Category Archives: Academic Year Programs

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.

 

 

 

Professional Learning in Fall 2018

Are you attending the Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) Association Conference in October?  The Belin-Blank Center is offering two different credit options, and you can take advantage of one or both of these opportunities.  ITAG’s annual fall conference is focused on “Teaming for Gifted: School-Home-Community,” October 15 – 16, Des Moines, IA (at the Airport Holiday Inn).  Educators can enroll in PSQF:5194:0WKB for either one or two semester hours; the Belin-Blank Center provides a 50% tuition scholarship for the cost of graduate tuition.  Contact Dr. Laurie Croft or Haley Wikoff at educators@belinblank.org for special permission to enroll (guaranteeing that all those who enroll understand that conference attendance is required for this credit).  For educators NEW to gifted education, we invite you to enroll in RCE:5237:0EXW TAG: You’re It! (Seminar in Gifted Education, 2 semester hours, starting at ITAG, online, October 22 – December 7).

ITAG is offering a second professional learning opportunity on Sunday, October 14, and the Belin-Blank Center is offering another credit specifically to facilitate more extended learning related to the Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and the Advanced Learner.  Educators can enroll in PSQF:5194:0WKC for one semester hour; this credit also provides a 50% tuition scholarship.  Contact educators@belinblank.org for special permission to enroll.

Many Iowa educators and others in the Midwest are looking forward to attending the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Convention in Minneapolis, MN, from November 15 – 18 (pre-convention sessions on November 14 and the morning of November 15 are not required but are wonderful opportunities). The theme for #NAGC18 is recognition of 65 years of commitment to the support of gifted children, and educators can enroll in PSQF:5194:0WKA for one or two semester hours (receiving a 50% tuition scholarship—contact educators@belinblank.org for special permission to enroll).

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Fall semester 2018 also includes three-semester-hour classes; enroll ASAP; very limited space:

  • EDTL:4137:0EXW Introduction to Educating Gifted Students (online, August 20 – October 15);
  • EDTL:4067:0EXW Conceptions of Talent Development (new, online, October 15 – December 14);
  • PSQF:4120:0EXW Psychology of Giftedness (online, 16-week fall semester).

The practicum experience is available each semester; contact educators@belinblank.org for details.

Visit belinblank.org/educators for general information about credit options, including additional classes offered in the “workshop” online format (three weeks for one-semester-hour).  Workshops will also be announced on the gifted-teachers listserv, a valuable resource for advocates for gifted/talented learners.

The Belin-Blank Center has provided professional development opportunities for almost 40 years; we look forward to supporting your learning needs.

 

 

IOAPA for Middle School – Advice From Current Mentors

A recent question on the Belin-Blank Center’s email listserv for gifted education teachers sparked a conversation about various success stories and best practices from experienced IOAPA mentors. With their consent, I have gathered that advice into a blog post so more teachers can benefit from their experiences.

Importance of Frequent Face-to-Face Connection
Several mentors indicated the necessity of face-to-face interaction with students to monitor performance and promote progress. Deann Scearce (Mount Vernon Middle School) indicated that her 7th and 8th grade students are scheduled into her classroom every other day for their IOAPA class. IOAPA requires courses to be scheduled as part of students’ regular school day, and recommends that the mentor be available during scheduled work time. Kelley Grothus (Madrid Middle School) schedules her students for 1.5 hours each day (including lunch). She says, “Sometimes we sit together to go through the material or just so they can talk through their quiz prep and have someone listen to them. Through lunch, I make them the teacher and have them explain what they are learning to me.” Marcia Powell (Oelwein Middle School) uses her mentoring time to “have a conversation if [students] are lagging and to encourage them or reward them with smiles, high-fives, or something else.”

In addition, Kelley noted the benefit of developing an online learning community. IOAPA permits schools to register up to 6 students per course, and Kelley uses that to her advantage by offering specific courses each semester (i.e., creative writing one semester, and psychology the next). She reported that “this allows that kids to work together & discuss rather than learn in isolation.” Similarly, Marcia recommends that students “enroll in groups of two or three so they can bounce ideas off of one another.” These opportunities for collaboration with peers, as well as the mentoring component included in the IOAPA model, establish a platform for success in online learning.

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Benefits of the Online Curriculum
Our mentors appreciate the benefits of these self-contained online classes. Michelle Kavars (Lewis Central Middle School) touted the fact that “there is no real need to ‘teach’ lessons as there are videos, exercises, self-checks, and quizzes along the way.” Each course is a little different, and includes different instructional modalities specifically designed to address the course content; however, this mix of videos, readings, assignments, and quizzes is common, and content expertise is not necessary for IOAPA mentors as all the necessary content for our middle school courses is taught by the online instructor. Kelley attested that “the content is well-organized, sequenced, & managed for you, allowing me to expose the students to a variety of content that matches their strengths and interests.”

Significance of Purposeful Planning
IOAPA allows schools to make courses available to students based on their unique needs and interests, when doing so in person would be resource-prohibitive. However, as many of our mentors reported, purposeful planning is key to success in online learning. Kelley strives to give her students “an authentic & personal connection to the online content.” Our other mentors indicated similar efforts to overcome skepticism often associated with online learning through intentionally establishing ways to connect with students.

This planning is also essential when determining what IOAPA courses to make available to students. Taking advantage of courses offered in person, even if at another grade level, is valuable; according to Kelley, “when there is an in-person expert to teach [students], we utilize that.” IOAPA prohibits schools from using our online courses to help with scheduling conflicts; schools are only permitted to offer those courses that are not already available to students through the school. In the case of middle school courses, if transportation or other issues prevent students from accessing an appropriately challenging course within their district, IOAPA courses may be used to address those needs. For example, if an 8th grade student requires geometry, but the course is only available at the high school level, they would be permitted to enroll in the IOAPA Geometry course. We would still recommend prioritizing in-person classes if it is feasible to do so.

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When offering IOAPA middle school courses, one of the most frequent conversations you’ll have with parents and administrators will concern credit. It will be essential to discuss with middle school and high school administrators how credit will be assigned for IOAPA middle school classes, which are high school level courses offered out-of-level to younger-than-typical students. You can see our previous blog post on this issue. Deann’s school follows a unique credit policy: Students review their final grade and decide if they want to receive high school credit – with the grade they earned going on their high school transcript and affecting their high school GPA.

Finally, planning cannot end with the current school year. Marcia indicated the importance of considering each student’s course progression through high school, and considering alternative courses that could supplement learning in a content area (i.e., offering online computer science or statistics to a math-talented student, in addition to challenging math curriculum), especially if sufficiently advanced courses in the content area are likely to be unavailable later in the student’s academic career.

Conclusion
Overall, our mentors express satisfaction with the IOAPA program, and we know that this program would not be successful without the tireless work they put in each day to support students. If you’re interested in making these classes available to your students, visit belinblank.org/ioapa. Contact ioapa@belinblank.org with questions, and stay tuned to the blog for more advice from students and mentors this summer.

Last-Minute AP Exam Tips

With just over a week until AP Exams begin, high school students across the country are frantically completing their coursework and preparing for the big day. In this blog post, we’ll share a few tips to aid in last-minute studying, as well as some reminders for Exam Day.

Study Tips
A quick internet search of terms including “AP exam,” “study,” “review,” and “tips” yields millions of results. Below are some of the most common tips from AP experts.

  • Use practice questions and exams. The types of questions on the AP Exam may be unfamiliar to you, and knowing the material is not necessarily enough to earn a high score on the exam. The College Board offers practice questions on their website, including actual questions from previous years’ exams, and many test prep books and websites have developed their own practice questions.
    • In addition to using these materials to test your knowledge and familiarity with content and question types, you can set up a “mock exam” experience with timing, breaks, etc. so you’re more comfortable on Exam Day.
  • Review the Course Description document for details about the exam and the evaluation rubric. Each AP Course has its own Course Description; for example, see the AP English Language Course Description. Each Course Description can be accessed from the relevant subject’s Course page. This document also contains additional practice questions!
    • The Exam description within this document can also help you focus your studying — it’s not important that you know every single fact you learned in class; instead, you’ll want to master the topics that are emphasized on the exam. Especially in the Free Response section, exam readers will be looking for synthesis of big concepts rather than just regurgitation of facts.
  • Study selectively. At this point, you definitely don’t have time to review every single topic covered over the course of the year. However, I bet there are topics you feel pretty confident about, as well as areas in which you struggle. For your last-minute studying, focus primarily on those areas of weakness. See this US News article for more tips.

Exam Day Reminders
Just like the ACT or SAT, AP Exams are strictly monitored and there are important rules of which to be aware.

  • Know what you can (and cannot) bring into the exam. Carefully review these lists to make sure you are following the rules. Also check out the calculator policy for relevant courses (including most math and science courses).
  • Review the Bulletin for AP Students and ParentsBefore you can take the AP Exam, you’ll be asked to sign your answer sheet indicating agreement and compliance with the policies and procedures outlined therein. It also gives you an idea of what to expect when you arrive for your exam.
  • Eat a good breakfast! Most exams take two to three hours, and they require mental and physical endurance. Prepare yourself the best way possible by fueling your body and mind.
  • Answer all the multiple-choice questions. You won’t be penalized for incorrect answers, so it is to your benefit to take a guess if you’re not sure on a question. By answering, you give yourself a chance to get it right — usually a one-in-four or better!

You have worked hard over the past year, and now’s your chance to demonstrate what you’ve learned and possibly earn some college credit in the process. Simply taking the AP Exam is a great experience, and if you take advantage of these tips you’ll set yourself up for success!

Congratulations, JSHS Student Researchers!

Last month, students from across the state of Iowa attended the Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), hosted by the Belin-Blank Center at the Marriott Hotel in Coralville, Iowa.

JSHS is a collaborative effort with the research arm of the Department of Defense and is designed to challenge, engage, and publically recognize high school students conducting scientific research in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).  JSHS aims to prepare and support students to contribute as future scientists and engineers – conducting STEM research on behalf of, or directly for, the Department of Defense, the Federal research laboratories, or for the greater good in advancing the nation’s scientific and technological progress.

Students completed an original research project and submitted a research paper to the regional competition. The authors of the top 18 papers were invited to compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting their results before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers.  Students also toured various labs and facilities at the University of Iowa to hear about cutting edge research, potential career paths, and student opportunities.

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After an intensive day of presentations, the judges had the difficult task of selecting five finalists based on their research papers and presentations:

1st place: Megan Ertl (Beckman Catholic High School) – “Quantification of Muscle Accelerations to Interpret Individual Fatigue as an Industrial Application

2nd place: Cheryl Blackmer (Ballard  High School) – “Development of a LAMP Assay for the Detection of Powassan Virus”

3rd place: Pranav Chhaliyil (Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment) –  “Metagenomics Analysis of Bedtime Oral Cleaning by the Novel GIFT Method, Shows a Reduction in Dental-Damaging Bacteria”

4th place: Aaron Wills (Central Lee High School) – “Engineered Environmental Containment: “Using Lemna minor L. to Reduce Nitrate Levels in Aquatic Environments”

5th place: Brianna Cole (Valley High School) – “Cumulative Effects of Recurrent Amygdala Kindled Seizures on Respiratory Function”

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Additional presenters, who were winners by virtue of having their papers accepted, included Allison Brasch (Waterloo West High School), Mason Burlage (Beckman Catholic High School), Ava Depping (Madrid High School), Serenity Haynes (Central Lee High School), Sean Kluesner (Beckman Catholic High School), Pearl Krieger Coble (Winfield-Mt. Union High School), Kayla Livesay (Van Buren High School), Kathryn McCarthy (Sioux City East High School), Evylin Merydith (Keokuk High School), Tyler Montgomery (Kennedy High School), Elizabeth Smith (Waterloo West High School), Laura Stowater (Algona High School), Shelby Westhoff (Beckman Catholic High School).

The top five finalists will attend an expense-paid trip to the JSHS National Symposium next month in Hunt Valley, MD to present their research and compete for additional prizes.

To see all the fun we had, including tours of the IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering, Iowa Flood Center, and Additive Manufacturing-Integrated Product Realization Laboratory (AMPRL) in the University of Iowa Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, check out our full photo album! Congratulations to all, and good luck at Nationals!

 

IOAPA Fall 2018 Registration Now Open

Registration for Fall 2018 Iowa Online AP Academy courses is now open! We are excited to continue to offer above-level courses to high-ability Iowa students at no cost.

Courses are available in a variety of subjects, including science, math, language arts, social studies, computer science, and Spanish language. See our full course catalog for specific availability.

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For high school students (grades 9 through 12), 15 unique AP courses are available. These courses use a College Board-approved curriculum that aligns with the material covered in introductory-level college courses. Students have the opportunity to earn college credit for these courses by earning a qualifying score on the end-of-year AP Exam.

Students in grades 6 through 8 have the opportunity to enroll in high school level courses, including Introduction to Computer Science, Creative Writing, Honors Biology, and Honors Spanish I. Also see our previous blog post on the new math courses available for 2018-2019!

Relevant information and policies can be found on our website (www.belinblank.org.ioapa). It is especially important to take note of the eligibility requirements for schools and students, and to review the Getting Started section prior to registering your school and students. In addition, please keep in mind that these courses are intended for students who would have no other way to take them. They are NOT intended to solve scheduling issues at schools who already offer the course(s) of interest.

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If you’re interested in offering on-site AP courses at your school, the AP Teacher Training Institute (APTTI) provides instruction and certification to teach AP courses. This summer’s institute will occur on the University of Iowa campus June 26-29, 2018. We are offering workshops in the following subjects: AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP English Language, AP English Literature, AP Physics, AP US Government, and AP US History. Iowa teachers are eligible for a grant to reduce the cost of attending APTTI. With questions about APTTI, contact aptti@belinblank.org.

For additional information about IOAPA, stay tuned to the blog and follow us on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA. With questions, contact ioapa@belinblank.org.

Encouraging Students to Take AP Exams

Around this time of year, AP teachers across the country frequently hear the following question: “Why should I take the AP Exam?” This blog post will provide some responses to that question, and some tips for AP teachers to encourage their students to take AP Exams.

Why Should Students Take The Exam?
First off, AP Exams are the only way to earn college credit for AP courses. This can be a strong motivation for students, as one of the advantages of AP courses is that they provide opportunities to earn college credit while in high school, and achieve ‘advanced placement’ upon entering college.

Second, the experience of taking AP exams is beneficial for students even beyond the exposure to advanced material presented in the course. One study found that students who took one or more AP Exams were more likely to enroll in college than students who did not take any AP exams (Chajewski, Mattern, & Shaw, 2011). Students who took both an AP course and exam outperformed students who took an AP course only with regard to both college achievement and graduation (Hargrove, Godin, & Dodd, 2008). Research findings generally suggest that AP course participation yields benefits beyond non-AP courses, and that AP Exam participation compounds those benefits.

Finally, the AP Exams are a socially appropriate way of “showing off” what you’ve learned, and students who participate and succeed on a high number of AP Exams can earn recognition in addition to college credit. There are several opportunities to earn special recognition, and they are detailed on the AP Awards and Recognition page of the AP Students website.

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How Can Teachers Encourage Students Who Are On The Fence?
A personal conversation with students about their goals for taking AP coursework is a good first step. If their goal is to earn credit for college, they must take the exam in order to achieve it. If they entered the class with a different goal, the AP Exam may or may not be necessary. In general, it is recommended that all students who complete an AP course take the corresponding exam.

Some students may be worried about underperforming on the AP Exam. Mentors can discuss these concerns with students and reassure them that tthere is no penalty associated with low AP Exam scores. The exam is separate from the course grade, so course grades will not be negatively impacted by a low AP Exam score, and low scores will not have an impact on college admission decisions. Students can also control how and to whom their AP Exam scores are reported if they are concerned about college admissions.

Some students may be worried that they won’t be prepared for the AP Exam. There are a lot of great resources available to determine readiness for AP Exams. The College Board provides sample questions on their website and many independent publishers offer books aimed at helping with AP Exam preparation. Making these tools available is an excellent way to help students feel prepared and motivated to take the AP Exam.

What Else Should We Know?
For information on 2018 AP Exam dates, ordering, and other details, review our previous blog post. You can also visit the College Board website for relevant school preparation and Exam Day information. As always, feel free to contact ioapa@belinblank.org with questions, and stay tuned to our blog for more AP Exam tips!

References
Chajewski, M., Mattern, K. D., & Shaw, E.J. (2011). Examining the role of Advanced Placement Exam participation in four-year college enrollment. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 30(4), 16-27.
Hargrove, L., Godin, D., & Dodd, B. (2008). College outcomes comparisons by AP and non-AP high school experiences. (College Board Research Report No. 2008-3). New York: The College Board. Retrieved from: http://research.collegeboard.org/rr2008-3.pdf.