can be helpful for adults and children alike to focus on small, immediate, achievable goals.

If you find you are looking for resources that might benefit your children or students in your class, however, we have found a few.  We thank the educators on the Belin-Blank Center’s Educators listserv for calling some of these resources to our attention and we are grateful that some of these simply showed up in our inbox.

Iowa Department of Education Resources page.  Resources for students, parents and educators during COVID-19.

https://wideopenschool.org/. Free materials for homeschooling efforts. Click on the “educator” or “family” tab.

Free resources for high school students.

A collection of resources gathered by the University of Maryland School of Public Health. These are resources for the general public. They include social/emotional development, social studies, math, literacy, and music.

A fairly comprehensive list of social studies resources for remote learning. 

This doc includes a virtual field trip every day through May. 

Social and Emotional Support for Gifted Learners during Covid-19

Our thanks to Wendy Behrens for sending this information to us. Wendy is the Gifted and Talented Education Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

Throughout the world, people are experiencing anxiety about the Covid-19 outbreak. Children are not immune to worry and many young students are concerned about missing school and friends and confused by changing schedules and responsibilities. Older students may also be concerned about testing, college applications, completion of courses, credits, missing final school events and more.

Image by ambroo from Pixabay

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) reminds us that during these uncertain times, children look to adults for guidance on how to react. As our anxiety rises, so does the anxiety of our children. NASP recommends, “Parents reassure children that health and school officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy. However, children also need factual, age appropriate information about the potential seriousness of disease risk and concrete instruction about how to avoid infections and spread of disease. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.”

Resources for Consideration  

Cultivating Calm Amidst a Storm. Blog from Nicole A. Tetreault, Ph.D., on how to calm our mind, body, and nervous system in the presence of a global health crisis. (March 18, 2020)

Helping Your Child Manage Stress Through Mindfulness by Michele Kane, Ed.D. Parenting for High Potential, Dec 2017. This article, written directly to teens and tweens, helps gifted adolescents understand mindfulness and the formal/informal pathways to mindfulness. Includes apps, books, and online resources for kids.

Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus 
A resource for children about coronavirus, what it is and how to protect oneself.

Management of Anxiety Begins at Home by Sal Mendaglio, Ph.D., Parenting for High Potential, Summer 2016. General article that focuses on the sources of anxiety in gifted children and what parents can do to help reduce anxiety at home.

Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (PDF, 144KB) 
This resource provides information for parents and caregivers about outbreaks, how they can prepare to reduce stress and anxiety, how it may affect your family both physically and emotionally and ways to cope.

Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Guidance, recommendations, and resources provided by child trauma experts at Child Trends and the Child Trauma Training Center at the University of Massachusetts.

Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource 
A resource for parents on how best to talk to children about the coronavirus.

Talking to Teens and Tweens About Coronavirus 
This article details advice from experts on how parents can help teens be prepared and have the right information about the coronavirus.

Teacher, Interrupted: Leaning into Social-Emotional Learning Amid the COVID-19 Crisis by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, Ed Surge. Psychologists from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence offer social and emotional learning (SEL) evidence-based practices to help educators, parents, and students get through these difficult times. (March 18, 2020)

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Suddenly Homeschooling: Resources for Parents of Gifted Children

Suddenly, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are navigating new territory–teaching their children at home while also trying to work from home and maintain some semblance of normal family life. Here are a few resources that might be helpful to your and your gifted child during this time.

Image by khamkhor from Pixabay

The National Association for Gifted Children has published a list of resources tailored to gifted students and their families. We picked out a few to highlight:

Gifted Pathways provides a blog with simple activities you can do with your kids today.

Distance Learning Resources from the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian provides access to millions of digital resources from across the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, libraries, archives, and more. See especially the sections on Resources for Caregivers and Resources for Tweens and Teens. Also note that there are scheduled live chats with experts.

The list of Amazing Educational Resources is, well, amazing! It provides a list of education companies offering free subscriptions due to school closings and is updated often.

Leave Your Sleep for Education. Free online curriculum platform that offers literature, theater, music and dance, art, history, and science applications using poetry and music to engage students. This is an excellent resource for April’s National Poetry Month. Recommended by our friends at the Gifted Support Center in San Mateo, CA.

Sage Publishing is providing free access to Coronavirus research. These might be especially appropriate for high school students as well as some middle schoolers.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The National Association of School Psychologists provides a list of health crisis resources for various audiences (including parents) who are now navigating the COVID-19 virus.

Finally, Lisa Van Gemert (some of you know her as the Gifted Guru) is in the midst of a truly amazing experience as the country’s English teacher. We will simply end this little article with her words: “When faced with difficult times, focusing on what we can give, rather than worrying about what might be taken away, is food for the soul. You’ve got something worth sharing. Share it.”

ISASP: Begin Discovering Talent in Your Students

Schools in Iowa began administering the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress (ISASP) for the first time in spring 2019. We have received a lot of questions about how to use the scores, especially related to talent identification, above-level testing, and providing opportunities for gifted students.

The ISASP was developed by the Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa to align with the Iowa Core Standards. It provides standards-based information for students, their parents, their schools, and for the Iowa Department of Education School Performance Profiles. Unlike the Iowa Assessments, students’ scores are compared only to those of other Iowa students; they are not compared to a national group. ISASP scores are reported for English/ Language Arts and Mathematics in grades 3-11. Science is added only in grades 5, 8, and 10.

How Can We Use ISASP Scores to Discover Students Ready for More Challenges?

ISASP scores can be used as a first step in the process of identifying academically talented students or students in need of additional academic challenge. As is the case with many state assessments, students’ scores are also categorized according to their progress compared to other Iowa students. These descriptors range from “Not Yet Proficient” to “Advanced.”  Whereas “Advanced” sounds like a clear indicator for talent development or gifted education services, students scoring in this category may have earned ISASP scores placing them anywhere from the top 1 percent to the top 15 percent of their grade level.  Educators might choose to invite a smaller percentage of students to participate in additional testing, for example above-level testing provided by I-Excel or the ACT.

Using the 95th Percentile

Rather than simply searching for students who haves scored “Advanced” on ISASP, educators can take a closer look at scaled scores and percentile rankings using the tables found in this document. Educators might begin by finding all students who score at the 95th percentile or higher on one of the ISASP sections. Screening students for consideration for advanced programming by using a test that is administered to all students (also called “universal screening”) is a best practice in gifted education.

Using ISASP scores as a first step in the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) is appropriate. To determine which students might benefit from BESTS testing (taking I-Excel in 4th-6th grade or the ACT in 7th-9th grade), we recommend inviting students who have scored at the 95th percentile or higher on one or more of the sections of the ISASP to participate in BESTS.  Scaled scores at the 95th percentile are shown below:

ISASP Scale scores at the 95th percentile

 GradeReadingLanguage/
Writing
ELAMathScience
3rd 461454453459
4th 488487483491
5th 522519513529528
6th 549548541557
7th 586575575589
8th 607609602625616
9th 643635631651
Table 1

Casting a Wider Net: Using the 90th Percentile

Educators in some schools might find that only a very small number of their students earn ISASP scores at the 95th percentile, and they may wonder if additional students might benefit from above-level BESTS testing and/or potential adjustments to the students’ educational programs. Research at the Belin-Blank Center and elsewhere has shown that casting a wider net and including students earning scores at the 90th percentile on the ISASP or other standardized, grade-level tests can help discover more students and does not result in adverse effects on students.  In fact, we encourage you to consider the 90th percentile guideline, especially for 5th and 6th graders.  Research that shows us that students get an academic “boost” by simply taking an above-level test.  If you choose to use the 90th percentile guideline to include students for additional above-level BESTS testing, here are the scaled scores:

Scale Scores at the 90th percentile

 GradeReadingLanguage/
Writing
ELAMathScience
3rd 449446445449
4th 477476473479
5th508506503512509
6th 536533531539
7th566562561572
8th592592588606596
9th 622618615626
Table 2

Students earning ISASP scaled scores at the 90th or 95th percentile are scoring as well as or better than 90 or 95 percent of the normative sample of Iowa students. This means they are already performing quite well compared to their age group. Then, we invite these students to participate in BESTS testing, where an above-level test (one that was developed for older students) is administered to younger students. Talented 4th-6th graders take I-Excel, which contains 8th grade content, and talented 7th-9th graders take the ACT, which was developed for college-bound 11th and 12th graders. Test results provide families and educators with detailed information about the students’ aptitudes and the types of educational opportunities they might need to thrive.  Examining your students’ ISASP scores is an excellent first step toward discovering talented students.

Recap

  1. Examine the ISASP scores of your students. How many students are at the 95th percentile, as indicated by scaled scores listed in Table 1?
  2. If you decide you would like to include more students, determine which students scored at the 90th percentile using Table 2.
  3. Encourage these students to participate in above-level testing using I-Excel (current 4th-6th graders) or the ACT (7th -9th graders).
  4. Use the I-Excel and ACT scores to help place students in challenging opportunities such as IOAPA, grouping talented students together for honors-level courses, or encouraging students to accelerate in a specific subject.

Advocating for Acceleration: Suggestions for Parents

A parent recently told us about her child’s teacher, who confidently stated, “Well, you know the research tells us that it’s a really bad idea for kids to start kindergarten early.” Another parent said that the climate at his children’s school is unsupportive of acceleration. When approached about the possibility of subject acceleration or grade acceleration, the principal simply said, “Kids who accelerate don’t fit in.”

Those of us who have read (and done some of) the research want to jump into those conversations with both feet, summarize 70 years of research, and demand accelerative opportunities for the children. This isn’t necessarily the best approach. Being an advocate for our children might mean introducing information slowly or finding ways to inform educators other than forcefully giving them a list of the “Top Ten Reasons My Child Should be Allowed to Accelerate.”

One important thing to mention up front is that, in general, educators simply are uninformed about acceleration. Believe it or not, even in graduate programs in gifted education, students don’t necessarily learn about the research and tools for acceleration, let alone how to practice acceleration in schools. Regular education teachers and administrators spend very little time in their undergraduate courses learning about gifted students, and even less time studying acceleration. All of this means that you, the parent, might be better informed than the educator sitting in front of you. It also means that the educator sitting in front of you might, with every good intention, believe that certain myths about acceleration are true.

Get ready. You might have to learn the information on your own, and you might be the one teaching your teachers and administrators about acceleration. Fear not! There are lots of tools to help you with this:

Learn the facts.  Research tells us that acceleration is often the most appropriate avenue for helping academically talented students find a match between their abilities and the curriculum available at their school. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute gathers the important research and information about acceleration in one place. Research articles, practical advice, video stories – it’s all there. Other great places to find information include the Hoagies Gifted website and the Davidson Institute website.

Share what you have learned. Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and Volume 1 of A Nation Deceived are both very approachable resources that a busy administrator or teacher can read quickly. You can download both of those documents for free from the websites linked above. If you want even more information about the research, read Volume 2 of A Nation Empowered.

Be reassured that there are objective tools that can help us know when it is appropriate to accelerate a student. You don’t have to make the decision about a grade skip or subject acceleration based on a “gut feeling.” The Iowa Acceleration Scale was designed to help families and educators work together to gather information, discuss important factors, and make an informed decision about a grade skip. Above-level testing is the essential tool for making decisions about subject acceleration.

Advocacy might also mean helping to write policy for your school or district. First, a caution: Policy work takes a long time. If you are trying to solve a problem for your child, focus on your child and the issues that are pertinent to your child. Don’t try to solve everything for everyone. Leave the policy for another day.  However, if you are in a position to help make things better for future students, this might be the time to have those policy discussions. The Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced a helpful document last year on Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. This should help you get started on writing defensible policies for acceleration.

OK. It may seem like a lot but have courage. You have the tools, you have the information, and you can be an effective advocate for your child’s acceleration. Go for it!

7th to 9th Graders Needing More Challenge? This May Be the Time to Take the ACT

The Belin-Blank Center frequently recommends above-level testing for academically talented students because it gives students the opportunity to “show what they can do” and demonstrate their abilities on a test that was developed for older students. This is a common-sense approach to discovering academically talented students. These students have already performed very well on grade-level tests, and they need a greater challenge to demonstrate their aptitudes fully.

Using a grade-level achievement test to measure the aptitudes of an academically talented student is somewhat like using a 3-foot yardstick to measure a person who is 5 feet tall. The grade-level test “yardstick” isn’t long enough to measure the student’s aptitude accurately. By giving a student a test that was developed for older students (an above-level test), we are making our “yardstick” longer and helping to learn more precise information about the student’s capabilities.

The ACT, the test that many students take in 11th or 12th grade as part of the college admissions process, has also been used since the 1980s to discover younger students who are ready for greater academic challenges. We recommend that 7th-9th grade students who have already performed very well on grade-level achievement tests (such as the Iowa Assessments) be encouraged to take the ACT. They can take this test through any one of the university-based talent searches, including the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.

What can you do with the information? Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of academic programs, including programs offered by the Belin-Blank Center. An important opportunity that selected students might also consider is early entrance to college. The Belin-Blank Center hosts the Bucksbaum Academy, which is an early entrance to college program for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade.

Even if your academically talented 7th-9th grade students aren’t thinking about early entrance to college, we still encourage them to take the ACT. Taking this test at a young age provides bright students with many advantages: (1) more information about their aptitudes, (2) opportunities to qualify for a variety of summer and school-year programs, (3) the chance to try out a fun challenge, and (4) for students earning outstanding scores, the opportunity to be recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.

If these ideas resonate with you, we encourage you to act today! Students can register here, and teachers can download a letter to send to families here.

Make Your Time Spent Testing More Meaningful

“We spend too much time testing!”

This is a refrain we’ve often heard. Parents and teachers are frustrated by the amount of instructional time “wasted” on standardized testing, especially if they can’t see how the information can be used to plan instruction. Why would we recommend adding more testing to your busy schedule?

Above-level testing provides an opportunity for academically talented students to showcase what they can do. Picture the typical gifted student: he or she takes the grade-level test and gets extremely high scores. The student gets everything right, or almost everything right. Those scores are more likely to elicit a response of “good job!” rather than specific educational recommendations tailored to the student.

Imagine, though, that our student is given the opportunity to take a harder test, one that offers the chance to show his or her extensive level of knowledge… a test that results in a detailed report specifying the types of educational opportunities that would benefit this student.  This opportunity is available through above-level testing.

The Belin-Blank Center (and other university-based talent search centers) offers above-level testing using I-Excel for 4th-6th graders and the ACT for 7th-9th graders. It’s easy to get started with this process, and the Belin-Blank Center staff is available to help you through it.

 What can you do with the test results? Discover the students who need additional challenge in school, highlight the students who might benefit from being grouped together for instruction in math (for example), and determine which students might benefit from subject acceleration or grade skipping.

Ready to get started? Email assessment@belinblank.org, and we’ll walk you through the process!