Category Archives: I-Excel

Using Above-Level Testing to Connect Talented Students with Challenging Coursework

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. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup.


In order to use this year’s above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for next year’s IOAPA courses, now is the time to being the above-level testing process. There are four basic steps for participation in BESTS.

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge; these are the students who will be recommended for participation in BESTS. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 2 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. Contact 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 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).
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Through generous grant funding, IOAPA is able to provide FREE above-level testing for Iowa 5th grade students. Simply mention IOAPA when requesting testing to access this opportunity for your 5th grade students.

A new research project at the Belin-Blank Center, the Talent Identification and Career Exploration (TICE) project, is currently seeking Iowa middle schools with whom to partner to identify and serve talented underrepresented students. Students at TICE partner schools would receive financial and technical support to test high-ability 6th graders and offer a career intervention program during 7th grade. If you are interested in applying to become a TICE school, fill out the online application ( or contact

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Objective Decisions about Students Taking Advanced Courses

As 2017 comes to a close, you may be starting to think about planning for next year. Maybe you have students who have already mastered the classroom curriculum, and you’re not sure how to keep them challenged and engaged. Perhaps your district is trying to identify students who are ready for additional challenge. Or maybe you have students interested in taking advanced courses, but you’re not sure if they would qualify, or what classes they should take. Above-level testing can help with all of these issues.

Looking back on this year, one of our most exciting developments has been the partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS), our above-level testing program. We’ve rounded up some of the posts we’ve shared over the past several months for use in implementing BESTS and IOAPA for your high ability students.

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level TestingThis post offers an excellent overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

Helping Iowa Teachers Discover Students Who Are Ready for Advanced Online Courses — This post summarizes the connection between BESTS and IOAPA and provides steps for implementation.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start? — Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.


My 4th-6th Grade Students are Taking I-Excel Soon: How Do I Help Them Get Ready? — Guidelines for preparing students for an above-level test are discussed.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility — Specific guidelines for determining eligibility for IOAPA courses are presented here.

Making Sense of Test Scores This post provides an overview of IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration.

We hope these posts are useful as you begin preparing to implement BESTS and IOAPA for the 2018-2019 school year. Feel free to visit and for more information on the programs, or email or with additional questions.

My 4th-6th Grade Students are Taking I-Excel Soon: How Do I Help Them Get Ready?

blast2 011

I-Excel is an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders. The purpose of testing is to discover high ability students, so we can help them find the academic challenges they need. The best preparation for taking a standardized test such as I-Excel is to get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast. This helps to set the student up for success.

Before taking I-Excel, we recommend that students try the sample items so they become comfortable with the format of the test. Beyond that, we do not recommend that students study for the test. The most useful scores result when students understand the format but do not study for the test.  Families receive a link to the sample test in their confirmation email. Registered students can use the email address associated with the registration to access the sample items, or contact to receive the link and a temporary access code.

What should you tell students about taking I-Excel?

  • They should know that this is a challenging test that was originally designed for 8th graders.
  • They should try to do their best, but it is very common not to finish one or more sections of the test.
  • It is highly likely they won’t know everything on the test. This is expected and okay.
  • The fact that they were invited to take this challenging test alone is proof that they are doing very well.

If the test is not during a regular school day, make sure they know what time to arrive and where to meet.  They should bring:

  • A calculator for use during the Mathematics test as long as it does not have one of the prohibited characteristics listed here.
  • A snack to eat during a break. We recommend something healthy, such as an apple.
  • Two pencils.
  • Scrap paper will be provided.

For more information about I-Excel, see