Author Archives: Ann Shoplik

Who is Ready for Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

How do we know which children might be ready to start kindergarten early? We hear lots of stories from parents about children who seemed to learn to read spontaneously – one parent said her 3-year-old started reading the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathtub. Other parents notice their child demonstrating an early interest in time (“Grandpa, only 17 minutes until we leave for the playground!”) or a facility with numbers and sophisticated vocabulary. These anecdotes might lead us to wonder if a child is indeed ready to enter formal schooling at an age younger than typical.

Before getting into this process, it’s really helpful to learn about the policies concerning early entrance to kindergarten in your state. Some states actually prohibit early entrance to kindergarten in public school. (Note: families might work around that by sending their child early to a non-public school for a year or two, then transferring to public school later.) Learn about your state’s early entrance to kindergarten policies here.

We’ve mentioned some of the characteristics of young, bright children: early reading, facility with numbers, and advanced vocabulary. Typically, researchers have found that the best candidates for early entrance are at least 4 ½ years old. Other characteristics include long attention span, extraordinary memory, and an ability to generalize and make connections between different areas of learning.

Won’t early entrants “burn out” on academics or become social outcasts? In a meta-analysis of  research studies focusing on acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, researchers found that students did very well academically and were better adjusted socially and emotionally compared to older students. In other words, as a group, students who entered kindergarten early did just fine socially, putting to rest our concern about accelerated students becoming social “misfits.”

When thinking about making this important decision, we might weigh the pros and cons. On the “pro” side, students entering school early won’t experience the social disruptions or concerns about gaps in their educational background that we would have for students skipping a grade at a later time.  The biggest negative is probably centered around the fact that 4-year-olds don’t have much of a track record in school; since we don’t have much school history to analyze, we tend to be cautious and recommend early entrance to kindergarten for only those students who are clearly ready. It seems prudent to wait and consider acceleration later for others.

The decision about early entrance to kindergarten can be made after collecting objective test data as well as measures of psychosocial functioning.  The Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic uses a full intellectual battery (WPPSI-IV or Stanford Binet-5) and full achievement test (Woodcock Johnson-IV). Achievement test results should be calculated using grade level and above level (usually one to two years) norms. This information can then be added to the Iowa Acceleration Scale, 3rd edition, which is a tool designed to help educators and families make effective decisions regarding a grade skip. Families and educators need to work together to discuss the results of the assessment and collaboratively discuss appropriate strategies for meeting the child’s needs. The final decision must be made between the family and the school.

The Belin-Blank Center is currently developing a new online system to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject accelerationearly entrance to college, grade-skipping, and acceleration with twice-exceptional students. This will all be done in an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the appropriate information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

AP Summer Institute: Online!

Belin-Blank Center staff members are making plans to host a summer program to prepare teachers to teach Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Those of you who have been following the Belin-Blank Center for some time will remember the professional development program was known as the AP Teacher Training Institute (APTTI). This year, we have a new name! The program is now called the University of Iowa AP Summer Institute, or APSI for short.

The Belin-Blank Center will host our APSI from June 28– July 2, 2021 (Monday through Friday). Classes will meet during the day. All courses will be taught online. Courses will include:

  • Calculus AB
  • Computer Science Principles
  • English Language and Composition
  • English Literature and Composition
  • Human Geography
  • Physics 1
  • Psychology
  • Spanish Language
  • Statistics
  • US Government & Politics
  • US History
  • World History

We are excited to offer APSI online for summer 2021. We look forward to including people from all over the nation in our courses, which will be taught by content experts endorsed by the College Board.

More information can be found here. The new information for 2021 will be updated on the website in the coming weeks.

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Stay Tuned for New Online Opportunities for Kids!

Staff members of the Belin-Blank Center are busily preparing several new online opportunities for students. At the time this newsletter was published, we weren’t quite ready to launch the registration process, but we wanted to give you a heads up! Do you have a student in elementary, middle or high school? Make sure you are on our newsletter list by signing up here, and indicate your student’s grade level. We will be sure to send you the latest news about our new online programs as soon as possible!

Acceleration During a Pandemic?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since many students were working remotely from home this spring, parents had the unique opportunity for an up-close view of what happens in school on a regular basis. Perhaps you are one of those parents who was surprised by how quickly your child grasped new material being taught, and now you have a nagging question in the back of your mind:  “Will my child be adequately challenged by his or her school placement in the upcoming school year?”

If you suspect the answer may be “No,” the next question is what would challenge your child appropriately?  Does he or she need to skip a grade?  Move ahead in math?  One of the best tools for gathering evidence for acceleration decisions like these is above-level testing.  We’ve shared the secret of above-level testing here before; briefly, it involves administering a test designed for older students to bright young students in an effort to discover exceptional academic talent. This information helps us to understand what a student is ready to learn and if he or she is ready for the academic challenges presented by a grade skip or subject acceleration.

How do we get started? The Belin-Blank Center and many other university-based talent searches provide above-level testing. Students in 4th-6th grade take I-Excel. Even if your school isn’t currently offering group testing, your child could participate in individual testing using I-Excel. Details about this option are found here. Parents first identify a teacher who is willing to proctor the test, and begins the registration process using this form.  The Belin-Blank Center also provides ACT testing for 7th-9th graders in a group setting. Once the above-level testing is completed, families receive a detailed eight-page report from the Belin-Blank Center explaining the test results and providing additional resources useful in making acceleration decisions.

We understand that these are challenging times, so we want to add that we aren’t trying to put additional stress on families or educators. Instead, we wanted to make sure that those of you who are ready to think about these issues have the tools you need to help inform your decisions. Our goal is to support you.  

You will find much more information and links to decision-making tools and research about acceleration on the Acceleration Institute website, which is provided by the Belin-Blank Center.  The Belin-Blank Center has been a catalyst for research and programming on academic acceleration for the past 30 years. We’re currently working on a new product, the Integrated Acceleration System, which will assist educators and families in working through the process of making decisions about grade-skipping, subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college. Sign up here if you would like more information about the Integrated Acceleration System as it becomes available.

IOAPA Students Rise to the Challenge

The 2020 spring semester was filled with uncertainty for many students. In response to COVID-19, all Iowa schools closed in mid-March, and all requirements for instructional hours were waived. Public districts could provide online learning options but could not require student participation. In spite of the impact of COVID-19, students who had already been participating in the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) kept working. Many IOAPA mentors expressed gratitude for IOAPA courses, as their students appreciated the consistency of already-established online courses with specific guidelines, objectives, and goals during a time of uncertainty. We were touched by their statements and wanted to share one with the Belin-Blank Center community. 

One mentor set up a system to allow both the mentor and student to check in, and the mentor also scheduled virtual meetings to stay in contact and proctor exams. This mentor shared, “[The students] are very thankful for something structured and challenging to work on…it is helping them create some structure in their days.”

IOAPA provides free online advanced courses for Iowa students who otherwise do not have access to these courses at their schools. Although continued coursework was not required for Iowa schools, a majority of IOAPA students continued with their online courses, and many continued on to take an AP exam in May. A unique aspect of IOAPA and one of its greatest strengths is the personnel (i.e., the teacher-mentor) in the student’s home school district. Our IOAPA mentors have gone above and beyond to support students and continued to do so virtually during the pandemic. We are proud of our IOAPA students and grateful for our IOAPA mentors, site coordinators, and administrators for their continued dedication to serving students.

Trying to Make Decisions about School Placement or Acceleration for Next Year?

We might be able to help!  Above-level testing is a useful tool for gathering data needed for decisions such as: Does my student need additional challenge in a particular subject? Is my child ready to skip a grade?

I-Excel testing will be available this summer. Bright 4th-6th graders can take the test individually or in small groups (supervised by a proctor). I-Excel is an online test, so we are able to offer testing even if schools have not yet reopened. Parents and relatives are not allowed to proctor the test, so testing cannot occur until the stay-at-home guidance is no longer in effect. Licensed educators may proctor the test.

More information can be found in these links:

Are you interested in learning more about I-Excel testing for your child or students in your school? Contact us at assessment@belinblank.org.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are happy to support parents and students in whatever ways we can. Our primary concern is the safety and health of all involved. We recommend that you follow the guidance provided by your governor and local authorities in terms of meeting with people outside your family any time in the next few months.

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!

Guidebooks for Parents and Educators

Parents and educators are often looking for useful resources in gifted education. We would like to highlight a few. The Davidson Institute’s guidebooks for parents and educators on advocacy, early entrance to college, homeschooling, mentorships, and twice exceptional students can be downloaded for free:

The Belin-Blank Center offers extensive information on academic acceleration in several publications.

  • A Nation Empowered: An update to the watershed report on acceleration, A Nation Deceived, the 2015 report provides the latest research on acceleration. A Nation Empowered: Volume 1 is written in an accessible format for parents, educators, policymakers, and the general public. A Nation Empowered: Volume 2 provides the research and an in-depth look at topics specific to acceleration, including grade-skipping, early entrance to college, twice exceptional students, and longitudinal research.
  • A Nation Deceived, Volume 1: Published in 2004, this volume includes an overview of the issues surrounding acceleration for gifted students. The discussion of the myths is still relevant today.

Two resources on twice-exceptional students are also provided by the Belin-Blank Center:

The Hoagies Gifted website provides a somewhat overwhelming list of books in gifted education. We encourage you to visit the page again and again. Hint: start with the books that have a star next to them. Some of those are classics.

Coming soon: New Online Integrated Acceleration System

We are developing a new online system to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration described in A Nation Empowered, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject acceleration, early entrance to college/university, and grade-skipping. This will all be done in an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the appropriate information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions.

Would you like more information? Click here to be added to the email list

I Think My Child Needs to Skip a Grade

Recently, we received this email:

My son just finished second grade. I think he needs to skip a grade and start fourth grade in the fall.  We are looking for help in requesting a whole grade skip.  I have learned that acceleration is not mandated in my state. How should we start? Is there a formal way of putting in my application?

The Belin-Blank Center doesn’t provide a formal application for acceleration that will work in every state, but we can give you some direction to get you started.

First, learn about the policies in your state and your school or district. Are there policies regarding acceleration on the state or local level?  A good place to begin is the policy page on the Acceleration Institute website.

Gather some information about acceleration, so you have an understanding of the research and how acceleration can be used with gifted students. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has been built up that demonstrates that acceleration is an effective tool for challenging gifted students. An excellent place to start learning about that is A Nation Empowered. Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and is suitable for sharing with busy administrators and others who might be looking for a summary on acceleration. Volume 2 includes the research behind this option.  This research demonstrates that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not cause a negative impact on social/emotional development.

Keep the lines of communication open. Meet with your child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, and/or principal. Learn about the options in your school. Share with them your concerns about ensuring your child is challenged in school. Understand that these professionals might not have been exposed to much information about acceleration in their training, so some of the information you have discovered might be new to them.

Go through the decision-making process. If a student is a candidate for a whole-grade skip, we advocate using the Iowa Acceleration Scale. This tool was developed specifically to address this question and helps families and educators to work together to consider aspects of development that are important in a decision about grade skipping. These include the student’s ability, aptitude, and achievement, as well as developmental factors, physical and social development, and support from the school and family.

Alternatively, or perhaps in addition to a conversation about a whole grade skip, you might think about subject acceleration. Moving ahead in one or more subjects might be the best alternative for a student who isn’t ready for a whole grade skip or has already skipped a grade, but needs additional challenge in a particular subject. An important tool for this discussion is above-level testing.

No discussion of acceleration is complete without considering social development—this is typically the first concern people mention when we start discussing any type of acceleration, especially grade-skipping.  Research shows that carefully selected students who accelerate do just fine socially. There might be a short adjustment period for the student, but the students typically adjust just as well socially or somewhat better socially than their chronologically older grade-mates. These students fit in just fine.

After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, you should come to a consensus about what is the best decision for your child. Whatever the decision is now, remember that you might need to revisit it again in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who isn’t accelerated now might need acceleration in the future. Also, remember that acceleration doesn’t solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Your child might still benefit from academic summer programs, additional enrichment in school, concurrent enrollment, individually-paced instruction in a strength area, etc. The goal is to challenge the student systematically throughout the school years.

Resources

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015). A nation empowered: Evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students. Iowa City, IA: Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. www.nationempowered.org 

Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2011). Developing Math Talent (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

See www.accelerationinstitute.org for more evidence. 

Are You Thinking about Early Entrance to College? 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 kind of like using a 3-foot yardstick to measure someone who is 5 feet tall. The grade-level yardstick isn’t long enough to measure the student’s height 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 been used since the 1980s to discover 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 programs, including programs offered by the Belin-Blank Center. An important opportunity 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. We recommend that 9th graders who are interested in considering early entrance to college take the ACT in June or in the fall of 10th grade.

If your student is a 9th grader this year, it’s not too early to think about taking the ACT. Students can take the test in June and receive their scores during the summer. This information can then be included in the admissions packet submitted to the University of Iowa. It’s important to note that applicants to the Bucksbaum Academy must take the ACT or SAT by November of their 10th grade year in order to be considered for some University of Iowa scholarships.

Even if your academically talented 7th-9th grade students aren’t thinking that early entrance to college is in their future, 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.

Challenging Learners Who Already Understand Grade Level Material

Guest post by Gerald Aungst
Adjunct lecturer at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center, and Gifted Support Teacher at the Cheltenham School District in Pennsylvania

The Belin-Blank Center moderates a Gifted Teachers’ Listserv, where educators from all over Iowa, the United States, and the world share resources, information, and support related to gifted education. This post originated on our listserv by Gerald Aungst, who graciously agreed to share his thoughts on our blog, as well. All opinions belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Belin-Blank Center or University of Iowa. 

Anyone who has had to sit through a meeting or training session about a topic which you understand well knows the feeling. You want to get on with it and move into something new and different. You want something useful. You want something meaningful.

And yet the idea persists in schools that when a student masters a skill quickly or already understands a topic we are introducing to the rest of the class, the best thing we can give that advanced learner is more of the same. “Oh, you finished the math worksheet already? Here’s another one with more problems to do.” Or “You wrote that 5-paragraph essay already? Well, then I guess your next essay needs to be 10 paragraphs.”

There is a place for honing and maintaining a difficult skill. Professional basketball players keep practicing free throws. Professional musicians keep practicing scales. But we need to ask if “more of the same” is the best option for a student with the limited time we have them in school.

Do you have colleagues or administrators who don’t see the value of giving advanced learners new, different things so they can continue to learn and grow? Here are a few resources to help you make your case.

Start with the NAGC position statements, which include references to relevant studies:

The Acceleration Institute has abundant resources on different options for acceleration. This brief policy summary, for example, has some great talking points for administrators. For more comprehensive explanations and a thorough review of extensive research on the topic, share A Nation Empowered to show why acceleration works.

Differentiation is another way to help students who may know some of the material in advance or who pick it up quickly. For quick overviews check out 7 Reasons Why Differentiated Instruction Works and What Works for Differentiating Instruction in Elementary Schools (many of these ideas are adaptable to middle and high school learners as well).

And of course Susan Winebrenner’s book Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom is full of strategies for differentiating and accelerating for advanced learners, backed up by decades of experience and research.

For more posts by Gerald Aungst, visit his website at geraldaungst.com.

If you are an educator looking for professional learning opportunities to help you better teach and understand gifted children, be sure to check out the Belin-Blank Center’s extensive list of courses and workshops on programming and curriculum. Each course corresponds to one of the educational strands necessary for the Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement and will help you develop your expertise in the new NAGC-CEC Teacher Preparation Standards in Gifted and Talented Education. For more information, visit belinblank.org/educators

Subject Acceleration: A How-To List

This article expands upon some of the ideas presented in the earlier blog, Subject-Specific Gifted Services:

This is when we need to start shifting our thinking from creating one gifted program that serves the “all-around gifted student” to providing services for students with strengths in specific areas. This shift in thinking helps us to be more responsive to our students’ needs and helps ensure that they are challenged in school every day.

Subject acceleration (also called content acceleration) is useful for students who have demonstrated advanced ability in one or more academic areas. Examples include a 2nd grader moving into the 3rd grade classroom for reading, a student taking an Advanced Placement (AP) course, or grouping several advanced 6th graders for math instruction. Subject acceleration can be appropriate for a high-ability student who isn’t recommended for whole-grade acceleration, exhibits an uneven academic profile with an extreme strength area, or has already skipped a grade but needs additional challenge in one area.

Some people might be concerned that subject acceleration may cause academic harm or put students in situations that are too challenging.  Research (such as that provided in A Nation Empowered) tells us otherwise:  

  • High ability students engage in abstract thinking at a younger age than typical students.
  • Accelerated students do not have gaps in their academic backgrounds.
  • Accelerated students will not run out of courses before high school graduation. (Students never really run out of content to study, but the high school might not offer the next course that is needed. In this situation, a student might need to utilize other options, such as dual enrollment or online coursework.)
  • Accelerated students do not “burn out.” Research shows that acceleration leads to higher levels of achievement.

Others may argue that, “We already have enrichment, so why do students need content acceleration?” We agree that STEM clubs, science fairs, English festivals, and pull-out programs provide valuable enrichment. However, they do not provide a systematic progression through the curriculum.

Subject acceleration has many advantages:

  • The regular classroom teacher does not have to search for materials for the advanced student, because that student is removed during class (for example, the student moves to a different class for math).
  • It is more likely that the student will be grouped with intellectual peers.
  • The student receives credit for work completed.
  • The student is appropriately challenged and therefore remains interested in the subject (and in school).
  • Research clearly supports the use of acceleration with academically talented students.

The disadvantages of subject acceleration include:

  • Although the student is now working at a higher level, the pace may still be too slow.
  • If the student is accelerated by only one year, there may be little new content.
  • The student may not receive credit for high school courses completed before enrolling in high school due to district policies.
  • Additional planning and discussion time may be required, if subject acceleration is new in a school or to a particular group of educators.
  • Long-term planning is essential, so the student does not “run out” of coursework before graduating from high school.

Utilizing subject acceleration can be challenging, and it requires us to consider a variety of questions:

  • How are grades and credit assigned?
  • When completing the school’s regular testing, which grade-level achievement test does the student take (“age-appropriate” or new grade)?
  • What transportation is needed?
  • How do we schedule the same subject at the same time for the two grade levels? (For example, one district offers math at the same time every day across the district, so students don’t miss another subject if they are accelerated for math.)
  • What indicators of accelerated coursework are needed on the student’s transcript?
  • How is class rank determined?

Subject acceleration requires careful thought and planning. However, the time invested in thinking through some of the challenges and long-term issues presented by subject acceleration provides an important result:  students who are appropriately challenged and engaged in school.

Additional Resources

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies

The new publication, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject is now available online. This publication, a project of the Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children and also endorsed by The Association for the Gifted, is an update of the Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy, which was published in 2009.

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies uses current research and practical considerations of school-based issues to guide decision-making. It includes recommended elements of whole-grade acceleration policies, early entrance to kindergarten or first grade policies, and subject-acceleration policies. Each section includes a checklist of items to consider while developing those specific policies. The information provided is supported by recent research.  Lists of resources are also included.  Download your copy of the publication from the Acceleration Institute website.

Additionally, if your school, district, or state has an acceleration policy that you would like to share with others (via the Acceleration Institute website), be sure to share your acceleration policy here. Thank you!

Subject-Specific Gifted Services?

An individual recently posted on the Belin-Blank Center teachers’ listserv:

“I’m wondering if anyone identifies and provides services based on specific subjects instead of just overall scores? I am hoping to figure out how to best serve our students.”

If you’re a teacher, you can probably think of several examples. Perhaps “Luisa” shows high potential in math but not in language arts (e.g., Iowa Assessments scores in the 99th percentile in math, but in the 70th-85th percentiles in reading and vocabulary).  In contrast, perhaps “Elizabeth” demonstrates strengths in language arts (reading at the 98th percentile, vocabulary 95th percentile), but not in math (math total 65th percentile).

These two students demonstrate strengths compared to other students in their respective grade levels and would likely benefit from some additional challenges during the school day. When the gifted program in a school is developed for the “all-around” gifted student, however, students like Luisa and Elizabeth might be overlooked and might not receive any differentiated services. Maybe these students don’t need all of the services provided by a traditional gifted program, but they would certainly benefit from being challenged in their strength areas.

This is when we need to start shifting our thinking from creating one gifted program that serves the “all-around gifted student” to providing services for students with strengths in specific areas. This shift in thinking helps us to be more responsive to our students’ needs and helps ensure that they are challenged in school every day.

How do we go about this? You might start by thinking of gifted education as a continuum of services or a smorgasbord of opportunities available to your students. These services might include pull-out classes in specific subjects (reading groups or math groups, for example), subject acceleration, ability grouping for part of the day, honors classes, etc. Other services that may offer appropriate challenges might include participation in contests or competitions as well as doing independent study projects.

Thinking about gifted education in this way helps us to shift our focus from “Who are the gifted students in our school?” to “Which students demonstrate talent in specific areas and how might we help develop those talents?”  It’s all about trying to find the best ways to serve our students.

If you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy reading Beyond Gifted Education: Designing and Implementing Advanced Academic Programs by Peters, Matthews, McBee, &McCoach (2014, published by Prufrock Press).

Connect with Educators Around the World: Belin-Blank Center ListServ

Did you know the Belin-Blank Center hosts a listserv for educators focused on gifted education?  Over 1,200 people receive email messages from the list and give and receive useful information, via list messages that go to all members or privately, from educator to educator.  Recent discussions include favorite TED talks to show students, assessing Algebra I readiness, book recommendations, gifted standards report cards, and identification for creativity and leadership. Ready to sign up? Visit this page.

The Belin-Blank Center blog is another great way to keep up-to-date on what is happening in gifted education. Recent blog posts have covered topics including resources on academic acceleration, professional learning events and courses, and Belin-Blank Center opportunities for students.  Subscribe here.

Who Needs Subject Acceleration? The Nuts and Bolts of Decision-Making

Some students are ready for subject acceleration – but which students, exactly? How do we know which students have mastered the classroom curriculum and are ready to handle more advanced work in a specific subject? Another related (and important) question is, how do we make sure they won’t have any gaps, if they move ahead?

STEM_Excellence_Hygienic_Lab_Trip_2017-4

Important tools that help us make decisions about subject acceleration include achievement testing and above-level testing.

Achievement testing includes standardized, grade-level tests such as the Iowa Assessments, TerraNova Test, and Stanford Achievement Test. These tests help us compare students to other students their own age. Typically, we recommend that students scoring at the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the main subject areas of one of those tests should be considered for further testing. (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students.) These students have correctly answered most of the items of the test, and we don’t really know what additional information they have mastered. For those students, the next step is above-level testing. (An important note: We do not require that students earn scores at the 95th percentile on the Composite of the test, just in a specific subject area. So, for example, we focus on finding math-talented students by looking at students’ scores on the math subtests.)

An above-level test measures a student’s aptitude. At the Belin-Blank Center (and at many university-based talent searches around the country), we use a test that was developed for older students and administer it to younger students. Some of the young students earn high scores, some earn low scores, and some earn moderate scores on that test. That information helps us to understand which students are ready for more.

Who is ready for the next step?

We have several rules of thumb for making decisions about what should happen next. One rule of thumb is the 50th percentile rule: Students earning scores at the 50th percentile or higher on an above-level test (when compared to the older group of students) are likely candidates for subject acceleration. Why the 50th percentile? The 50th percentile represents average performance for students at the grade level of the test. When a talented student earns a score at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test, it is a good indicator that their performance is comparable to average students at that grade level. It’s a good indicator that they are ready for more challenge.

How can educators use this information?

If a group of students takes an above-level test, educators can examine the scores of the students and group them for instruction based on their test scores. For example, if 5 students scored at the 50th percentile or above when compared to older students on whom the test was normed, those 5 students could be grouped in an accelerated class in that subject area or moved up a grade in that subject. Students earning lower scores would benefit from a more enrichment-oriented approach and can be grouped accordingly. Of course, other things to consider when making decisions about subject acceleration include grades earned and specific content already mastered.

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What about gaps?

Gaps are often a concern for educators and families considering moving students ahead. We worry that a student who is advanced will miss some critical information by skipping over some content. To help with this problem, achievement testing for the class the student will skip is helpful. If a student is skipping 5th grade math, for example, it’s useful to give that student an end-of-5th-grade exam or an achievement test that measures what is typically taught in 5th grade math.  The student will likely get a very high score on that test, but the testing may point out specific areas the student has not yet mastered. A mentor or teacher can then work with the student on the concepts he or she missed in order to get the student up to speed before starting the 6th grade math class.

Summary of the steps

Step 1 is administering the grade-level standardized achievement test. Students earning scores at the 95th percentile in the relevant subject area are recommended to move on to Step 2, aptitude testing. In Step 2, students take an aptitude test, which is a test that was developed for older students. The Belin-Blank Center provides above-level testing using two different aptitude tests: I-Excel for bright 4th-6th graders or the ACT for bright 7th-9th graders. In Step 3, those students also take achievement tests on the higher level content, so we can determine if there are any gaps in the students’ backgrounds. Finally, the student is placed in an advanced class.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel or ACT testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.

For more information, see:

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 4.07.28 PMThe book, Developing Math Talent, by Susan Assouline & Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik. See especially the chapter on the Diagnostic Testing->Prescriptive Instruction Model for detailed information about using tests to help inform decisions.

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level Testing — This post offers an overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Still have questions? 

Visit belinblank.org/talent-search for more information, or email assessment@belinblank.org.

How Do I Develop an Academic Acceleration Policy?

Oct18_guidelinesWe are excited to report that the new publication, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject will be available in mid-November. This publication, a project of the Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children and also endorsed by The Association for the Gifted and the Council of State Directors of Programs for the Gifted, is an update of the Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy, which was published in 2009.

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies uses current research and practical considerations of school-based issues to guide decision-making. It includes recommended elements of whole-grade acceleration policies, early entrance to kindergarten or first grade policies, and subject-acceleration policies. Each section includes a checklist of items to consider while developing those specific policies. The information provided is supported by recent research.  Lists of resources are also included.

If you attend the National Association for Gifted Children annual conference in Minneapolis in November 2018, you will receive a hard copy of the publication. It will also be available on the Acceleration Institute website soon after the conference.

Making Defensible Decisions About Subject Acceleration

Blast Electric Art 2018-4.jpgThe school year is just getting started, and it’s a good time to think about opportunities for your academically talented students.  Maybe some of your students have already mastered the classroom curriculum, and you’re not sure how to keep them challenged and engaged. Perhaps your district is trying to identify students who are ready for additional challenge. Maybe some students are interested in taking advanced courses, but you’re not sure if they would qualify, or what classes they should take. Above-level testing can help with all of these scenarios. It is a defensible, objective, research-based method of identifying students for academically challenging opportunities.

Above-level testing occurs when a bright young student takes a test developed for older students. Taking a test above level gives the young student an opportunity to showcase his or her aptitudes and provides a better assessment of the student’s readiness to learn advanced material. Thus, above-level testing is useful for making placement decisions, such as accelerating into an advanced math or science course.

Why above-level testing? High scores on grade-level tests demonstrate that students have mastered grade-level material, but they don’t tell us how much additional challenge the students need. Above-level tests can help us identify the extent and types of challenge each student requires.

Which Students Benefit from Above-Level Testing?

The Belin-Blank Center provides above-level testing using I-Excel for bright 4th-6th graders or the ACT for bright 7th-9th graders. We recommend nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing.  (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)  Students do not need to be labeled “gifted” in order to participate in above-level testing. In fact, research shows that about half of the students who participate in this type of testing are not in their school’s gifted program.

Using the Results

What can we learn from the results of above-level testing?  Some students earn low scores on the test, some earn scores in the middle of the range, and some earn very high scores. The Belin-Blank Center developed guidelines that help educators and parents determine what educational options might be most appropriate for the student, based on their performance on the above-level test. For I-Excel, educators receive an Aggregate Report summarizing students’ performance, which helps educators make decisions about placement changes and adjustments to curriculum.  The detailed Individual Report (provided for both I-Excel and the ACT) can be shared with parents and provides detailed information about students’ strengths in math, science, English and reading and helps support data-driven decisions about individual students’ academic needs.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel or ACT testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.

Costs

The cost for I-Excel for the upcoming school year is $45 per student for group testing; this fee is discounted to $22 per student for students residing in Iowa.  Please note, the Belin-Blank Center no longer has grant funding to provide I-Excel testing at no cost to Iowa 5th graders.  However, Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations so they can try out I-Excel with their students.

Individual ACT registration is $70.  This includes both the testing fee and the talent search fee, and students are provided with the individualized report mentioned above.

For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are provided for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level Testing — This post offers an overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Still have questions? 

Visit belinblank.org/talent-search for more information, or email assessment@belinblank.org.

 

 

 

The Power of One: Lessons Learned from a Mentor

Wallace_Group

The Belin-Blank Center is proud to organize the Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development every two to four years.  This year’s April symposium was in Baltimore and co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth.  It was truly remarkable to gather with 200 other individuals, many of them renowned researchers in gifted education, creativity, and related areas.  The conversations that occurred at the dinner table were impressive!

One of the purposes of the Wallace Research Symposium this year was to honor the legacy of Julian Stanley. His ideas and his scholarly example can inspire all of us.

Stanley’s creative ideas and hard work planted the seeds for many of the activities and programs we provide in gifted education today. Millions of students have benefitted from Talent Searches, in which bright students take an above-level test (one that was developed for older students). This simple concept, which is still considered somewhat revolutionary, has given us a way to discover high-ability students. Once discovered, it is possible to provide these students with appropriate challenges.

Perhaps most important is the work Stanley did documenting the characteristics and educational and career trajectories of exceptionally talented youth. Dr. Stanley began a 50-year study on talented youth in the 1970s, which continues today. This is an almost unheard-of accomplishment in educational research.

Lessons learned from Julian Stanley:

  1. Mentors are important. Academically talented students benefit from mentors who not only teach them content, but also guide them through educational decisions, inspire them to work hard, and point out challenging opportunities.
  2. Objective tools, such as standardized tests, provide valuable information to discover and guide talented students.
  3. It is useful to look at specific domains of talent. Instead of searching for the all-around gifted student, focusing on specific subjects, such as mathematics or science, helps us to discover students who are ready for additional challenges.
  4. Acceleration is one of the best-researched methods for challenging talented students. Stanley’s Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth contributed a great deal to this work and shows us that academic acceleration and appropriate educational placement can have a profound effect on talented students, even many years later.

Julian Stanley changed the landscape of gifted education. It all started with the power of one.

Watch the video about the legacy of Julian Stanley.

Your 7th-9th Graders Can Take the ACT

pexels-photo-220320.jpegYour 7th-9th graders have a unique opportunity to take the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center; this test is usually given to 11th and 12th graders during the college admissions process. Bright younger students can take it as a way of demonstrating their academic abilities, becoming eligible for academic recognition such as the Belin-Blank Recognition Ceremony, and becoming eligible for educational opportunities (such as summer and weekend programs) and scholarships.

Eligible 7th-9th graders will have earned a score at the 95th percentile or above on a core subject of a grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments).  Those students have already demonstrated high achievement on grade-level tests and are ready to show what they have learned or are ready to learn by taking an “above-level” test, or one that is designed for older students. A disadvantage of grade-level tests is that they do not accurately measure highly-able students’ abilities; think of it like a yardstick that is too short to measure the extent of their talents. The above-level test essentially lengthens the yardstick and helps us to know more about the students’ abilities and to make sound educational recommendations for them.

The cost for ACT is $70. The next test session is April 14th, and the deadline is March 7th (a late fee is added for those who register after that date).

We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Responding to the Arguments Against Acceleration (Again)

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Question from a gifted coordinator:

My principal found 3 articles indicating that students in mixed ability math courses perform well in later math courses. She is using these as an argument NOT to group our math-talented students for mathematics. How do I respond?

My response:  

I would like to respond with an entire body of research evidence rather than selecting a handful of studies to cite. Educational researchers use a technique called “meta-analysis,” in which they look at hundreds of studies, thousands of students, and many different school situations to address important questions such as this one. Some of those meta-analyses are listed below.  My focus is on what is best for high-ability students.

An important question to ask is, “How do accelerated high-ability students compare to non-accelerated students who are equally able?”  In other words, what is lost if we do not allow academically talented students to move ahead as their abilities and motivations would allow?

What we have learned from meta-analyses is that acceleration is a positive, powerful option for talented students. Many of the research studies focused on math-talented students, but many others include accelerated students who are talented in other subjects:

  • These students benefit in significant ways from participating in classes that challenge them at the right level.
  • Math-talented students who are allowed to accelerate retain what they have learned, tend to continue pursuing studies in math and science, pursue more challenging majors and more prestigious careers, and earn more money than comparison students.
  • Accelerated students also tend to generate more creative products such as patents and research articles than non-accelerated equally-able peers.
  • Gifted students are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject.
  • Gifted students who accelerate turn out to be higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive, short-term, and long-term.

In my opinion, not allowing academically talented students to move ahead appropriately is educational malpractice, because the evidence is so clear and so positive supporting acceleration.

Resources

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015). A nation empowered: Evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students. Iowa City, IA: Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. www.nationempowered.org

Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2011). Developing Math Talent (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Gross, M. U. (2004). A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. The Templeton National Report on Acceleration. Volume 2. Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development (NJ1).  See especially the chapter by James Kulik: http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Nation_Deceived/ND_v2.pdf#page=22

Kulik, J. A., & Kulik, C. L. C. (1984). Effects of accelerated instruction on students. Review of educational research, 54(3), 409-425.

Rogers, K. B. (2007). Lessons learned about educating the gifted and talented: A synthesis of the research on educational practice. Gifted child quarterly, 51(4), 382-396.

See www.accelerationinstitute.org for more evidence.

Talent searches help us to learn more about academically talented students and to decide who might benefit from acceleration:  https://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/students/bests/whybests.aspx

 

Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development

Wallace postcard 2017

Registration is open for the Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development, to be held April 29-May 1, 2018 at the Mt. Washington Conference Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.  The Wallace Research Symposium is the premiere scholarly conference for the latest research findings in gifted education and talent development.

Featured speakers include:

  • Susan Assouline
  • Camilla Benbow
  • Linda Brody
  • Nicholas Colangelo
  • Elaine Hansen
  • David Lubinski
  • Matt Makel
  • Besty McCoach
  • Paula Olszewski-Kubilius
  • Jonathan Plucker
  • Sally Reis
  • Joseph Renzulli
  • Ann Robinson
  • Nancy Robinson
  • Robert Root-Bernstein
  • Michele Root-Bernstein
  • Del Siegle
  • Amy Shelton
  • Rena Subotnik
  • Joyce VanTassel-Baska
  • Frank Worrell

The Wallace Research Symposium for Talent Development is co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and the Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. For more information and to register, please visit belinblank.org/wallace. For questions, please contact wallace@belinblank.org.

Sharing the Secret to Understanding High-Ability Students’ Academic Needs

Infographic above-level testingWe have called above-level testing “the best-kept secret in gifted education.” What do we mean by that? Above-level testing, which is a way of helping us more accurately measure a student’s aptitudes, is under-utilized in gifted education. Imagine you are working with two students, Jessica and Mary. Both of them have scored at the 99th percentile on the mathematics subtest of the Iowa Assessments when compared to other 5th graders. They are both strong in math, but how do we know the extent of their skills?  What should they learn next?  Psychologists say that the students have “hit the ceiling of the test” because they got everything (or almost everything) right on the grade-level test. What we need is a harder test that would more accurately measure their talents and help us to tailor instruction to their specific needs.

Enter an above-level test. Rather than creating a special test for these students, we give them I-Excel, which contains 8th grade content.  Jessica scores at the 85th percentile when compared to 8th graders, and Mary scores at the 20th percentile when compared to 8th graders.  This indicates that Jessica is ready for much more challenge (likely accelerative opportunities) in math than Mary, even though both students have shown they are very good at math compared to typical students in their 5th grade regular classroom.

We’ll dive into this concept in more detail in the webinar and the (optional) online class that follows it. Learn how you can apply the process of above-level testing so you can learn more about your students’ aptitudes and to think about the types of programming accommodations they need. Above-level testing is key to helping us tailor educational programs for gifted students. It helps us to understand the students need for challenge in specific subject areas and to act on the information appropriately.

The webinar will be held on January 9, 2018 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Central time. Register for the webinar here.  Registration is for one computer, and one registration may be shared by multiple participants. We encourage schools, districts, and even AEAs to register to allow as many participants as possible access to this Webinar. Can’t make the live webinar? Don’t worry. You can still register for the event and a link to the recording will be emailed to you when it’s available.  Cost: $45 for registration for either the Webinar or the link to watch it after the Webinar; $55 for registration for BOTH the Webinar and the link.

After the webinar, you may also take a one-semester-hour class on the topic. Registration information for that class is available here. The class meets online from January 16-February 5, 2018.

My 4th-6th Grade Students are Taking I-Excel Soon: How Do I Help Them Get Ready?

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I-Excel is an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders. The purpose of testing is to discover high ability students, so we can help them find the academic challenges they need. The best preparation for taking a standardized test such as I-Excel is to get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast. This helps to set the student up for success.

Before taking I-Excel, we recommend that students try the sample items so they become comfortable with the format of the test. Beyond that, we do not recommend that students study for the test. The most useful scores result when students understand the format but do not study for the test.  Families receive a link to the sample test in their confirmation email. Registered students can use the email address associated with the registration to access the sample items, or contact assessment@belinblank.org to receive the link and a temporary access code.

What should you tell students about taking I-Excel?

  • They should know that this is a challenging test that was originally designed for 8th graders.
  • They should try to do their best, but it is very common not to finish one or more sections of the test.
  • It is highly likely they won’t know everything on the test. This is expected and okay.
  • The fact that they were invited to take this challenging test alone is proof that they are doing very well.

If the test is not during a regular school day, make sure they know what time to arrive and where to meet.  They should bring:

  • A calculator for use during the Mathematics test as long as it does not have one of the prohibited characteristics listed here.
  • A snack to eat during a break. We recommend something healthy, such as an apple.
  • Two pencils.
  • Scrap paper will be provided.

For more information about I-Excel, see www.i-excel.org.

Professional Learning Opportunities for Teachers

Aug17_PDDear Colleagues,

I wanted to be sure you are aware of upcoming professional learning opportunities!

The day before the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association Conference (October 15), Dr. Susan Assouline will provide a pre-conference session about academic acceleration, and the Iowa Acceleration Scale.  You can register here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pre-conference-workshop-on-academic-acceleration-tickets-37100929880.

If you would like to earn credit at the conference itself (instead of OR in addition to the pre-conference credit),

Please let me know if you have questions about these opportunities! As well, if you live in a different state and would like to discuss similar options for your own state conference, let me know.  If you have the chance to attend the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) convention in Charlotte, NC, this November, you can earn either one or two hours of credit there, as well (https://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/educators/courses/schedule.aspx#PSQF:5194:0WKA).

I look forward to seeing you at ITAG!

Laurie Croft

laurie-croft@uiowa.edu

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?

Maybe the first place for educators to start is with thinking about the “Why” of testing. I-Excel (and other above-level tests such as the ACT) provide a way of discovering high-ability students who need additional challenges. Above-level tests provide important information and help us make decisions about the types of programming our talented students need.

BBC students outsideIn a previous blog, we talked about how above-level testing works. Our focus here is on the steps educators can take to set up testing and what happens next.  The purpose is to discover high-performing students and match the curriculum and programming to their needs.

Students who perform well on grade-level tests (such as the Iowa Assessments) are good candidates to begin this process. Educators may take the following steps:

  1. Identify 4th-6th graders scoring at the 95th percentile or above on at least one section of the Iowa Assessments.
  2. Review the information about above-level testing here.
  3. Contact the Belin-Blank Center to set up a testing date.
  4. Invite students to participate in above-level testing using I-Excel.
  5. Administer I-Excel during a school day or on the weekend (depending on what works best for your situation).
  6. Receive detailed interpretation from the Belin-Blank Center. The Aggregate Report compiles information from your group of students to help you make decisions about placement changes and adjustments to the curriculum. The Individual Report (which can be shared with parents) provides detailed information about students’ strengths in math, science, English and reading and helps you make data-driven decisions about individual students’ academic needs.
  7. Make decisions about the students’ educational placement and curriculum. Some students’ test data will inform you that they are in need of academic enrichment, while other students’ data will indicate their readiness for more accelerated work.

What happens to the students as a result of this information? Your school district may already have a variety of opportunities for these students (enrichment programs, accelerated courses, honors courses, etc.). I-Excel might be used to help educators make decisions about which students would benefit from an accelerative math program or a literature-based enrichment program that is already in place or is being developed. Iowa educators might consider the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA), which provides online courses during the school day. What makes the IOAPA courses so successful (a 95% completion rate!) is the partnership between the Belin-Blank Center and the local school. IOAPA provides access to the curriculum and the school provides a local mentor who monitors and encourages the student.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.  If you’re ready to get started, email assessment@belinblank.org.

Wallace Research Symposium

Wallace postcard 2017Registration is open for the Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development, to be held April 29-May 1, 2018 at the Mt. Washington Conference Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.  The Wallace Research Symposium is the premiere scholarly conference for the latest research findings in gifted education and talent development.  The call for papers is open until September 15th.

Featured speakers include:

  • Susan Assouline
  • Camilla Benbow
  • Linda Brody
  • Nicholas Colangelo
  • Elaine Hansen
  • David Lubinski
  • Matt Makel
  • Besty McCoach
  • Paula Olszewski-Kubilius
  • Jonathan Plucker
  • Sally Reis
  • Joseph Renzulli
  • Ann Robinson
  • Nancy Robinson
  • Robert Root-Bernstein
  • Michele Root-Bernstein
  • Del Siegle
  • Amy Shelton
  • Rena Subotnik
  • Joyce VanTassel-Baska
  • Frank Worrell

The Wallace Research Symposium for Talent Development is co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and the Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. For more information, please visit belinblank.org/wallace. For questions, please contact wallace@belinblank.org.

I-Excel Testing Session for 4th-6th Graders at University of Iowa

BBC students outsideAre you thinking about having your high-ability student take I-Excel?  The Belin-Blank Center is hosting a testing session on the University of Iowa campus on June 12th.

I-Excel is considered an above-level test. It contains 8th grade content, but it is administered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders.  Students scoring at the 95th percentile or higher on any subject of the grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments) have reached the ceiling of that test.  An above-level test raises the ceiling, measures the student’s aptitudes more accurately, and can inform parents and educators about readiness for advanced curriculum.   More information and a video about above-level testing can be found at this link.

I-Excel is a test of 8th grade content, which provides a challenge for talented 4th-6th graders.  This test enables students to demonstrate their academic strengths in math, science, English, and reading.  The results of an above-level test tell us what students are ready to learn, which can help parents and educators make appropriate curriculum modifications and programming.  Outstanding individual scorers will be recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.  Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results. This interpretation includes recommendations for curriculum readiness.  More information about I-Excel can be found here.

The next testing session on the University of Iowa campus is June 12th, and students may register here.  Check-in begins at 12:30, and testing will conclude around 3:00 p.m. The cost is $65. A few weeks before the test, we will send more details to students who have signed up.

Students unable to participate in the testing session at the University of Iowa can still take I-Excel testing this school year. See detailed information about Individual Testing, which can be arranged at a convenient location and time.  The deadline for testing this is June 10th, and testing will resume again in the fall.  If you have any questions, email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Differentiating? Finding the Students Who Need Something Different

 

 

DSC_0075On this blog, we’ve talked a lot about using above-level testing as a tool to discover exceptionally talented students. It’s an efficient way to find students who need “something more” than the regular curriculum offers. If a group of your bright students takes an above-level test, the results can help you understand which students are best challenged by enriching the regular curriculum, which students might need some more significant adjustments to the curriculum, and which students need acceleration. This additional information not only makes your teaching much more efficient, but it helps students to remain engaged and challenged in school.

One of the tests provided by the Belin-Blank Center is I-Excel, offered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders. It licenses content developed by the testing company, ACT, that was designed to measure the academic progress of junior high students.  From that content, the Belin-Blank Center has been identifying the academic talents of bright 4th – 6th graders for over 20 years.  It contains four subtests: English, Math, Science, and Reading.

After testing, I-Excel scores appear in IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration, the platform for understanding and interpreting test scores, automatically.  Educators can view both group and individual interpretations, and they can easily distribute the individualized interpretations to parents.  I-Excel is offered in three different ways:

  1. BESTS In-School: For groups of 4 or more students, educators can set up a test date in their school any day of the week. Learn more.
  2. Individual Testing: For 1-3 students, parents or educators can set up a test date any time. A licensed educator must proctor the test.  Learn more.
  3. Test dates are also periodically offered at the Belin-Blank Center. Learn more.

We welcome opportunities to work with educators to ensure the I-Excel test results are presented in ways that are useful to you. Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT?

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Your 7th-9th graders have a unique opportunity to take the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center; this test is usually given to 11th and 12th graders during the college admissions process. Bright younger students can take it as a way of demonstrating their academic abilities, becoming eligible for academic recognition such as the Belin-Blank Recognition Ceremony, and becoming eligible for educational opportunities (such as summer and weekend programs) and scholarships.

Eligible 7th-9th graders will have earned a score at the 95th percentile or above on a core subject of a grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments).  Those students have already demonstrated high achievement on grade-level tests and are ready to show what they have learned or are ready to learn by taking an “above-level” test, or one that is designed for older students. A disadvantage of grade-level tests is that they do not accurately measure highly-able students’ abilities; think of it like a yardstick that is too short to measure the extent of their talents. The above-level test essentially lengthens the yardstick and helps us to know more about the students’ abilities and to make sound educational recommendations for them.

We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Making Sense of Test Scores

ideal-solutions-rocketWe are thrilled to announce the launch of IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration, the platform for understanding I-Excel and ACT test scores.  A comprehensive, easy-to-read report helps educators and parents decide the best curricular fit for one or more high-ability students.  IDEAL Solutions helps to translate data into research-supported action.

The type of information provided by above-level testing (via I-Excel or ACT) helps parents and educators make decisions based on facts and research.  IDEAL Solutions provides individual reports, as well as group reports useful for teachers looking for ways to challenge their high-ability students.

I-Excel, offered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders, licenses content developed by the testing company, ACT, that was designed to measure the academic progress of junior high students.  From that content, the Belin-Blank Center has been identifying the academic talents of bright 4th-6th graders for over 20 years.

After testing, I-Excel scores appear in IDEAL Solutions automatically.  I-Excel is available in three different ways:

  1. BESTS In-School: For groups of 4 or more students, educators can set up a test date in their school any day of the week. Learn more.
  2. Individual Testing: For 1-3 students, parents or educators can set up a test date any time. A licensed educator must proctor the test.  Learn more.
  3. Test dates are also periodically offered at the Belin-Blank Center. Learn more.

ACT, offered to high-ability 7th-9th graders, is primarily used in the college admissions process and is available only through national testing dates established by ACT. Locations are available throughout the United States.  The ACT takes approximately three hours to complete.  Learn more.

For more information, visit the new IDEAL Solutions website!

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Talent Search: Bridge to Opportunity

talent-search-bridge-to-opportunity

They say, “A picture is worth 10,000 words,” and that must mean that a video is worth over a million!  We are excited to share with you a video explaining what Talent Searches can do for students, educators, and parents.  Academic Talent Searches discover students talented in math, science, and language arts using the efficient method of above-level testing.

4th-6th graders might take I-Excel, and 7th-9th graders might take the ACT.  These above-level tests help us to understand not only the extent of students’ talents, but also what they are ready to learn next. The tests help us to understand the needs of exceptionally talented students, as well as to think about ways in which we can modify programs and other opportunities offered in school (and outside of school) to best realize those talents.  The Belin-Blank Center staff is eager to work with educators and families to understand how the test scores can be used to inform educational decision-making, so students are challenged every day.

We thank the Sara Rieger (an artist, teacher, and parent), for putting the information about Talent Searches together in such a creative and engaging way!

If you have questions about I-Excel or other opportunities the Belin-Blank Center offers, please contact ann-shoplik@uiowa.edu.  Take a look at our new video, and let us know what you think!

 

 

 

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level Testing

The secret of above-level testing is really not much of a secret. It’s used extensively at universities that have centers for gifted education.  Unfortunately, it’s not used much by schools. This secret is hiding in plain sight!

What is above-level testing and how can it be used?  Let’s answer the second question first. Above-level testing is useful for decisions about:

  1. Identifying a student for a gifted program
  2. Determining what a student is ready to learn next
  3. Deciding whether or not a student is ready for subject-matter acceleration
  4. Deciding whether or not a student is ready to skip a grade

“Above-level testing” is exactly what it sounds like:  Give a younger student a test that was developed for older students.  This idea was pioneered over one hundred years ago by Dr. Leta Hollingworth, sometimes called the “mother” of gifted education.  This concept was fully developed by Dr. Julian Stanley in the 1970s when he devised the “Talent Search” in which 7th and 8th graders took the college admissions exam, the SAT.  Fast forward to the present day, and above-level testing is used extensively in outside-of-school programs for gifted students. In fact, hundreds of thousands of students around the world take above-level tests each year as part of university-based talent searches, such as the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.  Some of these tests used are the SAT, ACT, Explore (recently discontinued), and I-Excel. Unfortunately, above-level tests are not used extensively in typical school gifted programs; we would like to change that!

Academically talented students tend to perform extremely well on tests developed for their own age group. They do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, and we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be.  Psychologists call this “hitting the ceiling” of the test. Think of it like a yardstick: The grade-level “yardstick” measures only 36 inches. If the student is 40 inches tall, we can’t measure that accurately using only the grade-level yardstick. What we need is a longer yardstick, and a harder test. An above-level test, one that is developed for older students, provides that longer yardstick and successfully raises the ceiling for that talented student.

above-level testingThe advantages of above-level testing include differentiating between “talented” and “exceptionally talented” students. In the figure above, the bell curve on the left shows a typical group of students. A few students earn very high scores (at the 95th percentile or above when compared to their age-mates). These are the students who “hit the ceiling” of the grade-level test.  If we give that group of students a harder test, an above-level test that was developed for older students, voila! we see a new bell curve (the one on the right). The harder test spreads out the scores of the talented students and helps us to differentiate the talented from the exceptionally talented students.

What does this matter? Knowing how students performed on an above-level test helps us to give the students, their families and their educators better advice about the kinds of educational options the students might need. For example, does this student need educational enrichment? Would that student benefit from moving up a grade level or two in math? Would another student benefit from grade-skipping? Organizations such as the Belin-Blank Center who have used above-level testing for years have developed rubrics to help educators and parents understand the student’s above-level test scores and relate them to appropriately challenging educational options. In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s aptitudes, which allows us to make good recommendations about the types of educational challenges the student needs.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are thrilled to be able to provide educators with specific information about your students via the in-school testing option for I-Excel, an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders. For more information about how this could work in your school, see www.i-excel.org and www.belinblank.org/talent-search, or contact assessment@belinblank.org.

Students in 7th – 9th grade also have an opportunity for above-level testing by taking the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center. We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

No Time for Your Own Professional Development? Take Graduate Courses in Your PJs!

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The Belin-Blank Center offers a variety of online courses in gifted education, so you can learn at a time that is convenient to you (even if that means late at night!).  The cost of courses starts at $297 (undergraduate credit), and you can register for one or more classes.  There is no travel requirement, and all online courses can be completed at home.  Learn about gifted education when and where it’s convenient for you!

Spring 2017 courses include:

  • Program Models in Gifted Education (3 semester hours)
  • Identification of Students for Gifted Programs (3 semester hours)
  • Topics: Smart Girls in the 21st Century (2 semester hours)
  • Administrative & Policy Issues (2 semester hours)
  • Thinking Skills (1 semester hour)
  • Ethnic & Cultural Issues / Giftedness (1 semester hour)
  • Math Programming for High Ability Learners (1 semester hour)
  • Leadership Skills for G/T, K-12 (1 semester hour)

Ready to get started? More details at: belinblank.org/educators.  New students should visit belinblank.org/EdReg and follow the directions to register as a continuing education student.

You need a computer and a reliable internet connection. Many courses provide all necessary course materials. For others, you will need to purchase one or two books.

In addition to these online opportunities, the Belin-Blank Center again is facilitating two different academic credit opportunities for those who are attending the Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) Association Conference on October 17-18, 2016:

  • For teachers NEWto gifted education, TAG: You’re It provides a guided overview of the field, building on the ITAG Conference (2 semester hours)
  • For more experienced teachers, Leadership in Gifted Education, ITAG 2016 provides a structure to reflect on ITAG in light of national standards in gifted education and complete projects inspired by conference content (1 or 2 semester hours)

For those who are attending the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Convention in Orlando on November 3-6, the opportunity for academic credit again builds on convention content, national standards, and educators’ applications of material.

To see more information about the ITAG and NAGC options, view the Fall 2016 schedule of courses online.  (Note: The list of spring courses is not yet online.)

All educators (or interested parents) who would like to earn academic credit should register as Continuing Education Students.  Questions?  Contact Dr. Laurie Croft, Associate Director for Professional Development, Belin-Blank Center.

Can I-Excel Be Used to Screen Students for a Gifted Program?

BBC students outside

I-Excel is a new test offered by the Belin-Blank Center. Its purpose is to assist educators in discovering academically talented 4th-6th grade students who need additional challenges in school.  One of the teachers with whom we work asked, “Could I-Excel be used to screen students for a gifted program, or would you recommend using other methods for screening?”

This is an excellent question.  The short answer is “Yes!”  We recommend the following steps for educators:

  1. Look at the results from the standardized testing routinely administered at your school (for example, the Iowa Assessments, Stanford Achievement Tests, Terra Nova, etc.).
  2. Select the 4th, 5th, or 6th graders scoring at or around the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the core content areas (such as reading, math, language, science, etc.).
  3. Invite those students to participate in I-Excel testing. We suggest that the students take all four subtests of I-Excel (Math, Science, English, and Reading) to get the most comprehensive information.
  4. Use the I-Excel information in combination with other information you have available to select students for your gifted program and/or other appropriately challenging programming.
    1. You might choose to focus on only one area; for example, if you are seeking students in need of additional opportunities in math, you’ll want to look most closely at the Math subtest of I-Excel to identify high-performing math students.
    2. IDEAL Solutions is the platform for understanding I-Excel test scores. Once your students test using I-Excel, educators will have access to an individualized interpretation of the test scores as well as a group interpretation (if 10 or more students tested). This information is designed to help you make informed decisions about the types of programs to provide for challenging your students.
    3. For example, in a given school with a comprehensive TAG program, educators might decide to use all four subtests of I-Excel to identify students for the gifted program. In another school, where the TAG program is more focused on advanced science and mathematics, educators might use only the Science and Math subtests of I-Excel as part of their larger identification process. Students with very high scores on the English or Reading subtests may be ready for more advanced material in language arts.

I-Excel is useful for helping educators determine which students have specific talents in one area (for example, Science), and which students demonstrate high ability across the board (Math, Science, English, and Reading). Gifted programs and other advanced opportunities can be designed with the students’ varying strengths in mind, and different schools will choose different approaches to challenge their students.

Because I-Excel is an above-level test, it can be used as an indicator of specific aptitude when completing the Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS).  The IAS was designed to help make decisions about whether or not a student is ready for a grade skip.

Always be sure to check your local and state policies for gifted program identification, to be sure your process is consistent with requirements.

We welcome opportunities to work with educators to ensure the I-Excel test results are presented in ways that are useful to you. Have other questions?  Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details.

Lessons Learned: One School District’s Experience with Acceleration Practices

Special thanks to Dr. Keri Guilbault, guest writer for this blog!

A few years ago I worked as a district coordinator of gifted and talented programs in a large school district. New to the state and county, I was surprised to learn that there was no written policy for academic acceleration of students in grades K-12 even though the state supported acceleration. Leaving policy decisions up to local districts led to a hodgepodge of guidelines and practices, and very few written policies beyond early entrance to Kindergarten and dual enrollment in high school.  From time to time, elementary or middle school principals would contact me and tell me about a unique student who was recognized as working years beyond grade level, often frustrated with the pace in the general education setting, and certainly missing out on the opportunity to learn something new.  I appointed an ad-hoc committee to develop acceleration guidelines for our elementary school learners using the Guidelines for Developing an Academic Acceleration Policy as a guide. We implemented a process that began with a referral to a student study team led by each school’s gifted and talented resource teacher who took the lead in completing the Iowa Acceleration Scales for the candidate.  We monitored the students’ academic growth and affective adjustment and in following up with parents, teachers, and administrators I learned some valuable tips to guide future policy and improve practices:

  • Provide additional training on the IAS and acceleration for all members of the student study team, including a school administrator who will have the final decision.
  • Be sure that there is an appeals process in place and that it is made public and available to all parents. Transparency and communication are key.
  • Provide parents/caregivers with a formal notification letter even if they are notified of the acceleration decision face to face. The IAS has a great planning guide at the end that can be used as a template for the acceleration plan and meeting notes.
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting during the acceleration decision conference for all stakeholders to discuss the student’s progress and adjustment within 4-6 weeks after any change in placement. Do not skip this meeting even if you think things are going well!
  • Train the gifted and talented resource teachers or at least one staff member at each school on the acceleration process, IAS, and data mining to pro-actively look for possible candidates for acceleration using data that is already collected in the district. For our district, all second graders take the CogAT and any student scoring at the 99th percentile in any subtest was automatically considered. Waiting for teacher or parent requests often leads to inequity in student selection.
  • Provide parent and community information sessions on the acceleration process and policy and establish parent networking and support groups for families of accelerants and potential accelerants. Being able to ask questions and share concerns with other families who have gone through the process can be extremely helpful!

Keri M. Guilbault, Ed.D. is an Assistant Professor of Gifted and Talented Education at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore and a former district supervisor of Gifted and Talented programs.

kguilbault@ndm.edu

Twitter: @drkerig

Why Accelerate? A Roadmap

Aug16_JVTDr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska gave a riveting talk at the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute (B-BALI) earlier this summer on “The Research and Practice of Acceleration for Gifted Students: Toward Policy Development.” She explained that acceleration policy is needed:

  1. To ensure that it happens consistently across districts, individual students, and time;
  2. To provide guidance for educational decisions about acceleration options; and
  3. To ensure that it is presented as one of the basic provisions for gifted students at all stages of development.

The research on academic acceleration is the strongest research and the best practice we have in gifted education. Nothing else comes close.  Both short-term and longitudinal studies consistently demonstrate the power of acceleration for gifted students; in one study of students who had accelerated 38 years prior, researchers found accelerated students earned terminal degrees (e.g., Ph.D., J.D., or M.D.) at a rate substantially higher than in the general population (37-43% in the accelerated group compared to only 1% in the general population), performed at a high level in their careers, demonstrated a higher rate of patents and publications, earned higher salaries, etc.

Acceleration can be used as the catalyst for talent development in schools.  Schools should provide:

  1. Advanced opportunities as early as possible in identified areas of aptitude;
  2. Sustained practice of the progressive development of skills under the guidance of a coach, tutor, or mentor;
  3. Competitions in the area of strength, so students can see what excellence looks like; and
  4. Collaboration on expert teams for performance.

The above recommendations are consistent with those provided by the National Science Foundation (2010), which calls for more use of inquiry through project-based learning, more research preparation, and more emphasis on career development.

13 Policy blueIf we accelerate gifted students, what does that look like at each stage?  Dr. VanTassel-Baska recommends using acceleration as the first intervention, then providing enrichment and other services. By using acceleration as the first intervention, we are starting with the evidence-based provision. Higher levels of functioning demand that we raise the level of curricular challenge; this ensures a good match with the student’s readiness for learning.  In short, gifted students who are ready for more advanced curriculum need acceleration.

Acceleration is flexible. It can be provided in different ways, from content acceleration to grade skipping (20 different types of acceleration are listed in A Nation Empowered). Acceleration can be provided at different times during a student’s development, it can be provided for a group or individually, and the types of acceleration can be used alone or in combination.

Content acceleration options at all stages of development should be a core for acceleration policy.  Policymakers and practitioners should consider utilizing existing practices. For example, if an option for testing out of high school courses is available for students who have difficulties, this option should be made available for gifted students as well.

Both research and effective practice demonstrate the power of acceleration with high-ability learners. Acceleration is the first and most important differentiation tool for instruction for gifted students and needs to be acknowledged as such. Our gifted programs would be far more effective if strong acceleration policies were enacted.

We thank Dr. VanTassel-Baska for presenting this important talk.

Additional notes from the Belin-Blank Center

  • See the 2-volume book, A Nation Empowered (nationempowered.org), which provides the latest information on research and practice in acceleration.
  • The Acceleration Institute (accelerationinstitute.org) contains many resources for making decisions about acceleration and implementing acceleration policies.
  •  The Iowa Acceleration Scale is a useful tool for making decisions about a grade skip.

 

An Iowa Acceleration Scale “Booster Shot”

Iowa Acceleration Scale

The Belin-Blank Center recently hosted the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute. The theme this year was, “A Nation Empowered: Research-Based Evidence about Acceleration and Gifted/Talented Students.” During the Pre-Institute, we spent a whole afternoon talking about the Iowa Acceleration Scale. Many of the people attending the session had already used the IAS, and they were looking for answers to specific questions or they simply wanted a “booster shot” of best practices concerning the scale. Some of the major points made in the session include:

  • Become informed about the research. We have over 60 years of research on acceleration, and it is consistently positive. Knowing the research helps us to make well-informed, data-driven decisions for students.
  • Prepare your team for the meeting. Nobody likes surprises. Help them to understand the purpose of the meeting and the information you would like them to bring to the meeting.
  • Provide information about acceleration. It’s helpful to give team members some basic information about grade skipping (see resources listed below).
  • Collect all profile information before the meeting to use everyone’s time well at the meeting.
  • Talk with the student about the acceleration. The student plays a critical role in making the acceleration experience successful or unsuccessful. Find out if the student is on board and if he or she has any questions or concerns.
  • Schedule enough time for the meeting. This is an important decision worthy of thoughtful discussion.
  • Pre-plan other options. For example, if there is a possibility that the student might be subject accelerated (rather than skip a grade), it would be helpful to think through issues such as transportation and scheduling before the meeting so the team doesn’t get sidetracked with related issues or questions.
  • Select a receiving teacher. This person is critical to the success of an acceleration.
  • Support the receiving teacher. Some teachers feel a little bit intimidated by the fact that they will have a younger student in their class, and they might have questions about how best to support the student and to help the other students in the class welcome the young student.
  • Follow-up with parents, teachers, and student. It is very helpful to schedule a specific time period that serves as a “trial period” for the acceleration. The team should take the time to meet again about the accelerated student and discuss what is working well and how they can make things go more smoothly.

Resources

The Iowa Acceleration Scale is an instrument designed to guide the discussion about academic acceleration. The IAS is not a test; it is designed to help the child study team members think about the various aspects of acceleration (for example, academic development, social development, physical development, etc.). http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/IAS.aspx

A Nation Deceived:  This 2-volume set published in 2004 provides research and practical information about acceleration. Volume 1 includes some of the myths (and responses) relevant to acceleration.  Volume 2 includes research findings. www.nationdeceived.org

A Nation Empowered:  Published in 2015. Volume 1 includes stories about acceleration and is a “quick read” for busy administrators and others looking for an introduction to the topic of acceleration. Volume 2 provides the updated research. www.nationempowered.org

 

A Nation Empowered: Empower Yourself with Information about Academic Acceleration, July 24-26

Invent IA footerThere’s still time to register: The early bird discount is available until July 8th!

We are looking forward to seeing you at the July 2016 conference on academic acceleration (www.belinblank.org/bbali). Our aim is to present attendees with practical information about acceleration, using existing research and tools to help make data-driven decisions.

All participants will receive a copy of the two-volume book, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, which includes updated information about the best-researched yet most under-utilized educational option for gifted students: academic acceleration.

The Pre-Institute (July 24th) focuses on the important tool for making decisions about a grade skip, the Iowa Acceleration Scale.  The Institute (July 25 and 26) provides the opportunity to learn from researchers as well as educators who have successfully implemented various forms of acceleration, including subject-matter acceleration, early entrance to college, dual enrollment, and grade-skipping. In the portion of the conference focused on policy, participants will have the opportunity to hear from schools, districts, and states with successful acceleration policies. They will share their stories of how they were able to put successful policies in place, as well as what participants should consider as they advocate for acceleration in their region.  Participation in the Advanced Leadership Institute on Monday and Tuesday is NOT required for participation in the Pre-Institute.

We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks at this exciting institute.  Speakers include nationally-recognized experts in gifted education research and policy, as well as administrators and educators.  Participants will have the opportunity to hear from a variety of individuals reflecting on the local impact of acceleration policies and practical implications of the research.  We encourage you to register by July 8th, to take advantage of the early bird discount!  See www.belinblank.org/bbali.

Everyone Loves an Early Bird Discount!

Register by July 8th for the early bird discount for the conference on academic acceleration!

The SeTypes of accelerationventh Biennial Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute is focusing on Research-Based Evidence about Acceleration and Gifted/Talented Students in July 2016.  The institute will provide attendees with practical information about acceleration, using existing research and tools to help make data-driven decisions.  Participants will have opportunities to learn from educators who have successfully implemented various forms of acceleration—and from students or parents who have personally experienced the benefits of appropriate programming.
All Institute participants will receive a copy of the two-volume book, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, which includes updated information about the best-researched yet most under-utilized educational option for gifted students: academic acceleration.

Speakers who plan to participate include:

Editors of A Nation Empowered:

  • Susan Assouline
  • Nicholas Colangelo
  • Joyce VanTassel-Baska
  • Ann Lupkowski Shoplik

Authors of Chapters in A Nation Empowered:

  • Linda Brody
  • Laurie Croft
  • Megan Foley Nicpon
  • Lori Ihrig
  • Katie McClarty
  • Michelle Muratori
  • Susannah Wood

Additional expert speakers:

  • Wendy Behrens
  • Jane Clarenbach
  • Beth Hahn
  • René Islas
  • Maureen Marron
  • Jaquelin Medina
  • Panel of students who have accelerated

We are looking forward to seeing you at the Institute! For more information and to register, visit:  www.belinblank.org/bbali.

 

 

Discovering Talented Students

BBC students outside

As you are thinking about ways to challenge your students next year, consider investigating above-level testing with the Belin-Blank Center’s new online test, I-Excel. I-Excel is an above-level test for high-ability 4th – 6th graders and assesses in the areas of math, science, English, and reading.

What is different and exciting about this?

  1. I-Excel assesses in science, which is not always addressed in above-level testing.
  2. I-Excel is online and can be delivered in your school at a time convenient for you and your students (weekdays or weekends).
  3. The Belin-Blank Center provides an extensive interpretation of scores allowing educators to make data-driven decisions and differentiate for their students through curricular intervention and enrichment. Educators receive a group report plus an individual report for each student.
  4. I-Excel licenses content developed by ACT that was designed to measure academic progress of junior high students. From that content, the Belin-Blank Center has been identifying the academic talents of bright 4th – 6th graders for over 20 years.
  5. I-Excel helps educators discover exceptionally talented students.

Learn more at:  www.i-excel.org

Or contact ann-shoplik@uiowa.edu with any questions.

Many Online Learning Opportunities for Teachers this Summer!

educators_main2

It’s time to think about your own personal learning opportunities! You don’t have to travel long distances to take courses in gifted education. Consider taking an online course this summer through the Belin-Blank Center!

Topics include:

  • Gender Issues and Giftedness
  • Perfectionism and High-Ability Learners
  • Cognitive and Affective Needs of Gifted Students
  • Counseling and Psychological Needs of the Gifted
  • Math Programming for High Ability Students
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level

More information is available at http://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/Educators/Courses/Schedule.aspx.  Also see the links on the same page at the right: General Information and Register. You should register as a University of Iowa Continuing Education student (no cost to register).

There are also numerous face-to-face educational opportunities for teachers at the Belin-Blank Center, if you’d like to plan a trip to Iowa City. Housing is available on campus.

Whatever your schedule, the Belin-Blank Center has an opportunity for professional development to match!