Category Archives: above-level testing

Using BESTS for IOAPA Decisions

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) team up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers discover talented students and develop their abilities. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, IOAPA will require 6th or 7th grade students to have taken I-Excel in order to be eligible for IOAPA courses. We highly recommend using the ACT to inform eligibility for older students to take IOAPA courses. Testing is not required for students registering for Spring 2022 courses, although it is recommended.

In order to use this year’s above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for next spring’s IOAPA courses, now is the time to begin the above-level testing process. (Spring registration opens November 8, and we expect seats to fill quickly.) You may also use above-level test results from this academic year to decide which students you will register for fall 2022 classes, when that registration is available. There are four basic steps for participation in BESTS.

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge; these are the students who will be recommended for participation in BESTS. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. Contact assessment@belinblank.org as soon as possible to set up testing. We have two options for testing, one for 7th-9th graders, and one for 4th-6th graders.
  4. 7th-9th graders take the ACT. Due to the pandemic, ACT has been prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer above-level testing for our 7th-9th grade students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, visit belinblank.org/talent-search for specific information and email assessment@belinblank.org to be added to the notification list. ACT testing is not required, but it is highly recommended.
  5. 4th-6th graders take I-Excel. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are flexible to schedule. However, it’s still important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand. I-Excel testing will be required for students interested in taking 6th-7th grade courses next school year, so we highly recommend testing eligible 5th and 6th graders this year.
  6. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Costs

  • The cost for ACT registration will be announced at a later time. Students testing through the Belin-Blank Center will receive access to individualized reports explaining their test results and comparing them to other talented students in the same grade.
  • The cost for I-Excel is $45 per student when groups of 4 or more students are testing.  Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in the past 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations to try out I-Excel with their students. Schools receive group results as well as individual student reports following I-Excel testing. Families also receive the individualized report.
  • For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are available for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

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

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Students’ Needs— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

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.

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. Due to the pandemic, ACT has prioritized testing 11th and 12th graders. We expect to be able to offer above-level testing in spring 2022. If you would like to be notified when we begin offering ACT testing again, please email us at assessment@belinblank.org and we will add you to the list.

To Test or Not to Test: Is That the Question?

Written by Dr. Susan Assouline, Director of the Belin-Blank Center

Susan Assouline

We sometimes hear from parents, educators, and students who question the value of standardized tests, particularly as colleges and universities suspend testing requirements due to the pandemic. While there are valid concerns among these questions, I propose that test bias, rather than the value of testing itself, represents the more relevant question.

Test bias is an important topic that merits more significant discussion than is possible in this short blog post. Nevertheless, it’s important to offer guidance on such a complex issue because the many ways we discover talented students include standardized testing.

The test-development industry, state and federal courts, and higher education institutions have considered the complex topic of test bias for several decades. Early in the 20th century, tests contained blatant content, cultural, and ethnic bias. However, the field has evolved and established new standards, guidelines, and principles related to assessments. Now, three decades into the 21st century, the simple response to the question, “Are tests biased?” is, “It’s complicated.” 

Today’s standardized testing industry aims to reduce content bias in test items through the test development process. However, there is still the potential for ethnic and cultural bias during the administration and interpretation process. Moreover, our current education system’s inequitable nature means that not all students receive the same opportunities to learn.

Educators’ understanding of issues of equity in assessment is crucial. Educators can choose a test that research supports as equitable. They can administer the tests fairly, interpret results correctly, and provide the supports and challenges that help students learn and grow to the best of their abilities. 

People often make claims of test bias based on how schools have used tests to exclude students from gifted and talented programming. A common practice is to use standardized tests to limit the number of students eligible for specialized programs and services. The Belin-Blank Center takes the opposite approach. We use standardized tests to discover high-potential learners who need growth opportunities. 

The licensed psychologists in the center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic rely on tests to better understand individual students’ unique needs. Two of our grant-funded outreach programs, STEM Excellence and Javits Talent Identification-Career Exploration (TICE), use a standardized test called I-Excel as the first step in providing an academic challenge to traditionally underserved students. Because I-Excel administers 8th-grade content to 4th through 6th graders, it serves as an above-level test. The Belin-Blank Center expanded the guidelines to include more students in the above-level testing process. In this way, we discover a broader pool of middle-school students ready for advanced academic challenges.   

To create best-fit interventions that benefit learners, we must use the appropriate tools. In many cases, this includes standardized testing. However, whenever we use tests, we have an ethical responsibility to recognize the ever-present potential for bias. Thus, it’s complicated.

We use tests because we know they can help us better understand learners’ needs. Still, we also know that test results are only one useful tool in a more extensive toolkit. It is essential for those using the results to interpret and supplement them in a manner that accounts for potential bias.

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 will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online June 7-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@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.

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.

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.

New Requirements for IOAPA Middle School Courses

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) have teamed up to provide identification and programming services, and to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities. There are extraordinary benefits in identifying students who are in need of an additional challenge, and we at the Belin-Blank Center and IOAPA want students to experience these full benefits. According to research, above-level testing is one of the best methods to make these identifications.

After examining previous years’ completion and passing rates for IOAPA middle school courses, the Belin-Blank Center is implementing a new policy regarding IOAPA middle school courses. Beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year, all students taking an IOAPA middle school course as a 6th grader* will be required to have completed the I-Excel assessment. All students taking an IOAPA middle school course as a 7th or 8th grader will be required to have completed the ACT.

By requiring these above-level assessments, we are hoping to provide teachers with an effective tool to identify students who would benefit from advanced coursework through IOAPA.

Students must have taken I-Excel or the ACT in the past two years or will need to sign up for testing in order to register for the Fall 2020 IOAPA courses.  Teachers need to begin the above-level testing process now. Registration for Fall 2020 IOAPA courses will be open April 1 – August 15, 2020. Below we discuss the two different above-level assessments and the process of signing up.

I-Excel

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments or ISASP, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. If you have 6th-graders*, contact assessment@belinblank.org as soon as possible to set up testing after reading through the details at belinblank.org/inschooltesting. 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit belinblank.org/act for specific information. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but it’s important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand.
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.
*If next year’s incoming 6th graders are currently in a separate building, please feel free to share this information with the appropriate person in that building.

I-Excel Costs

The cost of I-Excel in Iowa is $45 per student if groups of 4 or more students are tested. The cost is $22 if the student is eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. For students test individually, the cost is $90 ($45 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch). If students test on the University of Iowa campus in June at our testing session on campus (June 11, 2020), the fee is $70 ($35 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch).

After testing, eligible students may sign up for an IOAPA course, and IOAPA covers the course fee (up to a $700 value).

ACT

The ACT is a test that many students take in 11th or 12th grade as part of the college admissions process. The ACT has also been used since the 1980s to discover younger students who are ready for greater academic challenges. Students testing through the Belin-Blank Center are provided with the individualized report mentioned above. Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of academic programs, including IOAPA courses.

Registration / Test Date Process

To make this process easier, parents can sign their child up for the ACT through our BESTS program. Click here for more information on this process. In doing so, we remove the guesswork from the registration process, we file the registration paperwork with ACT, and we also send you a coupon for a free IDEAL Solutions for STEM Acceleration report that provides an extensive interpretation of your child’s scores.

The ACT test dates are less flexible than I-Excel testing dates. Below are the available test dates through May 2020 (Note: we do not offer the July or September ACT test date through our registration system).

Test DateInitial Deadline (Late fee after this date)Final Deadline
Saturday, April 4, 2020Wednesday, February 26, 2020Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Saturday, June 13, 2020Wednesday, May 6, 2020Wednesday, May 20, 2020

ACT Cost

The fee for ACT testing is $70 ($35 for students who qualify for Free/Reduced-Cost Lunch). If the reduced fee for qualifying students is still too great a financial burden, the Belin-Blank Center will work with the family to make a financial arrangement that allows the student to participate. Registrations not paid as of the initial deadline will incur an additional $30 fee.

After testing, eligible students may sign up for an IOAPA course, and IOAPA covers the course fee (up to a $700 value).

For more detailed information about this new requirement of above-level testing for IOAPA middle school courses, check out our recent IOAPA-BESTS blog that highlights the most common FAQs. Please do not hesitate to contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org if you have any questions.

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.

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!