Author Archives: Ann Shoplik

Using Achievement, Aptitude, and Ability Tests for Acceleration Decisions

Achievement, aptitude, and ability tests:  What do those terms mean, and how are these three types of tests used in academic acceleration decisions?  Since the words can be a bit confusing, let’s take them one step at a time. 

Achievement testing is common in schools. Achievement tests measure the student’s learning in specific content areas in the student’s current grade. They are called “achievement” tests because they were developed to measure past learning. “Standardized” tests are typically developed to measure the progress of groups of students. All students are tested under similar conditions and the test items are from a specific item bank. They differ from teacher-made achievement tests, which are not subject to the rigorous test item development usually seen in standardized testing. Examples of standardized achievement tests are the state tests such as ISASP in Iowa or STAAR in Texas. Other examples of standardized tests include Terra Nova, Stanford Achievement Tests, or Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The Belin-Blank Center highly recommends using the Iowa Assessments (available through Riverside Publishing) if other achievement tests are not already available. For acceleration decisions, we recommend using achievement test data from the past year. Achievement testing is important in acceleration decisions to determine if the student has already mastered the material he or she will be skipping. Frequently, students who are considered for grade-skipping have already scored in the 90th or 95th percentile in many subjects compared to agemates. 

Aptitude testing is important for acceleration discussions because these tests provide information about what a student is ready to learn. Aptitude testing is less dependent on specific content (which is why it is in the center position in the graphic above). General aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability that is unrelated to specific instruction in a school setting. Specific aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability for material in a content area that has not yet been formally presented to the learner. One of the best indicators of a bright student’s aptitude in a specific content area is the student’s performance on an above-level test, a test that was developed for older students. These tests include I-Excel, ACT, SAT, and above-level Iowa Assessments (usually two grade levels above the student’s current grade). For purposes of acceleration decisions, aptitude testing should have been completed within the past two years. Students earning scores in the 50th percentile and above when compared to older students might be considered for acceleration in their strength area. These guidelines are intended to help us predict that the student will continue to be successful in the higher grade if accelerated. 

Ability testing rounds out the trio of types of tests. Ability testing tells us about a student’s potential for success in school. An intelligence test (also known as an IQ test or cognitive ability test) is required for acceleration decisions, especially grade-skipping and early entrance to kindergarten. A group or individual test may be used. Measures of verbal ability are highly correlated with performance in school, so verbal IQ scores are especially useful. Tests include: Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Ability testing should have been administered within the past two years for acceleration decisions. The Belin-Blank Center recommends that students considered for grade-skipping would have scored at least one standard deviation above the mean (average) on a cognitive ability test; in other words, the student scores 115 or higher on an intelligence test that has an average score of 100. In contrast, students earning average cognitive ability test scores are more likely to have their learning needs met with grade-level curriculum and at the same pace as their grade-level peers. 

Data gathered from all three of the above types of tests are important in making acceleration decisions. This objective information helps us to compare students to other bright students and to determine if acceleration is indeed in the best interests of a particular student. Other information is important in the discussion about acceleration, including psychosocial factors, school support, and family support. All of these factors (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). 

Interested in learning more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center offers a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration each summer. The course is taught entirely online. Contact acceleration@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Policy: A Fundamental Component in an Acceleration Plan

Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska gave an important talk at a previous Belin-Blank Center conference 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.
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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; for example, 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.

If 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.

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies

The publication, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject is available online. This publication, a project of the Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children, was published in 2018.

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.

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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 Integrated Acceleration System is a useful tool for making decisions about a grade skip. Other forms of acceleration will be included soon.

Advanced Coursework Opportunities Free for Iowa’s Rural Schools 

The College Board’s Advanced Placement® (AP) program allows high school students to complete college-level coursework. Additionally, success on the associated AP exams can translate into college credit. In fact, AP credit is accepted or recognized by the three public universities in Iowa, as well as many colleges and universities throughout the country. This gives students the opportunity to earn college credit at a greatly reduced cost while still in high school. However, despite these benefits, rural schools still fall behind urban and suburban schools in their AP course offerings. 

Providing the appropriate level of challenge to gifted and talented students is not always easy for rural schools. Offering AP courses requires additional resources such as teachers and training, and sometimes it is simply not possible to offer an AP course for only one or two students. The Iowa Online AP® Academy (IOAPA) provides free access to nearly 30 online advanced courses for Iowa students who would not otherwise have access to these courses in their schools. IOAPA classes include Advanced Placement® courses for high school students as well as high school-level courses for eligible middle school students. Unlike courses offered by community colleges, IOAPA’s AP courses are designed for bright high schoolers. They introduce college-level material in a way that is approachable for a high school student. IOAPA also offers AP exam scholarships to IOAPA high school students, with preference given to students from rural schools, so cost is no longer a barrier to taking an AP exam.  

The IOAPA team also publishes the Iowa AP Index, another way to provide recognition to Iowa schools. The Iowa AP Index recognizes the Top 50 Iowa accredited public and nonpublic high schools for providing Advanced Placement opportunities to Iowa’s high school students. Every public and nonpublic high school in Iowa accredited by the state Department of Education and that administered AP exams the prior year is invited to participate. The Iowa AP Index for a given high school is the ratio of AP exams taken by its students (any grade) divided by the number of its graduating seniors. This means that smaller schools still have similar opportunities to be recognized for providing their students with advanced coursework. 

The Belin-Blank Center will begin registration for spring semester IOAPA courses on November 7th. If you have any questions about your Iowa school’s eligibility for IOAPA courses, email us at ioapa@belinblank.org.  

What Does the Research Say About Academic Acceleration?

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At the Belin-Blank Center, we are big fans of academic acceleration. Why? Because it is a research-based best practice. Acceleration is “…one of the cornerstones of exemplary gifted education practices, with more research supporting this intervention than any other in the literature on gifted individuals” (from the National Association for Gifted Children position statement on acceleration).

Academically, acceleration provides a better match between a student’s abilities and the curriculum. Socially, acceleration places students with academic peers who are similar both in terms of their intellectual level and in terms of their interests.

What does the research say? Acceleration benefits students both in the short-term and in the long-term.

Short-Term Benefits

In terms of academics, accelerated students are more challenged and therefore more engaged in school. Research studies have demonstrated that academically talented students who enter school early do very well compared to their older classmates and, as a group, those who enter college early perform very well academically and socially. There may be a bit of an adjustment period, but accelerated students (those who skip a grade or move ahead in a particular subject) earn good grades, demonstrate they do not have gaps in their knowledge, and continue to perform well in school in later years.

Socially, accelerated students tend to perform as well as or slightly better than their age peers. They also perform as well as or slightly better than the older students in the new grade. They fit in, which means that our concern about acceleration somehow damaging students’ social development is unfounded. As a group, they do just fine socially.

Long-Term Benefits

Acceleration has long-term beneficial effects, both academic and social. Accelerated students tend to be more ambitious, earning graduate degrees at higher rates. They hold more prestigious jobs and have a higher productivity rate. Some students say they wish they had accelerated more. They talk about “the gift of time,” meaning that they view the time saved as an opportunity to pursue an additional graduate degree, participate in diverse projects, travel, and get a head start on their careers. Longitudinal research shows us that accelerated students even have an economic advantage: They earn higher salaries than their age peers and higher salaries than the older peers with whom they graduated.

The longitudinal research on social development and academic acceleration is positive overall. Looking back, an overwhelming majority of accelerated students say acceleration was the right decision for them. They do talk about some challenges (for example, being too young to date), but the students say they would do it again, if given the opportunity. In fact, in a 2020 study (Bernstein, Lubinski, and Benbow) that followed accelerated students for 35 years, the authors state that our concerns about a negative impact of acceleration on social/emotional development are “fruitless.”

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Dare We Say It? Not Accelerating Students Who Are Ready is Educational Malpractice

Maybe those are strong words, but with all the research supporting the decision to accelerate students who are ready, doesn’t it make sense to at least consider this option? Have courage and do your research! There is a lot of information available to help you make informed, research-based decisions in the best interests of your students.

For More Information

A Nation Empowered:

  • Volume 1 was written for the educated layperson. It includes personal stories of acceleration as well as an overview of the research.
  • Volume 2: Contains the supporting research

Acceleration Institute:

  • Website with information useful to parents, educators, administrators, and policymakers.
  • Also see the Annotated Bibliography on the Acceleration Institute website. You’ll find sections on academic effects of acceleration, long-term effects, radical acceleration, rural students, etc.
Professional Development About Acceleration:
Upcoming Webinar

The Belin-Blank Center regularly offers webinars on the Integrated Acceleration System for teachers and administrators. 
Learn more and sign up here.

My Principal Is Hesitant About Acceleration: Where Do I Start?

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We recommend a team approach to making decisions about academic acceleration. Important members of the team include administrators, educators, and parents or guardians. Because some educators or administrators have not had training or experience with acceleration, they may be hesitant to pursue a discussion about acceleration with a family or other educators. Below are some helpful hints for talking with a reluctant principal or other administrators about acceleration.

Students’ Educational Needs Vary

Students start school at various levels of readiness, and a one-size-fits all approach fails many learners. Research findings suggest that academically talented students begin the school year already knowing more than half of the curriculum that they are expected to learn that year. Too often, our brightest students are left bored, underchallenged, and disengaged in the classroom. We need a variety of methods to differentiate their instruction–including acceleration.

Research Supports Acceleration

Over 70 years of research have revealed a proven method of differentiating instruction for students – academic acceleration. Because research has repeatedly shown the academic, social, and emotional benefits of acceleration, it is heralded as the most effective academic intervention for bright students. In fact, a 2020 longitudinal study (following a group of individuals for 35 years) demonstrated positive effects on the long-term well-being of students who had been accelerated in school, including those who skipped a grade.

A Nation Empowered, a well-known report about academic acceleration, indicates that acceleration matches the level, complexity, and pace to the curriculum, readiness, and motivation of the student. Matching readiness to opportunity is common in sports and music. We can offer the same programming option for academic learning in school.

Resources about Acceleration

Detailed information about the various forms of acceleration (at least 20 forms!) is available on the Acceleration Institute website. Visitors can see a map including information about acceleration policies throughout the United States, review guidelines for developing acceleration policies, and have their questions about acceleration answered.

How Do We Make Decisions?

Whether or not to skip a grade or move ahead in a specific subject is considered a high stakes decision. It needs to be made carefully by a team following a personalized process, including a wealth of data that includes both subjective and objective measures.

Acceleration experts at the Belin-Blank Center used these important considerations to guide the development of the online platform, the Integrated Acceleration System. It serves as an excellent tool to guide a team’s decision. The Integrated Acceleration System carefully leads the team through an efficient and effective process to help them prepare for a successful acceleration, if it is determined that it is in the bests interests of the student. As a comprehensive tool, it provides:

  • A research-based foundation,
  • A user-friendly, web-based platform,
  • A series of guides to build expertise and to support the child study team,
  • An email compatibility feature, which fosters efficient communication,
  • A comprehensive written student report with research-based recommendations,
  • A wealth of resources for educators and families,
  • Sample documents that can be used in communication, and
  • A flexible approach centered around the student.

For grade skipping decisions, a child study team collects a variety of data spanning various times and settings. The data are reviewed and discussed in their entirety, and the focus throughout the process remains on the individual child. The intent of the Integrated Acceleration System is to offer educators and families a powerful approach rooted in a well-defined process that objectively considers the student’s academic, social, and emotional needs.

Additional Information

www.nationempowered.org

Overview of Acceleration video on the Acceleration Institute website

Information about subject acceleration, an option for students who do not need whole grade acceleration

Interested in Professional Development?

The Belin-Blank Center provides webinars about the Integrated Acceleration System for teachers and administrators. Access a recording of a previous webinar or sign up for a scheduled webinar here.

With thanks to Randy Lange for providing the content for this blog.

Integrated Acceleration System: Webinar Sept. 13th

Figuring out whether to accelerate a child is a major decision; accounting for all the relevant information can feel overwhelming. The Belin-Blank Center has developed an online system that helps educators and families gather the correct information, targets the essential factors, and produces a report which recommends whether acceleration is a good fit for a particular student. 

TheIntegrated Acceleration System, an online tool developed by leading researchers in gifted education, guides participants through integrating information about acceleration.  On September 13, we will be hosting an online professional development session about using this new tool when considering a grade skip. The session will focus on:  best research-based practices in using academic acceleration, how to use the online Integrated Acceleration System, and suggestions to coordinate communication among the relevant team members and support the student’s transition to acceleration.  

 Informed by decades of research, the Integrated Acceleration System includes all the significant factors to consider and produces a report about readiness for one of the many forms of acceleration, including grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, subject acceleration, and early entrance to college. The Integrated Acceleration System is designed for users in the United States. However, the flexible framework can be applied to international educational systems.  This online session will focus on grade-skipping. Future online presentations will focus on early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration. 

Presenters: Dr. Susan Assouline, Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, and Dr. Randy Lange .

Session fee: $79. Includes one access code to the Integrated Acceleration System (valued at $69). 

Date/Time: Tuesday, September 13, 2022; 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m. Central Time (The last 30 minutes is an optional question/answer segment.)  

Location: Online, via Zoom. Registrants will receive location details via email. 

Register: Learn more and register on our website

If you cannot attend the live session, the session will be recorded.  The recording is available for purchase.

Acceleration: An Equitable Approach

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Access and opportunity are pillars of an equitable school experience. We know that acceleration is a research-supported method of challenging academically talented students, so we need to provide talented students access to accelerative opportunities. Research confirms that talented students who are allowed to move ahead tend to perform better academically both in the short- and the long-term. How do we make access to acceleration equitable, so that all students who are ready can take advantage of the opportunities that acceleration can provide?

The answer is policy. Acceleration policies can make educational opportunities more equitable for talented students. So, let’s examine our current acceleration policies and practices and see what might be getting in the way of student opportunity.

Some examples of inequitable practices and procedures include:

  • a teacher-initiated review process,
  • unclear information or information that is not adequately publicized on accelerative options,
  • school-sponsored testing scheduled for weekends when students would need transportation,
  • requiring families to pay for individual testing that might be needed for acceleration decisions,
  • information available only in English,
  • rigid criteria for identification that does not allow for alternate assessment data,
  • and single-entry date admission.

School systems need individuals within them to serve advocates for acceleration. Are you an advocate for acceleration in your school?

Resources for Acceleration Policy

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies

National Association for Gifted Children Position Statement about Acceleration

With thanks to Randy Lange for providing this content.

Take an Online Course About Acceleration this Summer!

We teach a graduate-level course about academic acceleration – entirely online!

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PSQF:4123:0EXW (3 semester hours). Academic Acceleration

Dates: June 6 – July 29, 2022

Academic acceleration moves high-ability students through an educational program at a rate faster or at an age younger than typical. The goal of acceleration is to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum with student’s level of cognitive and academic development.

Academic acceleration has been one of the most debated and misunderstood issues in gifted education. It has decades of research support, yet educators and families are still reluctant to use it for students of high academic ability.

In the course, we will review the research basis for when and for whom academic acceleration is appropriate. The goal of this course is to provide parents, teachers, and administrators with the knowledge of the forms of acceleration, the ability to evaluate students for acceleration, and the skills to practice and implement acceleration effectively.

Course topics include the forms of acceleration, the process of implementing acceleration, suggestions for writing and evaluating school acceleration policies, and advice for effecting attitude change through persuasive communication and media outreach.  We will introduce the new online tool for making decisions about academic acceleration, the Integrated Acceleration System. Students will learn how this new tool is to be used for acceleration decisions and how to support students, families, and educators through the process of collecting data, having a team discussion, and making a transition to an accelerated placement.

Instructor: Dr. Ann Lupkowski Shoplik, Administrator, Acceleration Institute and Research, University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center.

Registration: To take part in classes, participants must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student. Those earning the Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education may register as either graduate or undergraduate students, regardless of professional status (undergraduates pay less tuition per course but may lose district benefits). Once participants have their “HawkID” and password, they can follow the directions to register for courses that match their interests and needs. Follow the steps at belinblank.org/educators/reg.

Questions? Email acceleration@belinblank.org

Learn More About Your Child’s Academic Capabilities

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Are you interested in learning more about your child’s aptitude in math, science, English, and reading? If your school doesn’t already provide this opportunity, you can register your 4th-6th grader for individual testing using I-Excel, an online above-level test provided by the Belin-Blank Center. You can arrange for your child to test individually, at a time and place of your choosing.

  1. Parents schedule an individual testing session at a location they select, often at a school, testing center, or local library.
  2. Parents are responsible for finding a licensed educator who is willing to proctor the test. Acceptable proctors include full-time teachers, tutors, and college professors. The proctor must be a college graduate and cannot be a relative.
  3. To initiate these arrangements, parents must submit a request form to their designated proctor.
  4. Test dates are arranged with the Belin-Blank Center, and a few blackout dates apply. We recommend planning at least 3 weeks or more before you’d like to test.
  5. The fee for individual testing is $90 ($45 for students who are eligible for free/reduced cost lunch). Fees are payable to the Belin-Blank Center and can be paid via credit card.
  6. Several families can combine efforts in order to save money. If 4 or more students test at the same time, the fee is $45 per student ($22 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch).
  7. Testing takes about 2 ½ hours but may be split over two days.

Do you have additional questions? See our website or contact us at assessment@belinblank.org.

The ABCs of Acceleration

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Our thanks to Randy Lange for writing this post.

Spring is often a time when teachers or parents/guardians bring up issues about appropriate student placements. The Belin-Blank Center has developed a new tool, the Integrated Acceleration System, to assist schools and families with whole-grade acceleration discussions.  Below are the “ABCs” of this tool. 

All about the Integrated Acceleration System  

The Integrated Acceleration System consists of 10 modules, which foster a comprehensive review of a student by a team of people who know that student best. The breadth of the areas covered through the Integrated Acceleration System results in a thorough examination and discussion of the “whole child” as it relates to the appropriateness of a grade skip. Through this process, team members review data concerning the academic, social, and emotional aspects of a student.  

The Integrated Acceleration System gathers relevant data commonly observed in school, taps extracurricular involvement, and includes input from families. Because the student is an essential voice in the process, several questions for a face-to-face conversation are included. Standardized tests measuring achievement, ability, and aptitude assess a student’s current academic performance and readiness for additional challenges, and additional questions help form an accurate academic performance profile.  

The wealth of data contributes to an informed team discussion. Because questions about social and emotional development are often raised during discussions of a possible grade skip, the meeting provides the platform to address them. During the meeting, team members can review all data. The Integrated Acceleration System generates a report that includes a recommendation for the student. If the recommendation is for the student to skip a grade, team members are encouraged to develop a plan for transition to acceleration.  

Bells & Whistles” of the Integrated Acceleration System 

  • Fosters team-based decision making  
  • Research-based 
  • Utilizes objective and subjective data  
  • Online 
  • Involves the parent/guardian and the student  
  • Generates an individualized written report  
  • Addresses twice-exceptionality  
  • Provides direct email access capability to expertise at the Belin-Blank Center  
  • Is fluid and dynamic (so updates occur in real time) 
  • Permits direct emailing of the team members 
  • Includes a comprehensive guide for educators to use during the transition period  
  • Addresses early entrance to kindergarten and first grade (COMING SOON) 

Collection of supplemental resources included with the Integrated Acceleration System  

The Belin-Blank Center staff members who created the Integrated Acceleration System understand the need for practical suggestions and resources for educators. With the Integrated Acceleration System, users have access to multiple supplementary resources. These are all made available with an access code. 

  • The Integrated Acceleration System at a Glance  
  • Cautionary considerations for Grade-Skipping  
  • Developing a Transition to Acceleration period plan 
  • FAQs 
  • Important Student Considerations 
  • Key Role of Standardized Testing 
  • Overview for the Facilitator 
  • Preparing for the Meeting and Producing the Report 
  • Special Populations 
  • Summaries of Research Findings related to the benefits of acceleration for various stakeholders 

Users are strongly encouraged to model trust in the Integrated Acceleration System and the process it details. It supports a rigorous process, informed by decades of research and clinical experience. It is a team-based approach that focuses on gathering a wide variety of information and building consensus among the members of the child study team.  

The cost of one access code to the Integrated Acceleration System is $59. Bulk pricing is available. The Belin-Blank Center recently hosted an online professional development on the Integrated Acceleration System. Recordings of this event can be purchased for $79. Included in the cost of the recording is one free access code for the Integrated Acceleration System.

Early Entrance to College: Are You Ready?

With special thanks to Jan Warren for co-authoring this post

Fifteen-year-old Sophie was in Spain as a high school sophomore living with a host family when she decided to apply to college as an early entrant.  Her family lived in a small, rural town in the Midwest.  

 After being accepted to the early entrance program, Sophie received Pell Grants, scholarships, and additional financial aid to cover the cost of attendance. She entered the university as a psychology major at age 16.  She intended to transfer to a more well-known university after her first year but decided against it after becoming engaged both academically and socially. Inspired by seeing a political rally on campus, she declared a Social Justice major. Because of her interest in human rights and policy issues, she added a pre-law designation. Sophie was known for her outspokenness, quick sense of humor, loyalty, and ability to bring everyone together. 

Sophie graduated with honors at age 20. She currently is working in Fairbanks, Alaska through AmeriCorps and is applying to Law School. Sophie says,

“Although I grew up fairly normal, I was always that one ‘nerd’ who went home after school and continued to research in-depth about the topics we were learning about. However, growing up in such a small town never gave me many opportunities to be surrounded by people who enjoy learning and knowledge as much as I do. I put up with this vague feeling of suffocation caused by lack of stimulation until my sophomore year, when I found a study abroad program that would not only unite me with intellectuals and other cultures but also reignite my love for learning and my curiosity about the world. At this moment, I do not want to stop my exploration of the world when I return [to my state].”

Early entrance to college is a great option for students like Sophie who are ready. What do we mean by ready? Students who demonstrate academic ability, who have already taken many of the challenging courses available in their high school, demonstrate maturity, and are ready to live away from home may be prepared for the challenges of entering college early. These students might enter college early on their own, while others might participate in a formal program designed to support young students entering college.

For example, the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy at the University of Iowa is designed for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade. Early entrants live in a cohort on the University of Iowa campus in the honor’s residence hall and attend classes with other college students. Supports offered to the students include a first-year seminar designed to build self-efficacy skills, weekly one-on-one meetings with a graduate student, activities and events designed to challenge and support them, and all types of advocacy and encouragement. After successful completion of the two-year program, nearly all students go on to finish their degrees at the University of Iowa.

Parents might be especially concerned about the idea of early entrance to college. They can be reassured by the body of research supporting early entrance; students have been entering college early for decades, in both formal and informal programs. As a group, they are highly successful. Linda Brody and Michelle Muratori (2015) provide an excellent summary of what we know about early entrance to college. As a group, early entrants achieve at higher levels in college, complete their college degrees and often go on to graduate school, publish professional papers, and earn higher incomes than matched peers who do not enter college early. Socially, this group also performs well – many researchers have concluded that, as a group, early entrants thrive in their new environment.  The research indicates that most participants in these programs are successful in developing satisfying social relationships. Overall, they do well.

Some studies have indicated that a few individuals may encounter social or emotional challenges and find it difficult to adjust to early entrance to college. An important goal at the Bucksbaum Academy is to help identify the students who would find the program a good match—students who are ready for the independence and intellectual challenge of college life.  The application process includes letters of recommendation from two teachers, a series of student essays, parent essays, high school transcripts, and standardized test scores.  All students are required to attend an information session about the Academy and semi-finalists attend a personal interview with their parents/guardians.

Some suggestions for students considering early entrance include:

  1. Take challenging courses in high school. These include honors and accelerated courses, and also the Advanced Placement (AP) courses many high schools provide. AP courses are designed to offer high school students college level material, and they help to prepare students for the challenges of college courses. Talk with your counselor about your interest in leaving high school early so they can assist you in choosing the courses which will best prepare you for life as a university student.
  2. If the high school doesn’t provide enough challenging options, consider attending academic summer programs or online learning courses.
  3. Attend a residential summer camp for the experience of being away from home for an extended period of time. It can be an academic program, a sports camp, or any other summer camp offered on a college or university campus.
  4. Seek out opportunities to develop study skills and time management skills, which will help students be ready for advanced classes and the challenge of managing the independence of a college schedule. For example, students who are used to managing several activities or a job while in high school are better candidates for early entrance because they know how to juggle their time and prioritize tasks.
  5. Talk with your guidance counselor about how your school and community will handle local scholarships for you—will you need to apply as a sophomore? Or wait until your first year at the university, which would have been your junior year in high school?
  6. Recognize that early entrance to college is not the best match for all intellectually talented high school students.  If early entrance isn’t the best match for a particular student, other options can be considered, such as subject acceleration, dual enrollment in high school and college, and academic summer programs. Students might also opt for completing college in 3 years instead of 4, if they are able to get credit for work completed before matriculating in a college.

Resources

Brody, L.E., & Muratori, M.C. (2015). Early entrance to college: Academic, social, and emotional considerations. In S. G. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. Lupkowski-Shoplik (Eds.), A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses That Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, Vol. 2 (pp. 153-167). Iowa City, IA: Belin-Blank Center. Access this chapter by downloading the entire publication at www.nationempowered.org

Early Entrance to College page, Acceleration Institute website

Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy, University of Iowa

Preparing for an Acceleration Meeting: What’s an Educator to Do?

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

One of the students in your school is being considered for acceleration, and you are facilitating this discussion. You have talked about this with the family and other teachers, strategized with administrators, gathered the data, and scheduled a meeting. What are the final steps you need to complete as you prepare for this meeting?

The regular classroom teacher who is invited to attend the meeting may not have had any significant training in gifted education or academic acceleration, but they would have been exposed to surface level concepts such as academic rigor, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or the wide variability among their students in terms of their academic abilities; these ideas direct our thinking to considering options such as acceleration for individual students. Resources such as Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and the educator page of the Acceleration Institute website will provide an introduction to acceleration and answer basic questions about the short-term and long-term impact of acceleration.  Parents or guardians and school administrators would also benefit from similar introductory materials (e.g., see the parent’s page).

The team of individuals who come together to talk about acceleration for a particular student generally includes the parent or guardian, an administrator, the current classroom teacher, receiving (future) teacher, gifted teacher or coordinator, and others who have information and knowledge relevant to the discussion. Whether you’re using the Integrated Acceleration System or another tool to help guide you through the process of making decisions about acceleration, you’ll want to consider these items before the team meets:

  1. Answer team members’ questions through individual meetings or via email/phone. Make sure they have informative resources such as the ones listed above.
  2. It is likely the current classroom teacher has already been talking with gifted education staff about the student concerning strategies and options for meeting the student’s needs. Your support might be needed in these discussions.
  3. Determine the purpose of the meeting. Is it to introduce acceleration as an option or to make a decision about acceleration?
  4. It is important to present to the parents the options that have already been made available to their student. These might include special projects the student has completed, distance learning options, and/or flexible grouping for high-ability readers. Highlighting strategies that have already been in place starts the meeting off on a positive note.
  5. Pre-plan possible options. For example, consider what additional supports might be offered to the student and regular classroom teacher if the decision is not to accelerate the student. Consider when and how the student will be advanced to the next grade, if the decision is made to accelerate. Consider how subject acceleration might be implemented if that is the option chosen for the student.
    • Key “If We Grade Skip” questions might be: What scaffolding might be needed? What coordination (e.g., desk in the room, name added to classroom charts, consumables acquired) needs to be addressed? What closure might be needed in the current grade? Which grade level state testing will be administered? Who will be the receiving classroom “buddy”?
    • Key “If We Do NOT Grade Skip” questions might be: What are the student’s key strengths and areas requiring growth? Is the student a candidate for subject acceleration? What classroom differentiation as well as outside of school enrichment opportunities might be appropriate? How might the parents/guardians be assured that the student will be challenged in school?
  6. Make a list of topics to be discussed at the meeting, such as:
    • Discuss the data that were collected, including standardized testing results and informal information about what the student does in the classroom and at home.
    • Discuss the student’s approach to something novel and challenging.
    • Give stakeholders the opportunity to share what they know about the student.
    • Prepare questions that will get the family involved in the discussion, such as “Tell us about your child?” “What do you see at home?” Ask what they might have observed from the past year or previous years.
    • What does the student do outside of school? These might include online opportunities, community activities, museum visits, public speaking opportunities, and/or mentorships.

Sample Team Meeting Agenda

11:00 AM – Introductions and brief general overview of the tool used, the Integrated Acceleration System, and its purpose

11:10 AM – Overview of Integrated Acceleration System Sections A-D.

11:15 AM – Discuss items of interest from previously completed sections.

11:25 AM – Discuss achievement, ability, and aptitude testing information. Consider strengths and opportunities for growth.

11:35 AM – Discuss Questions for the Meeting from the Integrated Acceleration System.

11:45 AM – Review the email list of who will receive the student report. Generate the report. Read the recommendations and discuss them. Make a decision.

12:00 PM – Plan next steps (including any additional data that needs to be collected)

12:15 PM – Determine who will monitor the transition, if the decision is to accelerate the student.

Special thanks to Randy Lange for a productive discussion that informed this blog.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

How Do We Prepare a Student for Academic Acceleration?

Josie is a 3rd grade student who gets high grades, has several good friends, and is in the school’s gifted program. It’s obvious to her parents and teachers that she is not challenged by the 3rd grade curriculum. The team of parents, teachers, and administrators met several times to talk about acceleration for Josie. They decided to move Josie up to 4th grade. BUT WAIT. Nobody has talked with Josie about this.

Let’s do a rewind and set this transition up for success.

At the beginning of the school year, Josie’s parents met with the gifted coordinator, Mrs. Fernandez, and talked about the possibility of acceleration for Josie. Mrs. Fernandez talked with Josie’s parents about discussing acceleration with Josie, and she made a plan to talk with Josie as well.

How might Mrs. Fernandez approach Josie with the idea of a possible grade skip?

  1. It’s helpful for both the parents/guardians and a teacher to have one or more conversations with the student before a formal meeting discussing acceleration.
  2. Change can be hard, even when we really want that change. The student might need some extra time to think about and discuss the change, even if she’s been complaining bitterly about not being challenged in school.
  3. How do educators talk with the student about acceleration? If you ask a student, “Do you want to leave your class and go to another one?” the tendency is to say no. It’s more helpful to ask broad questions, such as “What do you like about school?” and “What parts could be better?” or “If you were in charge of the school, what would you change for yourself?”
  4. Think about how much we should tell students before any changes are made, so they understand they are being considered for acceleration. Younger students need less information. Older students need more. Ask the student what he or she thinks about the possibility of subject acceleration or moving up into a higher grade.
  5. In conversation, you might ask the student if he or she knows older kids inside or outside of school (maybe older cousins or older kids in the neighborhood). Help them to realize they already know some older students and can build relationships with them.
  6. It’s helpful to let the student know that there are many ways to think about offering additional challenge, and academic acceleration is one of them. Let them know that you are having a meeting to talk about this possibility and to gather more information. 
  7. Answer the student’s questions. Let them know, “We want to make sure this is the right decision for you, and we are finding the right place for you.”
  8. If you ask, “What worries you?” the answer might be going into a room with a new teacher or being uncertain if they will know any of the other students in the new class. The student might be concerned that “The older kids will laugh at me.” What is a big issue to a 6-year-old isn’t necessarily a big issue to adults. But to this student, it is a big deal, so it should be addressed as a legitimate question or concern.
  9. Before the team meeting occurs, it’s helpful to prepare the student for different possibilities. If the decision is made not to skip a grade or move ahead in a certain subject, it doesn’t mean the student failed. It’s all about finding the right match for the student.
  10. No matter what the outcome, someone needs to talk to the student after the meeting to let him or her know (in age-appropriate terms) about any decisions made.
  11. If the student is accelerated, an educator should be assigned to the student to help with the transition for acceleration. This special teacher has the opportunity to develop a relationship with the student and be viewed as a trusted person who can help out on a hard day. Additionally, it’s important to consider what specific skills the student will need in order to make a successful transition to acceleration. These skills might be learning how to work a locker, figuring out lunchroom routines, or doing three-digit addition. A thoughtful transition period plan is key to success.
  12. Students will be reassured if they learn that other students have already done this successfully. It might even be helpful for the student to have a phone conversation with an older student who accelerated previously.
  13. Parents will also appreciate the opportunity to talk with other parents who have experienced acceleration with their children. If it isn’t easy to make these parent-to-parent connections,  they might enjoy reading some of the stories of acceleration included in Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered.
  14.  Acceleration decisions must be the result of a team approach. The adult members of the team need to remain student-focused during the process. This is best employed through open communication with the student, including during the transition period.

Integrated Acceleration System

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the acceleration decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month. If you have questions, contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

We’re planning an online professional development session about the Integrated Acceleration System in Spring 2022. Send an email to acceleration@belinblank.org if you would like to be notified about the date of that session.

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 entered in 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 has recently developed the new online Integrated Acceleration 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. The grade-skipping form of acceleration has already been launched. Early entrance to kindergarten and the other forms of acceleration will be coming soon. The Integrated Acceleration System provides an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the needed information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about acceleration and the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

The Integrated Acceleration System: Answering Your Questions About Grade-Skipping

Making a decision about acceleration, specifically a grade skip, can be intimidating.

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs. 

The Integrated Acceleration System includes:

  1. Numerous items that relate to the student’s social-emotional development, which is often a concern when we begin discussions about grade-skipping.
  2. Questions that are asked of the student. 
  3. A question about IEPs and 504 plans. An affirmative response provides access to Belin-Blank Center experts on twice-exceptionality.
  4. Guidance for collecting relevant data about achievement, ability, and aptitude.
  5. A report that is based upon the comprehensive responses of the team.

What are the Differences Between the Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale?

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (3rd edition, 2009, published by Gifted Unlimited) is a paper-and-pencil guide that provides a total score describing where a student fits as a candidate for acceleration. It focuses on students in K-8th grade.

The Integrated Acceleration System, developed by the Belin-Blank Center, is an online, interactive tool that produces a detailed report and a recommendation about the suitability of acceleration as an intervention for the student. The report details the data that were gathered as well as the comments team members made about the data and discussion. It focuses on pre-K through high school students. The Integrated Acceleration System currently examines the suitability of grade-skipping. The Belin-Blank Center team will soon launch modules focused on subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college.

​The Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale are not the same product, even though they both have the same authors and they both revolve around academic acceleration. The Iowa Acceleration Scale is still a useful paper/pencil guide. The Integrated Acceleration System is entirely online and interactive. It walks educators and families through the data collection process, explains which tests are needed for an acceleration decision, and facilitates conversations about acceleration. The steps of the process include Build the Team, Learn About Acceleration, Gather the Data, Interview the Student, Conduct the Child Study Team Meeting, and Create and Execute the Transition Plan.

What sets the Integrated Acceleration System apart is that it produces a detailed report with recommendations about acceleration and suggestions based upon the team’s responses. It also begins the process of developing a transition plan for the student, if a grade skip is determined to be the best intervention for that student. Additionally, it provides access to the experts at the Belin-Blank Center if the student is diagnosed as twice-exceptional.

An educator serves as the facilitator of the process. Parents are important members of the Child Study team, which also includes the current teacher, receiving teacher, administrators, and others who might have relevant information. Parents reading this article are encouraged to work with their child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, or administrator in starting this process.

We are excited to share this new tool with you!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System at an introductory price of $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. We invite educators to reserve yours today! If you have questions, you are welcome to contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Student’s Needs

talent-search-bridge-to-opportunity

It’s time to make a plan for testing your 4th-6th grade students using I-Excel. Why I-Excel? This test offers an opportunity for talented students to demonstrate their capabilities. Receiving scores helps educators and families to make better-informed decisions about their students’ education. Scores provide information useful for placement decisions, acceleration discussions, and gaining a better understanding of a particular student’s academic abilities.

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.

For Educators Testing Groups of Students

I-Excel can be used to screen students for a gifted program or an opportunity in a specific subject, for example, for discovering students who would benefit from an advanced math class.

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 AssessmentsStanford Achievement TestsTerra 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 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.
    1. 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.
    1. 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. Get started here: https://belinblank.education.uiowa.edu/students/bests/.

Parents Can Set Up Individual Testing

Parents interested in learning more about their student’s capabilities can set up an individual testing session for their child. Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results. This interpretation includes recommendations for curriculum readiness. Testing can be arranged at a convenient date, time, and location. Families can set up individual testing with the assistance of a local educator who serves as the test proctor. After the testing, parents receive an individual student report, which they can share with educators at their child’s school. See detailed information about Individual Testing.  If you have questions, email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Using I-Excel for Acceleration Decisions

Because I-Excel is an above-level test, it can be used as an indicator of specific aptitude when making decisions about acceleration in school. I-Excel scores can be used for the aptitude section of the Iowa Acceleration Scale as well as for the Indicators of Performance in the Next Grade for the Integrated Acceleration System.

Have other questions?  Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details or email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Please note: If you’re interested in having your 7th-9th graders take the ACT, we are in the process of working out the details for this year. Due to the pandemic, ACT was prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer testing for our students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, email assessment@belinblank.org

What’s the Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education? Above-Level Testing.

We have said it before: the secret of above-level testing is really not much of a secret. It’s used extensively by university-based centers of gifted education.  Unfortunately, it is under-utilized by schools. This secret is hiding in plain sight!

What is above-level testing and how can it be used? 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. Informing decisions about subject-matter acceleration
  4. Informing decisions about readiness 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, and I-Excel.

Unfortunately, above-level tests are not used extensively in typical school gifted programs, but 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 accurately by using only a 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 testing

The advantages of above-level testing include discovering “talented” and “exceptionally talented” students. In the figure, the bell curve on the left shows a typical group of students. A few students (the dark blue portion of the group) earn very high scores. They score 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 that group of students takes 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. Now, we can better see what these students have already mastered and what amount of challenge they are ready for.

Why 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 yet another student benefit from grade-skipping?

Organizations such as the Belin-Blank Center who have used above-level testing for years. We 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.

Imagine you are working with two 5th grade students, Jessica and Mary.

Both of them have scored at the 99th percentile on the mathematics portion of their state test when compared to other 5th graders. They are both strong in math, but we don’t have specific information about the extent of their skills.  What should they learn next?

Psychologists say that these 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.

Rather than creating a special test for these students, we gave them I-Excel, which contains 8th grade content.  Jessica scored at the 85th percentile when compared to 8th graders, and Mary scored at the 20th percentile when compared to 8th graders. 

Both students have shown on the 5th grade-level test that they are very good at math compared to typical students in their 5th grade regular classroom. But their above-level test scores show that Jessica is ready for much more challenge in math than Mary.

Jessica likely needs acceleration, while Mary may benefit from enrichment. It would have been impossible to see this difference if we had only been using their grade-level scores.

Above-level testing is key to helping us tailor educational programs for gifted students. It helps us to understand a student’s need for challenge in specific subject areas and to act on the information appropriately.

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. Above-level testing opportunities allow students to showcase their talents and help educators and others to make good suggestions about appropriate educational options for these students.

Transition Planning for Grade-Skipping

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

An important part of the discussion concerning skipping a grade includes considering how the transition to acceleration might occur. Grade-skipping happens after careful discussion and planning, with contributions from a team that includes teachers, administrators, and parents. These team members play an important role in developing the transition plan.

Some schools have a formal transition plan document that the team completes as part of the discussion.  If there is not a specific form to complete, below is a list of items that can be included in the transition planning discussion.

  • Answering the receiving teacher’s questions. This teacher might be uncertain about how to support the accelerated student, if the teacher has no previous experience with grade-skipping. The student’s current teacher might meet with the receiving teacher to make suggestions about ways to support the student, specific strengths, concerns the student has, etc.
  • Opportunities for the student to visit the new classroom and meet the new teacher before the acceleration occurs.
  • Other transition activities might include a tour of the school (if the student will move to a new building), learning about the cafeteria system, learning how to use a locker, and other activities that might help the student to become more comfortable in the new environment.
  • Support for the student, and a go-to person (such as the school counselor) if the student wants to chat about any concerns.
  • Identifying and filling in any academic gaps. Diagnostic testing will help to document gaps. The student might need time to meet individually with a teacher to learn new content, have questions answered, and clear up any misunderstandings about the content. It should be noted that the beginning of the school year is often a time for review for all students, and this review period will also help fill in the student’s gaps, if the acceleration will occur early in the year.
  • Trial period. Educators often plan for a trial period of 4 to 6 weeks before the decision to skip a grade is finalized. This amount of time allows the student to adjust to new routines and the new level of challenge. It is common for a student to feel somewhat overwhelmed or discouraged at first. Those feelings are normal.
  • Regular check-ins with the student. These might occur weekly or even daily at first.
  • Regular communication with the family.
  • Someone specifically assigned to monitor the transition. This is often the person who facilitated the team meeting in which the grade-skipping decision was made. This individual would be responsible for any follow-up and check-ins with the student as well as others who need to be made aware of the student’s progress and the success of the acceleration.
  • After the student has moved into the new grade, it will be helpful for the student and parents to meet with the school counselor to discuss the acceleration as well as how it might have an impact on course scheduling now and in the future.
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

Indicators of a successful acceleration include:

  • The student is motivated and enthusiastic about the acceleration and is challenged (but not overly frustrated) by the new academic work.
  • The student makes new friends but keeps old friends.
  • The student has a positive attitude about school.

Ohio provides examples of Written Transition Plans that help you to consider factors to include in the transition plan. Michigan also provides some guidance about the transition to acceleration.

You might be interested in learning more about the recently-launched online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

Interested in learning even more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center offers a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration each summer. The course will be taught entirely online over an 8-week period. Contact acceleration@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

We would like to thank Wendy Behrens and Dr. Randy Lange for helpful discussions contributing to this article.

Article updated 11/4/22.

Is Grade-Skipping Right for Your Student?

Making the decision for a student to skip a grade involves several steps. A facilitator leads the process; the facilitator might be a gifted coordinator, teacher, or principal, or another building or district administrator. The facilitator helps the team members to learn about acceleration, gathers appropriate data about the student, and leads the team meeting where grade-skipping is discussed. The facilitator might also be responsible for monitoring the student’s transition to acceleration if the decision is made to skip a grade.

Build the Team. Required team members  include the facilitator, parents, current teacher, and receiving teacher. Other team members might be administrators, additional teachers, school psychologists, counselors, other school support staff, local educational agency staff, or coaches or other adults who know the student well.

Learn About Acceleration. Team members, including the parents, might have questions about the efficacy of acceleration and why it is being considered for the student. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has accumulated documenting that acceleration is an effective intervention for challenging gifted students. A Nation Empowered gathers that research into an accessible format; Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and Volume 2 includes the research supporting this educational option.  The research documents that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not create a negative impact on social/emotional development, which is a frequently mentioned concern.

Gather the Data. Data needed to inform the decision include achievement, aptitude, and ability testing, student behavior, extracurricular activities, social/emotional development, physical development, demographic information, and school history. It is also important to discuss the potential grade skip with the student, answer questions, and discover hesitations or concerns.

The Team Meeting. After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, the team meets to discuss and decide the best option for the student. If the decision is made to accelerate, it is important to develop a transition plan and determine who will be responsible for follow-up with the student, teachers, and family. No matter the decision, changes might be required in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who is not accelerated now might need acceleration a year or more from now. Additionally, acceleration will not solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Students who have already skipped a grade might also benefit from individually paced instruction in a strength area, academic summer programs, concurrent enrollment, additional enrichment in school, and other educational opportunities.

Three Important Reasons Not to Skip a Grade. (1) Students who have a sibling in the next grade or in the current grade are not recommended for a grade skip. Developers of the Integrated Acceleration System highly recommend against acceleration in this case, due to concerns about family dynamics. For example, if a younger student moves into an older student’s grade, the older student might question his or her abilities and performance in school and possibly will resent the younger sibling. If the age of the sibling is an issue, it is important to devise other opportunities to challenge the student, such as subject acceleration, online courses, and enrichment experiences. (2) The overall ability of the student (as measured by an IQ test, such as the Cognitive Abilities Test, Wechsler Intelligences Scales, or Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales) should be at least one standard deviation above average; students with average or below average ability are not likely to be successful if they skip a grade. (3) If the student is not in favor of acceleration, the acceleration will not be successful. The student needs to be committed to the idea of moving ahead. Even if one of these important reasons is present, it is still often helpful to go through a formal discussion process about acceleration; gathering data and meeting with the team will provide opportunities to discuss different options for challenging the student.

Making the Transition to the Next Grade. If the decision is made to grade-skip a student, the next important task is to discuss a transition plan. This might include establishing a trial period, having the student visit the new classroom and meet the teacher, and regular check-in meetings with a school counselor or other adult who will monitor the student during this time. Including the receiving teacher in these discussions is critical, because of this teacher’s important role in making the grade skip work well. It is also important to keep the lines of communication open between the receiving teacher and the family, so both are alerted to issues or concerns early.

All of the factors discussed above (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). 

Interested in learning more about acceleration? The Belin-Blank Center offers a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration each summer. The course is taught entirely online. Contact acceleration@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Making Research-Backed Educational Placement Decisions During a Pandemic: IOAPA and Other Opportunities

Spring is coming, and that means it’s time to start planning for next year. In a typical year, this is when we would recommend having students participate in above-level testing. Above-level testing helps educators to determine which students might need advanced programming, such as subject acceleration, because it measures students’ aptitudes in specific subjects. Using an objective measure such as an above-level test helps us to make informed decisions. During the challenging year brought upon us by COVID-19, we might have wondered if it was possible to conduct this sort of testing in a school setting. The good news is, yes, it can be done!

Over the last few months, the Belin-Blank Center has assisted numerous educators throughout the country, including in Iowa schools, to conduct above-level testing with their 4th-6th grade students using I-Excel. We require an in-person proctor, so that means testing sessions have had fewer students spread apart in a classroom with other appropriate safety precautions in place. When considering your options for testing, please make sure to consult local and national public health guidance. Schools that typically test large numbers of students have provided the testing in several different sessions, so there were fewer students in each group. Schools have then been able to use the test results to inform decisions about placing students in advanced programing, such as IOAPA.

IOAPA, a longstanding online accelerative program for students in Iowa, has an impressive record of student success. Middle and high school students take advanced online courses in a program administered by the Belin-Blank Center and in cooperation with local school mentors. The IOAPA program was created especially for students in rural Iowa schools who do not have access to advanced courses in their home schools. They work online, with the support of a local teacher/mentor. We have found that one of the best predictors of success in IOAPA courses is the objective information gleaned from above-level testing, where we measure a student’s aptitude in specific subjects.  Currently (due to the pandemic), we do not require above-level testing. However, we highly recommend it. The data provided by I-Excel testing can help educators determine which students would benefit from the rigors of the IOAPA program. If at least 10 students from a particular school or district have participated in testing, educators receive an aggregate report that helps them to see how students’ scores compare to each other and assists them in making these decisions.

In some cases, parents are interested in having their children tested individually, so they can learn more about their child’s aptitudes. They can set up individual testing with the assistance of a local educator who serves as the test proctor. After the testing, parents receive an individual student report, which they can share with educators at their child’s school.

It has indeed been a challenging year. It is good to know that, in spite of the challenges, we still have a systematic process in place for assisting educators and their talented students to find the academic opportunities that they need.

Who Makes the Decision about Academic Acceleration?

It shouldn’t be left to one person to make a decision about academic acceleration, especially whole-grade acceleration (also called grade-skipping). It takes a team to consider all the relevant information and implement a plan.

At the Belin-Blank Center, we recommend that this child study team include:

  • at least one parent or guardian,
  • a facilitator (often a gifted coordinator),
  • the child’s current teacher, and
  • the “receiving teacher” in the higher grade with whom the child would be placed.

An administrator, such as a principal, might also participate in the team meeting. Additional individuals who might be consulted during the process include other teachers, the school counselor, the school psychologist, and the gifted education teacher.

Of course, the student needs to be included in the discussions in an age-appropriate manner, although not in the final meeting where the data are discussed and the decision is made.  

You might wonder about which teacher would be considered the “current teacher” if a student has different teachers for different subjects. Consider selecting a teacher who knows the student well. It is certainly appropriate to request feedback from any teacher who is currently working with the student. More than one might participate more actively in the process and attend meeting(s) about the student. For receiving teacher, consider asking several teachers who would have that student in the future to participate in the discussion.

One person on the team (often the gifted coordinator) serves as facilitator and gathers appropriate information such as test scores and feedback from other team members. Once the information is gathered, the facilitator schedules a team meeting to discuss the “fit” of acceleration and to make a decision. Finally, the facilitator helps to develop and implement a transition plan, so the move from one grade to another is smooth.

The Belin-Blank Center is in the process of developing the new Integrated Acceleration System, which will help educators and families investigate the “fit” of subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college for their student, with special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you’re interested in learning even more about academic acceleration, the Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online from June 7- August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment.

And be sure to check back for the upcoming launch of the Integrated Acceleration System or click here to be notified when it is released.

Subject Acceleration: What Are the Issues?

Subject acceleration is one way to match the curriculum to high-ability students’ needs and ensure that they are appropriately challenged. A common method of subject acceleration is moving a student from one grade to another for a particular subject in which the student has strong abilities. For example, a second grader might move to the third-grade classroom for math, then move back to their second grade classroom for all other subjects.

A number of issues are associated with subject acceleration. There is no single right answer to the questions raised by these issues, but it is important to consider them.

  • Scheduling. Will the student miss a class in a different subject? Some schools have solved this issue by scheduling core subjects at the same time. For example, Northside School District schedules math at the same time for every grade across the district. Alternatively, a middle school student might begin the day early at the high school for science, then go to the middle school at the regular start time for all other classes.
  • Transportation. The middle schooler in the example above might need to be bused from one building to another. Some school districts will provide transportation; others expect the parents to drive the student.
  • Gaps. If the student moves up a grade for a particular subject, how do we know whether the student has any important knowledge gaps? The simple solution is pre-testing to determine where these gaps are, and then spending some time tutoring the student on the missing information. It may take just a few short tutoring sessions to fill in gaps and ensure placement in a challenging course for the whole school year.
  • Credit. Granting credit and recording that on a transcript helps prevent the student from being asked to repeat the course at a later time. There are questions related to credit, however. For example, should middle school students taking high school courses receive middle school credit, high school credit, or both? Related to that, should the middle school students have those course grades applied to their high school transcripts? This becomes an issue if the student earns a grade that would lower the high school GPA or class rank.
  • “Running out of” classes. Sometimes students are prevented from subject acceleration because of concerns about running out of courses in the future. It is never appropriate to withhold medicine from a sick child because we think we might not have enough medicine for that child in 5 years. Similarly, it is not appropriate to withhold a challenging academic opportunity from a student now because we might not have the appropriate resources in our building a few years down the road. If the needed course is not available in our building, our task becomes finding ways to get the advanced content to the student. After exhausting the high school math curriculum, and advanced student might take an online or in-person college course.
  • Long-term planning. Although concerns about transportation or scheduling issues several years in the future shouldn’t stop us from accelerating a talented student now, we should take the time to consider the long-term impact of this decision and use that time to communicate with administrators, future teachers, and families to be sure we are outlining a smooth path through a challenging curriculum for the student.

Talking through these questions and issues is helpful for the development of school and district policies related to academic acceleration. Devising clear and fair policies helps all students to have access these opportunities, not just those with active parent advocates. The Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject to help educators, policymakers, and parents to think through these issues for their local schools. The Belin-Blank Center has also developed the new Integrated Acceleration System, which helps educators and families make informed decisions about subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college.  

Why Am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

The short answer to this question is that I am tired of gifted students being under-challenged in school. They need the intellectual stimulation that comes from rigorous courses taught at a reasonably advanced level, and acceleration can provide that stimulation. The longer answer is, I am familiar with the research (over 70 years of research, to be precise!). Academic acceleration has more research support than any other educational option for gifted students. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. The research tells us that gifted students benefit from acceleration and are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject. As a group, gifted students who accelerated grow up into higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive in the short-term and the long-term.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Results of the research are summarized clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive publication, A Nation Empowered.  It’s time to put that information to work.  There are at least 20 different types of acceleration, including grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, online learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. Since there are so many forms of acceleration, we can tailor accelerative opportunities to the needs of individual gifted students. Acceleration means allowing gifted students to move ahead in school, at a pace appropriate to their needs. Acceleration can be implemented individually, in small groups, and in large groups. Each type of acceleration can be used to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

Educators and parents do not have to be afraid of implementing acceleration. Tools are available to help them make well-informed, research-supported decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, as well as the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider important aspects of whole-grade acceleration, including academic development, social development, physical development, and school and parental support for the decision), IDEAL Solutions (developed to assist educators and parents as they consider subject matter acceleration in STEM subjects), and university-based talent search programs, which help identify students and give them challenging courses they can take in the summer or school year or via online learning opportunities. The Belin-Blank Center recently launched a new, online platform called the Integrated Acceleration System to help guide discussions about different forms of acceleration, including grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten or college, and subject acceleration, all while taking into account special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, start with the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families. Educational policy enthusiasts will be interested in the document, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. Researchers will enjoy perusing the annotated bibliography.

We have the research and the tools to help us make good decisions about implementing acceleration for academically talented students. Now, we need the courage to act.

(Blog updated 11/4/2022)

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

Post edited 4/29/2021

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 many educators simply have not had the opportunity to be informed about acceleration. Even in graduate programs in gifted education, educators 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 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 whole-grade acceleration. Above-level testing is the essential tool for making decisions about subject acceleration. The Integrated Acceleration System is a new platform recently developed by the Belin-Blank Center focused on helping educators and families determine if a grade skip, early entrance to kindergarten or college, or subject acceleration are a good fit for their student. This new platform also draws on the Belin-Blank Center staff members’ extensive experience with twice-exceptional students and special considerations when accelerating them.

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 resolve a situation 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 policy discussions. Together, the Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced a helpful document 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.

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)

1 Acceleration works green

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