Category Archives: Acceleration

Using Achievement, Aptitude, and Ability Tests for Acceleration Decisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy: A Fundamental Component in an Acceleration Plan

Dr. Joyce VanTassel-Baska gave an important talk at a previous Belin-Blank Center conference on “The Research and Practice of Acceleration for Gifted Students: Toward Policy Development.” She explained that acceleration policy is needed:

  1. To ensure that it happens consistently across districts, individual students, and time;
  2. To provide guidance for educational decisions about acceleration options; and
  3. To ensure that it is presented as one of the basic provisions for gifted students at all stages of development.
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The research on academic acceleration is the strongest research and the best practice we have in gifted education. Nothing else comes close.  Both short-term and longitudinal studies consistently demonstrate the power of acceleration for gifted students; for example, in one study of students who had accelerated 38 years prior, researchers found accelerated students earned terminal degrees (e.g., Ph.D., J.D., or M.D.) at a rate substantially higher than in the general population (37-43% in the accelerated group compared to only 1% in the general population), performed at a high level in their careers, demonstrated a higher rate of patents and publications, earned higher salaries, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies

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

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

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Additional Notes from the Belin-Blank Center

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

What Does the Research Say About Academic Acceleration?

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

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

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

Short-Term Benefits

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

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

Long-Term Benefits

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

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

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

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

For More Information

A Nation Empowered:

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

Acceleration Institute:

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

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

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

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

Students’ Educational Needs Vary

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

Research Supports Acceleration

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

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

Resources about Acceleration

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

How Do We Make Decisions?

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

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

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

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

Additional Information

www.nationempowered.org

Overview of Acceleration video on the Acceleration Institute website

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

Interested in Professional Development?

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

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

Integrated Acceleration System: Webinar Sept. 13th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register: Learn more and register on our website

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

Acceleration: An Equitable Approach

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

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

Some examples of inequitable practices and procedures include:

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

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

Resources for Acceleration Policy

Developing Academic Acceleration Policies

National Association for Gifted Children Position Statement about Acceleration

With thanks to Randy Lange for providing this content.

Take an Online Course About Acceleration this Summer!

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

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

Dates: June 6 – July 29, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions? Email acceleration@belinblank.org

Learn More About Your Child’s Academic Capabilities

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

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

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

The ABCs of Acceleration

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Our thanks to Randy Lange for writing this post.

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

All about the Integrated Acceleration System  

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

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

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

Bells & Whistles” of the Integrated Acceleration System 

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

Collection of supplemental resources included with the Integrated Acceleration System  

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

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

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

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

Early Entrance to College: Are You Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some suggestions for students considering early entrance include:

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

Resources

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

Early Entrance to College page, Acceleration Institute website

Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy, University of Iowa

Making Decisions About Grade-Skipping: The Integrated Acceleration System

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

The Integrated Acceleration System, an online tool developed by leading researchers in gifted education, guides participants through integrating information about acceleration. 

On February 26, we will be hosting an online professional development session about using this new tool when considering a grade skip. The session will focus on: 

  • Best research-based practices in using academic acceleration,  
  • How to use the online Integrated Acceleration System, and 
  • Suggestions to coordinate communication among the relevant team members and support the student’s transition to acceleration.  

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

This online session will focus on grade-skipping. Future online presentations will focus on early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration. 

  • Presenters: Dr. Susan Assouline, Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, and Dr. Randy Lange  
  • Session fee: $79. Includes one access code to the Integrated Acceleration System (valued at $59). 
  • Date/Time: Saturday, February 26, 2022; 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Central Time (The last 30 minutes is an optional question/answer segment.) If you cannot attend the live session, the session will be recorded. 
  • Location: Online, via Zoom. Registrants will receive location details via email. 

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Team Meeting Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

How Do We Prepare a Student for Academic Acceleration?

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

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

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

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

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

Integrated Acceleration System

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

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

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

Who is Ready for Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Belin-Blank Center has recently developed the new online Integrated Acceleration System to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject accelerationearly entrance to college, grade-skipping, and acceleration with twice-exceptional students. The grade-skipping form of acceleration has already been launched. Early entrance to kindergarten and the other forms of acceleration will be coming soon. The Integrated Acceleration System provides an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the needed information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about acceleration and the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

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

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

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

The Integrated Acceleration System includes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are excited to share this new tool with you!

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

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

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

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

What is above-level testing and how can it be used? Above-level testing is useful for decisions about:

  1. Identifying a student for a gifted program
  2. Determining what a student is ready to learn next
  3. Informing decisions about subject-matter acceleration
  4. Informing decisions about readiness to skip a grade

“Above-level testing” is exactly what it sounds like:  Give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. 

This idea was pioneered over one hundred years ago by Dr. Leta Hollingworth, sometimes called the “mother” of gifted education.  This concept was fully developed by Dr. Julian Stanley in the 1970s when he devised the “Talent Search” in which 7th and 8th graders took the college admissions exam, the SAT. 

Fast forward to the present day, and above-level testing is used extensively in outside-of-school programs for gifted students. In fact, hundreds of thousands of students around the world take above-level tests each year as part of university-based talent searches, such as the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.  Some of these tests used are the SAT, ACT, and I-Excel.

Unfortunately, above-level tests are not used extensively in typical school gifted programs, but we would like to change that!

Academically talented students tend to perform extremely well on tests developed for their own age group. They do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, and we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be. 

Psychologists call this “hitting the ceiling” of the test.

Think of it like a yardstick: The grade-level “yardstick” measures only 36 inches. If the student is 40 inches tall, we can’t measure accurately by using only a grade-level yardstick. What we need is a longer yardstick, and a harder test. An above-level test, one that is developed for older students, provides that longer yardstick and successfully raises the ceiling for that talented student.

above-level testing

The advantages of above-level testing include discovering “talented” and “exceptionally talented” students. In the figure, the bell curve on the left shows a typical group of students. A few students (the dark blue portion of the group) earn very high scores. They score at the 95th percentile or above when compared to their age-mates.

These are the students who “hit the ceiling” of the grade-level test. 

If that group of students takes a harder test — an above-level test that was developed for older students — voila! We see a new bell curve (the one on the right). The harder test spreads out the scores of the talented students. Now, we can better see what these students have already mastered and what amount of challenge they are ready for.

Why does this matter? Knowing how students performed on an above-level test helps us to give the students, their families and their educators better advice about the kinds of educational options the students might need.

For example, does this student need educational enrichment? Would that student benefit from moving up a grade level or two in math? Would yet another student benefit from grade-skipping?

Organizations such as the Belin-Blank Center who have used above-level testing for years. We have developed rubrics to help educators and parents understand the student’s above-level test scores and relate them to appropriately challenging educational options. In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s aptitudes.

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

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

Psychologists say that these students have “hit the ceiling of the test” because they got everything (or almost everything) right on the grade-level test. What we need is a harder test that would more accurately measure their talents and help us to tailor instruction to their specific needs.

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

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

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

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

We at the Belin-Blank Center are thrilled to be able to provide educators with specific information about your students via the in-school testing option for I-Excel, an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders.

For more information about how this could work in your school, see www.i-excel.org and www.belinblank.org/talent-search, or contact assessment@belinblank.org.

Students in 7th – 9th grade also have an opportunity for above-level testing by taking the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center. Above-level testing opportunities allow students to showcase their talents and help educators and others to make good suggestions about appropriate educational options for these students.

National Center for Research on Gifted Education Surveys on Acceleration

Our colleagues at the National Center for Research on Gifted Education are providing an opportunity for teachers to be involved in research on academic acceleration. Parents/Caregivers are invited to participate in a separate survey about their child’s school experience.  

Please see the official announcements below: 

Teachers

Are you an elementary teacher (K-6)? If so, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education is looking for educators like you to complete a survey on teachers’ perceptions about acceleration. The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. The survey is anonymous and will help us better understand what factors related to acceleration are important to teachers. For more information visit ncrge.uconn.edu/teacher-survey.

Parents/Caregiver

Are you the parent/caregiver of a child in 2nd – 5th grade? If so, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education is looking for people like you to complete a survey on parent perceptions of their child’s school experience. The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and will ask you questions about your perceptions of your child’s academic challenge, academic success, academic placement, and social well-being. The survey is anonymous; however, at the end of the survey you will have an opportunity to have your child complete a related survey on their attitude toward school (this is optional). If you elect to have your child complete a short survey about their attitudes towards school, you will be asked for an email where we can send the link for your child’s survey. For more information visit ncrge.uconn.edu/parent-survey.

Transition Planning for Grade-Skipping

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

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

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

Indicators of a successful acceleration include:

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

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

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

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

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

Article updated 11/4/22.

Introducing the Integrated Acceleration System

We are excited to announce the launch of the Integrated Acceleration System!

Making decisions about whether to accelerate a student can seem intimidating. We can help. 

The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that integrates all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a complete, multi-page report that offers an evidence-based recommendation, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the students’ academic needs. 

What do educators say? 

“The Integrated Acceleration System is exactly the tool all districts need to do the right thing for a student. I found it to be comprehensive and easy to use. Once our team experienced the depth of data included in the Integrated Acceleration System, they felt comfortable in the process to determine the appropriateness of a grade skip…. An excellent tool!”

Dr. Randy Lange, Talent Development Services Program Coordinator at LaGrange District 102, Illinois  

We’re celebrating with introductory pricing!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System for $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. This introductory pricing ends with the 2020-21 academic year, so reserve yours today!

Is Grade-Skipping Right for Your Student?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Who Makes the Decision about Academic Acceleration?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subject Acceleration: What Are the Issues?

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

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

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

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

Why Am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

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

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

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

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

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

(Blog updated 11/4/2022)

Join a National Research Study on Acceleration

The National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) has several innovative research projects underway, and you are invited to learn more about participating in two studies: the National Study on Improving Acceleration Practices (https://ncrge.uconn.edu/acceleration/) and the National Study on Improving Identification (https://ncrge.uconn.edu/identification/).

Academic acceleration is the intervention for advanced learners that has shown the greatest effect on student achievement. Participants in the acceleration study will receive (a) free professional learning opportunities around what acceleration actually is and how it can be used, (b) a universal screening process to assist in determining which students should be considered for acceleration, and (c) resources and training that will help you implement grade acceleration decisions for those students who wish to accelerate. 

Consider joining the identification study if your school/district uses universal screening with a teacher rating scale as part of identifying students for gifted services. The team at NCRGE would love to talk with you about participating in one of our new studies. Participating schools and districts will have hands-on support to review and improve their district’s identification system for increased equity and efficiency.

Acceleration During a Pandemic?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

IOAPA Classes 2020-2021

Welcome to the fall semester for IOAPA courses! During this busy time of year, we don’t want you to forget about some important information related to your IOAPA courses. Here are a few upcoming items for IOAPA.

  • If your students decide the class is not for them, not a problem! Just make sure to drop the course before September 14th to prevent the $350 drop fee. For more information about our drop policies, check out the IOAPA handbook on our website.
  • Check your email for messages from ioapa@belinblank.org. These emails contain important information and deadlines about the upcoming year. If you did not receive these emails, make sure to check your spam / junk folder.
  • Don’t forget: AP Coordinators need to order AP Exams by November 15, 2020! (Click here for instructions and check here for additional deadlines).
  • November 1, 2020: IOAPA spring registration opens. Keep this date in mind, we expect spring enrollment to fill quickly!
  • December 11, 2020: IOAPA fall classes end.

Helpful Tips to Start the Semester

Textbooks: Recommended textbooks for courses on APEX can be found by clicking “Learn more” on the relevant course(s) from the IOAPA course catalog. Edhesive courses do not require textbooks.

Online Support: APEX and Edhesive offer support guides and videos on their websites! Reach out to their customer service with technical questions.

IOAPA & COVID-19: Updated Information about AP Exams

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone. We have created a number of blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19. This one provides updated and key information on how the College Board is navigating the 2020 AP exams. Another blog post provides resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive.  This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources.

As a reminder, the College Board is providing free, remote learning resources and a new at-home testing option for this year’s AP Exams. Also, see Trevor Packer’s presentation regarding the 2020 AP Exam updates and for rationale behind the exam content. Please see below for more details. 

Exam Dates

The College Board surveyed many AP teachers and students, and a majority preferred to test earlier, while the content is still fresh.

  • Exams will be given from May 11–22.
  • Makeup test dates will be available for each subject from June 1–5.
  • Students can take exams at home or in schools, if they reopen.
  • Each subject’s exam will be taken on the same day at the same time, worldwide.
  • View the full testing schedule.

We encourage you to remind your students about exam dates for their courses.

Exam Format

Most exams will have one or two free-response questions, and each question will be timed separately. Students will need to write and submit their responses within the allotted time for each question.

  • Students will be able to take exams on any device they have access to—computer, tablet, or smartphone. They’ll be able to type and upload their responses or write responses by hand and submit a photo via their cell phones.
  • For most subjects, the exams will be 45 minutes long, plus an additional 5 minutes for uploading. Students will need to access the online testing system 30 minutes early to get set up.
  • Certain courses—Art and Design: 2D; Art and Design: 3D; Computer Science Principles; Drawing; Research; and Seminar—will use portfolio submissions and will not have a separate online exam. All deadlines for these submissions have been extended to May 26, 2020, 11:59 p.m. ET. Teachers and students may receive separate course-specific communications.
  • Students taking world language and culture exams will complete two spoken tasks consistent with free-response questions 3 and 4 on the current AP Exam. Written responses will not be required. The College Board will provide additional details in the coming weeks to help students prepare.

Tips for testing on specific devices will be available in late April.

Confronting the Digital Divide

The College Board recognizes that the digital divide could prevent some low-income and rural students from participating. Working with partners, the College Board is investing so these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam. If your students need mobile tools or connectivity, you can contact the College Board directly to let them know by April 24.

Exam Scores and College Credit

As usual, students’ work will be scored by our network of college faculty and AP teachers, and will be reported on a 1–5 scale. The College Board anticipates releasing scores as close to the usual July timeframe as possible.

The College Board is confident that the vast majority of higher ed institutions will award college credit as they have in the past. The College Board has spoken with hundreds of institutions across the country that support our solution for this year’s AP Exams.

Special Benefit for Teachers

To help support teachers and schools that are struggling to collect and score student work for course grades, the College Board will provide every AP teacher with their students’ responses from the online exams by May 26. Administrators and teachers can individually determine whether they’d like to use these results locally as part of a course grade or as a final exam.

Exam Security

Like many college-level exams, this year’s AP Exams will be open book/open note. The exam format and questions are being designed specifically for an at-home administration, so points will not be earned from content that can be found in textbooks or online. However, students taking the exams may not consult with any other individuals during the testing period. The College Board will take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of each exam administration, as they do every year.

The College Board is confident that the vast majority of AP students will follow the rules for taking the exams. For the small number of students who may try to gain an unfair advantage, the College Board have a comprehensive and strict set of protocols in place to prevent and detect cheating. While some of these practices are confidential to maximize their effectiveness, students and education professionals can learn more about our security measures.

At a minimum, test takers should understand that those attempting to gain an unfair advantage will either be blocked from testing or their AP scores will be canceled, and their high school will be notified as will colleges or other organizations to which the student has already sent any College Board scores (including SAT® scores). And they may be prohibited from taking a future Advanced Placement® Exam as well as the SAT, SAT Subject Tests™, or CLEP® assessments.

Remote Instruction and Practice

On March 25, the College Board began offering free live AP review courses, delivered by AP teachers from across the country. The courses have been viewed more than 3.2 million times since they became available. On-demand lessons are now available for Art and Design, AP Capstone™, and Computer Science Principles.

In addition to sharing information about these classes with students, teachers who are providing remote instruction can use AP Classroom for most subjects. The College Board has now unlocked secure free-response questions in AP Classroom so teachers can digitally assign relevant practice questions students can take at home. Additional tips for helping your students practice are available.

Professional Development Opportunities

The College Board will be providing webinars, videos, and other resources to help AP teachers and coordinators leading up to exam day. Coordinators can register for live training on April 10 to learn more about exams.

Additional Information

The College Board has added frequently asked questions to the site so you can find answers to important topics, including information for students with accommodations, details about exam fees and cancellations, credit and placement, calculator policies, and more. The College Board will continue to make updates on the site and share them with you through email, online educator communities, and social media.

Your support is critical to ensuring students have the opportunity to earn college credit and placement. Thank you for all you’re doing during this unprecedented time.

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for future blog posts and emails that will provide information on next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at ioapa@belinblank.org

IOAPA & COVID-19: AP Exams

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone and we want to check in on a few things. We have created a few blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19. This one will provide information on how the College Board is navigating COVID-19 with AP exams. Another blog post will provide resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive.  This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources.

The College Board is supporting AP students by offering free, optional remote learning and at-home AP testing. These resources are offered in order to allow students to still earn the college credit and placement that they have been working toward all year. 

  • For the 2019-20 exam administration, students can take a 45-minute online exam at home. The College Board development committees are currently creating these exam questions.
    • Students are able to take these exams on any device – computer, tablet, or smartphone. Taking a photo of handwritten work will also be an option.
    • The College Board recognizes the digital divide for low-income and rural students. If students need mobile tools or connectivity, please reach out to the College Board.
  • Each AP exam will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March. This will account for the students who may have lost more instructional time than others. 
  • Some students may want to take the exam sooner rather than later, while the content is still fresh. Other students may want more time to practice. For each AP subject there will be two different testing dates. Specific test dates will be posted by April 3. 
  • Colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they’ve worked hard to earn. 
  • Any student already registered for an exam can choose to cancel at no charge. 
  • Beginning March 25, students and schools will have access to free, live AP review lessons,delivered by AP teachers from across the nation. 
  • For more information, check with the College Board’s websiteand their AP updates for schools impacted by COVID-19. 

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for a future blog post and email that will provide information on our next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at ioapa@belinblank.org

IOAPA & COVID-19: Resources

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone and we want to check in on a few things. We have created a few blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19. This one will provide resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive. This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources. Another blog post will discuss how the College Board is navigating COVID-19 with AP exams.

APEX Resources

Apex has suggestions for proctoring exams, and Apex also offered a ‘course-pause’ option for students that lose access to courses. If your courses are set up to be proctored by a mentor, you can:

  1. Have students take exams upon their return.  Per Apex’s standard policy, students will not be penalized for late work.
  2. Work with parents to proctor students taking exams. Mentors can unlock tests remotely.  

You can also request a course-pause for your entire program, or just for students that may lack access. Apex will leave the courses ‘paused’ until you confirm they should be re-opened.  Please reach out to our student services team (alvs.support@apexlearning.com; 855-550-2457) to initiate this option.

Edhesive Resources

Edhesive has created a guide on how to continue courses with remote learning. This guide includes tips to support teachers, students, and parents. Edhesive is currently working with their partners at Amazon to support students who may lack equipment and internet access. Support and online teaching assistants will continue to be available to support students and teachers via online forums. 

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for a future blog post and email that will provide information on our next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at ioapa@belinblank.org

IOAPA: Funding for Spring Course AP Exams

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to continue offering scholarships to pay for the cost of Advanced Placement exams for low-income students in rural schools who are currently participating in IOAPA courses.

We are now accepting applications for AP exam scholarships for students enrolled in one-term, spring semester courses! As a reminder, the deadline to order all one-term, spring semester AP exams in March 13, 2020.

IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors can apply for this funding opportunity by February 21, 2020! For more information and for access to the application, click here.

The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. If schools are already paying for AP exams, they should not request this funding. Funding for this application is only available for students who are taking a one-term, spring semester IOAPA Advanced Placement (AP) course in the 2019-20 school year.

The per-exam cost for the 2019-20 school year is $64 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools should pay the $64 per student to the College Board. Schools should submit an invoice to the Belin-Blank Center after students have taken the AP exams along with documentation showing they have paid the College Board for these students’ exams. There will be no reimbursement if a student does not take the exam.

Awards will be announced by March 1, 2020.

As a reminder, the College Board’s new deadline to order one-term, spring semester AP exams is March 13, 2020.

Please email us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

How We’re Supporting Academic Talent in Rural Iowa

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently published a new report on rural education programs that develop academic talent. The report, “Small Town, Big Talent: Identifying and Supporting Academically Promising Students in Rural Areas”, highlighted the work that is being done across the state of Iowa through the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, administered by the Belin-Blank Center.

The program takes place extracurricularly in rural school districts throughout the state. Teachers identify talented middle-school students with interests in math and science, increase their aspirations, and engage them in advanced, in-depth coursework to prepare them for STEM opportunities at the highest levels.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s report makes the following recommendations for organizations and educators working with rural schools. Here’s how Iowa’s STEM Excellence and Leadership program realizes these 9 ideals. 

  1. Use quantitative testing appropriately. We believe that every child deserves to learn something new every day, including the ones that ace every test. It’s often the case that bright students are ready to learn things beyond the level of the grade they are in—but how can you tell what level would be more appropriate for a particular student? One way, called above-level testing, is to give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. In the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and at the Belin-Blank Center, we use above-level testing to uncover information about a student’s academic abilities and learning needs, helping parents and teachers discover what that student is ready to learn. Learn more.
  2. Use educator and community feedback. The STEM Excellence and Leadership program is grounded in the philosophy of place-based learning and provides support for educators to have agency in shaping their local programs around the needs and interests of their students and communities. This means that each program implements a unique curriculum that leverages local strengths, opportunities, and needs. Local districts have strong voices in their programs, which have incorporated prairie restorations, algebra, rocketry, butterfly gardens, probability, robotics, statistics, and invention conventions.
  3. Use student interviews. We gather feedback from STEM Excellence and Leadership students by visiting classrooms, conducing focus groups, and sending out surveys. Understanding how students experience our programs is key to living up to our ideals and knowing the extent to which we are truly inspiring excellence and nurturing potential.
  4. Pay special attention to underserved populations. Research shows that rural students have fewer STEM educational opportunities, are less likely to attend a four-year college, and less likely to major in STEM than their urban and suburban peers. We believe talent is not bound by zip code and neither should be opportunities for advanced STEM learning.
  5. Expose promising rural students to people and opportunities outside their home communities and connect talented students with older, near-peer role models cultivating a robust peer community. Students who participate in the STEM Excellence and Leadership program come together in the spring to attend a Student Research Conference at the University of Iowa. There, they learn about research conducted by undergraduate students from rural Iowa communities and hear presentations from Iowa high school students conducting original research. Scholarships sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation are also available to support STEM Excellence and Leadership students in attending Belin-Blank Center summer programs, where they spend their days taking a deep dive into a topic of their choice with like-minded peers. Through these summer programs, students have access to valuable university-level resources and experts. They also live in a residence hall with their classmates and get a taste of life as university students. 
  6. When possible, provide consistent engagement throughout the year. STEM Excellence and Leadership is a year-long program with a fall and spring session. With programming before school, after school, on the weekends, and during the summer, STEM Excellence and Leadership programs create bountiful STEM opportunities for rural students throughout the year.
  7. Encourage professional development in schools. A hallmark of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program is that communities of teachers from a variety of disciplines come together to learn about the identification of STEM talent, the needs of gifted learners, and principles of math and science education. Summer professional development programs create communities that understand and support the development advanced STEM learning ecosystems within and across districts.
  8. Provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities. Through administering the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, we are able to support educators across the state in creating STEM ecosystems that provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities for rural students.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the Jack Kent Cook Foundation for a Rural Talent Initiative grant and a Talent Development Award that have supported the implementation of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and the Student Research Conference. Additionally, a National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant supports current STEM Excellence and Leadership programming and research and rural STEM talent development.

AP® vs. Concurrent Enrollment

Finding advanced coursework for gifted and high-achieving students is important. You may find yourself questioning where to begin and also wondering what is most beneficial for your student. This post helps to explain the similarities and differences between Advanced Placement® (AP®) and Concurrent / Dual Enrollment.

What is Advanced Placement® and Dual Enrollment?

  • Advanced Placement®  (AP®) is a nationally standardized program administered by the College Board. Students have the option to enroll in a wide range of different courses and take an exam in May. In Iowa, schools also have the opportunity to participate in the Iowa Online AP® Academy, which allows high school students to enroll in online AP® coursework for courses their school may not offer.
  • Concurrent Enrollment is an initiative offered by the state of Iowa that allows high school students to enroll in community college courses while still in high school.

How do credits transfer?

  • Advanced Placement®: Passing an AP® exam with a score of 3 or higher generally allows students to earn either advanced standing or course credit for entry-level college courses, depending on the university’s requirements. That is, students may obtain required elective credits or course credits (as if the student had taken and passed the course at the university) for entry-level college courses. For example, at the University of Iowa, receiving a 4 or higher on the AP® Biology exam gives you credit for a specific entry-level biology course (BIOL:1140 Human Biology) that might apply towards your degree.
  • Concurrent Enrollment: Generally, if students pass their class with a C- or higher, they receive college credit. However, this credit may or may not transfer to their post-secondary institution of choice. For example, per University of Iowa policy: Course work earned at a two-year college may be applied toward up to one-half the credits required for a bachelor’s degree. Excess credit and grades will be used in computing your grade-point average (GPA) and may be used to satisfy course requirements, but they will not count toward the total hours needed for graduation from the university.

What does the research say?

A body of research has consistently demonstrated that taking AP® exams and achieving at least a 3 or higher is correlated with greater success in various ways in college. Specifically, a recent study (Wyatt, Patterson, & Giacomo, 2015) found that AP® students who scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP® exam had more positive college outcomes than dual enrollment students affiliated with a 2- or 4-year institution.

There is also much research suggesting that participation in AP® courses alone, without taking/passing AP® exams, is still beneficial for students attending college. This speaks to the concept of “college prep” and coincides with anecdotal responses from Iowa teachers that students were prepared for college courses and the students felt that college expectations were below the expectations for AP® courses!

For more information about the history of AP® and future initiatives, check out this podcast.

What does the Iowa Online AP® Academy offer?

The IOAPA framework works with your high school curriculum so that you can take advanced classes (i.e. Advanced Placement® courses) that are of interest to you. In addition, AP® courses are nationally recognized as a way to earn college course credit at many colleges and universities across the nation. Finally, as an online program, IOAPA also offers flexibility that traditional courses may not in terms of scheduling, as well as practice with online course formats.

Will Iowa Online AP® Academy courses prepare students in the same ways as traditional AP® courses?

IOAPA students who take the AP® exam generally perform just as well as, if not better than, students who participate in traditional AP® courses.  Students who enroll in IOAPA courses also tend to successfully complete them—during the 2018-2019 school year, the completion rate for IOAPA high school courses was 93.3%, and of those students, 89.5% successfully passed their course.

How can I learn more?

You can learn more about IOAPA by visiting our website. The University of Iowa’s AP® credit policy is here, or you can visit the College Board’s AP® Credit Policy database for the policies of other colleges and universities. You can also read about the state of Iowa’s Senior Year Plus initiative for more specifics on earning college credit in high school.

IOAPA: Semester Check-In

We are now over half way through the fall semester! We wanted to take the time to provide the IOAPA community with some resources that may be helpful for finishing the semester, as well as provide you with reminders and upcoming dates and deadlines.

There have many changes and added resources to AP® courses. Are you aware of all of these?

These changes have been implemented to make your role more streamlined from registration, to exam ordering, to test day.

  1. Click here to access a handout is quick guide to the new changes to AP® for AP® Coordinators.
  2. Click here for access to the AP® Coordinators Manual Part I (Part II will come out in March). This manual includes:
    1. What is new for 2019-2020
    2. 2020 AP® Exam schedule
    3. Exam ordering policies and deadlines
    4. Instructions about new exam registration and ordering processes

AP® Exam Registration and Ordering

Do you have questions with the new AP® Exam ordering process?

You will use your AP® student roster to update exam ordering information, including SSD accommodations, for each student. For more information, click here to watch a quick and helpful video from the College Board and click here for more detailed instructions.

What about my students who will only enroll in a one-term, spring semester course?
  • When students get enrolled into their spring semester courses with IOAPA, the AP® Coordinator will create the exam only sections for those students. There should not be a need to denote those sections as “second semester.”
  • APEX and Edhesive will enroll those students into “second semester” AP® Classroom sections on the College Board site.
  • When the school’s AP® Coordinator orders the exams for the one-term, spring semester students, the AP® Exam registration deadline is March 13, 2020.

Why did the College Board switch to ordering AP® Exams in the fall semester?

The College Board implemented a pilot program for fall AP® exam registration that included more than 800 schools and 180,000 AP® students in the fall of the 2018-2019 school year. Below is what the College Board noticed:

  • Students and teachers reported the students were more invested, committed, engaged, and focused.
  • When students register for the AP® Exam in the fall, 15% more students completed the exam.
  • Students’ chances of earning a 3 or higher increase when compared to students in schools with spring registration.
  • There was a 12% increase in the number of scores 3+ earned by minority students, and a 20% increase in the number of scores 3+ earned by low-income students.
AP® Exams Taken by Low-Income Students: Scores of 3+

For more information on the pilot study, click here, and click here to watch a short video to hear the experiences of teachers and students in the pilot study.

Reminder: The final deadline to order AP® Exams for fall registration is November 15th, 2019!

Advocating for Acceleration: Suggestions for Parents

Post edited 4/29/2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be reassured that there are objective tools that can help us know when it is appropriate to accelerate a student. You don’t have to make the decision about a grade skip or subject acceleration based on a “gut feeling.” The Iowa Acceleration Scale was designed to help families and educators work together to gather information, discuss important factors, and make an informed decision about whole-grade acceleration. Above-level testing is the essential tool for making decisions about subject acceleration. The Integrated Acceleration System is a new platform recently developed by the Belin-Blank Center focused on helping educators and families determine if a grade skip, early entrance to kindergarten or college, or subject acceleration are a good fit for their student. This new platform also draws on the Belin-Blank Center staff members’ extensive experience with twice-exceptional students and special considerations when accelerating them.

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

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

IOAPA: Continued Funding for AP Exams

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to announce the availability of scholarships to pay for the cost of Advanced Placement exams for low-income students in rural schools who are currently participating in IOAPA courses.

IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors: Make sure to apply for this funding opportunity by October 15! For more information and for access to the application, click here.

The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. If schools are already paying for AP exams, they should not request this funding. Funding is only available for students who are taking or have taken an IOAPA Advanced Placement (AP) course in the 2019-20 school year.

The per-exam cost for the 2019-20 school year is $64 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools should pay the $64 per student to the College Board. Schools should submit an invoice to the Belin-Blank Center after students have taken the AP exams along with documentation showing they have paid the College Board for these students’ exams. There will be no reimbursement if a student does not take the exam.

Awards will be announced by November 1, 2019.

As a reminder, the College Board’s new deadline to order AP exams is November 15, 2019.

Please email us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

2019: IOAPA + Edhesive

IOAPA has been providing computer science courses to students across Iowa since 2015! We are able to offer these opportunities because of our partnership with Edhesive, an online curriculum provider. Whether you are new to using Edhesive or have a few years of experience, it is always helpful to refresh with important tips and information, as well as changes within the online course provider! We hope this blog post serves as a resource for teachers mentoring for computer science IOAPA courses.

IOAPA Mentors’ Role:

Since Edhesive is not a credit-bearing institution, mentors will serve as the teacher of record at each school. Mentors and schools also decide how involved they want to be when offering Edhesive courses. However, mentors are responsible for the following six items:

  1. Setting up your course: Follow this link to learn how you can divide your course into grading periods and change/update student names in your gradebook.
  2. Helping students enroll: Follow this link to assist your students in enrollment, add/remove students, and adding a second course for a student.
  3. Provide access codes to students: Follow this link to know where all the quiz and exam access codes can be found.
  4. Monitor student performance and progress: Follow this link to learn how you can view the “Course Access Report” to see what course items your student has viewed, participated, along with when these were viewed or completed, and to view overall activity, assignment submissions, grades, and quiz and exam statistics!
  5. Transfer students’ grades in Edhesive to your school’s transcript: Follow this link to learn how to download the grades from your online Edhesive gradebook to your computer as a CSV file.
  6. Complete the AP Course Audit with the College Board: Follow this link to learn how to complete the AP Course Audit for AP Computer Science A and AP CS Principles. AP Computer Science Principles mentors must also create a Digital Portfolio with the College Board.

Supports & Resources

Edhesive has recently created new onboarding videos for Edhesive teachers! These serve to provide a short introduction to getting started on and using the Edhesive platform. There are 25 short videos, totaling only 30 minutes to show you everything you need to know about getting started with your Edhesive courses. Click here to access the Edhesive Onboarding Videos. For additional tutorials and guides, mentors can visit the Help Center or email support@edhesive.com.

The teachers listed in the course (Rebecca Dovi and Becky Stacey) do not interact with students. If students have questions, they should ask their IOAPA mentor or utilize the Student Forums for additional support with their coursework.

Similarly, if mentors need support you can connect to Edhesive teaching assistants (TAs) and other teachers through the Teacher Forums.

IOAPA Classes 2019-2020

We are just over a week into the fall semester! During this busy time of year, we don’t want you to forget about some important information related to your IOAPA courses. To keep you in the loop, here are a few upcoming items for IOAPA.

  • If your students decide the class is not for them, not a problem! Just make sure to drop the course before September 13th to prevent the $350 drop fee. For more information about our drop policies, check out the IOAPA handbook on our website.
  • Check your previous emails from ioapa@belinblank.org, as these emails contain important information and deadlines about the upcoming year. If you did not receive these emails, make sure to check your spam / junk folder.
  • Don’t forget: New to Fall 2019, AP Coordinators need to order AP Exams by November 15, 2019! (Click here for instructions and check here for additional deadlines).

Helpful Tips to Start the Semester

Textbooks: Recommended textbooks for courses on APEX can be found by clicking “Learn more” on the relevant course(s) from the IOAPA course catalog. Edhesive courses do not require textbooks.

Online Support: APEX and Edhesive offer support guides and videos on their websites! Also, feel free to reach out to their customer service with technical questions.

Make Your Time Spent Testing More Meaningful

“We spend too much time testing!”

This is a refrain we’ve often heard. Parents and teachers are frustrated by the amount of instructional time “wasted” on standardized testing, especially if they can’t see how the information can be used to plan instruction. Why would we recommend adding more testing to your busy schedule?

Above-level testing provides an opportunity for academically talented students to showcase what they can do. Picture the typical gifted student: he or she takes the grade-level test and gets extremely high scores. The student gets everything right, or almost everything right. Those scores are more likely to elicit a response of “good job!” rather than specific educational recommendations tailored to the student.

Imagine, though, that our student is given the opportunity to take a harder test, one that offers the chance to show his or her extensive level of knowledge… a test that results in a detailed report specifying the types of educational opportunities that would benefit this student.  This opportunity is available through above-level testing.

The Belin-Blank Center (and other university-based talent search centers) offers above-level testing using I-Excel for 4th-6th graders and the ACT for 7th-9th graders. It’s easy to get started with this process, and the Belin-Blank Center staff is available to help you through it.

 What can you do with the test results? Discover the students who need additional challenge in school, highlight the students who might benefit from being grouped together for instruction in math (for example), and determine which students might benefit from subject acceleration or grade skipping.

Ready to get started? Email assessment@belinblank.org, and we’ll walk you through the process!

Guidebooks for Parents and Educators

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

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

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

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

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

Coming soon: New Online Integrated Acceleration System

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

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

I Think My Child Needs to Skip a Grade

Recently, we received this email:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

See www.accelerationinstitute.org for more evidence. 

The 2019 Iowa AP Index

The Belin-Blank Center is excited to announce the release of the 2019 Iowa AP Index!

The Iowa AP Index was developed in 2005 by the University of Iowa College of Education’s Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. The Iowa AP Index serves to recognize the Top 50 Iowa accredited public and nonpublic high schools for providing Advanced Placement (AP) opportunities to Iowa’s high school students.

The Iowa AP Index provides a measure of AP opportunities. The AP Index is the ratio of AP Exams taken by students to the number of graduating seniors. A high AP Index indicates a school has developed a culture that encourages students to take AP courses and exams. Schools with index scores in the top 50 are publicly recognized for their commitment to providing AP opportunities. Schools that are not in the top 50 are notified separately regarding their index ranking. 

This year, Rivermont Collegiate in Bettendorf is the top Advanced Placement school in Iowa, according to the Iowa AP Index.

In previous years, Rivermont Collegiate was classified as a Specially Accredited College Preparatory School in the Iowa AP Index. However, Rivermont Collegiate is accredited by the Iowa Department of Education, and therefore is no longer considered specially accredited. Rivermont Collegiate is now recognized with the accredited public and nonpublic schools in the Iowa AP Index.

The top 10 schools in the 2019 Iowa AP Index behind first-place Rivermont (index of 4.71) are:

2. Valley High School (West Des Moines, index of 2.70)

3. Valley Lutheran High School (Cedar Falls, index of 2.55)

4. Roosevelt High School (Des Moines, index of 2.48)

5. West Senior High School (Iowa City, index of 2.26)

6. John F. Kennedy High School (Cedar Rapids, index of 2.23)

7. George Washington High School (Cedar Rapids, index of 2.10)

8. Wahlert Catholic High School (Dubuque, index of 1.91)

9. Muscatine High School (Muscatine, index of 1.88)

10. Iowa City High School (Iowa City, index of 1.86)

Magnet Schools: We also want to give a special recognition to Des Moines Central Academy (index of 2.63), which is not ranked with the Iowa public and nonpublic schools.

To view the top 50 AP schools in Iowa, visit www.iowaapindex.org.

Are You Thinking about Early Entrance to College? This May Be the Time to Take the ACT

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

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

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

What can you do with the information? Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of programs, including programs offered by the Belin-Blank Center. An important opportunity selected students might also consider is early entrance to college. The Belin-Blank Center hosts the Bucksbaum Academy, which is an early entrance to college program for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade. We recommend that 9th graders who are interested in considering early entrance to college take the ACT in June or in the fall of 10th grade.

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

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

Introducing the Iowa AP Index Archive

It’s officially spring, which means we are getting closer to releasing the 2019 Iowa AP Index! The Iowa AP Index serves to recognize the Top 50 Iowa accredited public and nonpublic high schools for providing Advanced Placement (AP) opportunities to Iowa’s high school students.

The Iowa AP Index provides a measure of AP opportunities. The AP Index is the ratio of AP Exams taken by students to the number of graduating seniors. A high AP Index indicates a school has developed a culture that encourages students to take AP courses and exams. Schools with index scores in the top 50 are publicly recognized for their commitment to providing AP opportunities. Schools that are not in the top 50 are notified separately regarding their index ranking. 

Do you ever wonder about the history of your school’s participation in AP, or the history of AP in Iowa? The Belin-Blank Center has released the Iowa AP Index since 2005, which means there is quite a collection of data of how AP opportunities have evolved in various schools throughout the state!

This year, were are introducing an updated Iowa AP Index Archive.  This archive shares data from the last 12 years. The Iowa AP Index Archive provides information about Iowa’s average AP Index, and also provides a directory of the schools who ranked in the Top 50 from 2005 to 2017.

Check out the AP Index Index Archive, here! Also, keep an eye on this page for the 2019 AP Index to be released later this spring.

Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI)

Are you starting to make summer plans? Don’t forget to add the Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI) into your summer schedule! This professional development opportunity takes place at the University of Iowa campus on June 25-28, 2019. Registration is now open!

APTTI is a College Board approved Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI). AP Summer Institutes provide subject-specific training for teachers who are interested in teaching an AP course. Summer Institutes can also support current teachers of AP courses seeking to develop their skills, or gain familiarity with the course.

“It [APTTI] not only provided me the opportunity to gain an understanding of AP-teaching, but I gained resources and new ideas that I now apply to all of my classes. “

“The training was invaluable…I find myself continually going back to my notes, looking at the resources I obtained at the training, and even emailing the facilitator who still quickly responds to me even though it has now been 2.5 years. I would not be as successful in my classroom had it not been for this training.”

Funding

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) offers the AP Institution Grant, a grant to support Iowa teachers in attending APTTI. (Participation in IOAPA not required.) This grant will cover $450 (more than 80%) of the $550 registration fee.  Click here to learn more and click here to access the grant application. This application is due June 1st, 2019. 

Academic Credit

Teachers who register for APTTI may pursue additional opportunities for graduate-level academic credit and/or Iowa licensure renewal units (additional fees and registration required). University credit is NOT included in the cost of APTTI. Click here to learn more about academic credit options!

Apply today here, and email us at aptti@belinblank.org with any questions or concerns.

Changes to AP: Beginning Fall 2019

The College Board is implementing some changes and new resources for Advanced Placement (AP) courses! These changes and resources are to provide better support throughout the school year, and to give students the best opportunity to succeed on AP exams. For more information on these changes, click here.

Beginning August 1 2019, AP teachers and students will have access to a variety of new online classroom resources.

What’s new:
  1. AP teachers and students will complete a short digital activation at the start of the year. Students and teachers will then have access to new online classroom resources!
  2. Schools will need to order AP exams by new deadlines in October and November. The College Board hopes that once students commit to the exam, they will more readily invest themselves in their classes.
  3. Classroom resources such as AP question banks, a performance dashboard, and unit guides will be available online.
What will stay the same:
  1. Exams administration during the first two full weeks in May
  2. Exam fee and exam fee reduction
  3. Scores will be reported on usual timelines

Follow us on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA to stay updated on all Iowa Online AP Academy and AP news!

Challenging Learners Who Already Understand Grade Level Material

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IOAPA: Funding for AP Exams

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to announce the availability of scholarships to pay for the cost of Advanced Placement exams for low-income students in rural schools who are currently participating in IOAPA courses.

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IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors: make sure to apply for this funding opportunity by February 15th! For more information and for access to the application, click here.

The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. If schools are already paying for AP exams, they should not request this funding. Funding is only available for students who are taking or have taken an IOAPA Advanced Placement (AP) course in the 2018-19 school year.

The per-exam cost for the 2018-19 school year is $53 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools should pay the $53 per student to the College Board. Schools should submit an invoice to the Belin-Blank Center after students have taken the AP exams along with documentation showing they have paid the College Board for these students’ exams. There will be no reimbursement if a student does not take the exam.

Awards will be announced by March 1, 2019.

Please email us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

Discovering Students Who Are Ready for IOAPA 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 to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities.

With the frigid cold and many snow days, it may be difficult to think about this fall. However, right NOW is a great time set up above level testing with I-Excel. Your students’ above-level testing scores are needed to inform eligibility for fall 2019 IOAPA courses.

 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.
  • Notify the students identified in Step 2 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  • Contact assessment@belinblank.org as soon as possible to set up testing. Note that if you have 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing, they will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit belinblank.org/talent-search for specific information. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but it’s still important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s).
  • Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Email assessment@belinblank.org or ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions.