Category Archives: Acceleration Institute

Who is Ready for Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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.

ISASP: Begin Discovering Talent in Your Students

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

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

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

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

Using the 95th Percentile

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

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

ISASP Scale scores at the 95th percentile

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

Casting a Wider Net: Using the 90th Percentile

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

Scale Scores at the 90th percentile

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

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

Recap

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

Advocating for Acceleration: Suggestions for Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

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!

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.

shutterstock_270696455

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.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Accelerate? A Roadmap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional notes from the Belin-Blank Center

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

 

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. No educational option for gifted students has the research support that academic acceleration has. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. Gifted students benefit from acceleration. 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.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Now that we have the information that is summarized so clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive 2015 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, distance learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. There are many forms of acceleration, and that means that 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 decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, and they also include the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider all aspects of 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 via online learning opportunities.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, consider starting with the information found at the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned in this article, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families.

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

Posted by Ann Lupkowski Shoplik

What About Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

Portal to Another World

Parents who are considering early entrance to kindergarten for their children have a lot of questions! They are certainly concerned whether or not this is the right decision for their child, and they wonder how to make the decision.

1. One of the myths we hear is that precocious preschoolers no longer stand out a few years after they enter school. People might say that the other students “catch up” once they reach 1st or 2nd grade. Do talented 4-year-olds actually plateau in their learning and end up not being that far ahead of their peers?

This question comes up frequently, especially with younger students who are just entering school. In a nutshell, the answer is “no.” Gifted students tend to perform better than average students all the way through school. The caveat here is that they thrive when they are consistently challenged. If left to languish in an under-stimulating classroom, they don’t do as well. Gifted students need a challenging environment, and early entrance to kindergarten might provide just the challenge needed.

2. What types of schools are most receptive to having students skip grades or enter kindergarten early?

 Schools differ remarkably on this, and, unless there is a specific written policy on early entrance to school or grade-skipping in general, the response might depend on the administrator. For example, a school may not have a policy specifically supporting early entrance to kindergarten, but a given principal might be very receptive to the idea and work carefully with families that might need that option.  A huge public school system might have the resources to challenge students effectively, but it might have a policy in place that prevents students from entering school early. A small, under-resourced school with an innovative principal and small classrooms might provide exactly what a student needs. Parents need to spend some time researching the schools in their area and asking questions concerning early entrance to school.  Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered (www.nationempowered.org) is a quick read and provides a lot of information supporting various types of acceleration and is an ideal resource to provide to a busy principal or administrator.

3. How do we figure out if my child should enter kindergarten early?

 There are lots of great resources that can help you with this important decision. First, see the Acceleration Institute website:  www.accelerationinstitute.org. Look for the section for parents (http://accelerationinstitute.org/parents.aspx) and Questions and Answers (http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/QA/).  Also, look at the chapter on whole-grade acceleration and early entrance to kindergarten in Volume 2 of A Nation Empowered (www.nationempowered.org). The book is available for purchase, and it is also available as a free download from the website. There is also a tool specifically designed to help families and schools make good decisions about grade-skipping and early entrance to school, the Iowa Acceleration Scale (http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/IAS.aspx).

4. Is it possible to find schools who will provide a more customized education while allowing my child to be surrounded by age-peers?

 Yes. They might be public, private, or parochial schools. Again, you’ll need to do some research in your area to find the best fit.  Additionally, take a look at acceleration policy information provided here:  http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Resources/Policy/By_State/Default.aspx. It will help to be informed about policies in your state, if you are going to approach a public school with your questions. This article presents data about state cutoff dates for kindergarten entry: http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbquestRT?rep=Kq1402

5. What types of questions should we be asking when looking for schools that are the right fit and can accommodate a precocious preschooler?

This website is helpful:  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/choose_school.htm

In fact, I encourage you to explore the Hoagies gifted website in general. It’s chock-full of information!  See:  Info about early entrance to kindergarten: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/kindergarten.htm and the Blog Hop on acceleration (the individual stories from families are great!): http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_acceleration.htm

You might also enjoy reading one parent’s experience with early entrance to kindergarten: http://tinyurl.com/kgzlwbo. The author discusses concerns such as physical development and social development. The last paragraph concludes, “One principal I spoke with was honest about this.  ‘We used to test children for kindergarten readiness, but there were too many problems when a child didn’t qualify for kindergarten.  Now we just use a cutoff date.’  Our children deserve better than this.”

Additional Resources