Category Archives: Talent Search

Trying to Make Decisions about School Placement or Acceleration for Next Year?

We might be able to help!  Above-level testing is a useful tool for gathering data needed for decisions such as: Does my student need additional challenge in a particular subject? Is my child ready to skip a grade?

I-Excel testing will be available this summer. Bright 4th-6th graders can take the test individually or in small groups (supervised by a proctor). I-Excel is an online test, so we are able to offer testing even if schools have not yet reopened. Parents and relatives are not allowed to proctor the test, so testing cannot occur until the stay-at-home guidance is no longer in effect. Licensed educators may proctor the test.

More information can be found in these links:

Are you interested in learning more about I-Excel testing for your child or students in your school? Contact us at assessment@belinblank.org.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are happy to support parents and students in whatever ways we can. Our primary concern is the safety and health of all involved. We recommend that you follow the guidance provided by your governor and local authorities in terms of meeting with people outside your family any time in the next few months.

New Requirements for IOAPA Middle School Courses

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

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

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

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

I-Excel

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

I-Excel Costs

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

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

ACT

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

Registration / Test Date Process

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

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

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

ACT Cost

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

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

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

ISASP: Begin Discovering Talent in Your Students

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

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

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

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

Using the 95th Percentile

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

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

ISASP Scale scores at the 95th percentile

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

Casting a Wider Net: Using the 90th Percentile

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

Scale Scores at the 90th percentile

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Your Time Spent Testing More Meaningful

“We spend too much time testing!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Subject-Specific Gifted Services?

An individual recently posted on the Belin-Blank Center teachers’ listserv:

“I’m wondering if anyone identifies and provides services based on specific subjects instead of just overall scores? I am hoping to figure out how to best serve our students.”

If you’re a teacher, you can probably think of several examples. Perhaps “Luisa” shows high potential in math but not in language arts (e.g., Iowa Assessments scores in the 99th percentile in math, but in the 70th-85th percentiles in reading and vocabulary).  In contrast, perhaps “Elizabeth” demonstrates strengths in language arts (reading at the 98th percentile, vocabulary 95th percentile), but not in math (math total 65th percentile).

These two students demonstrate strengths compared to other students in their respective grade levels and would likely benefit from some additional challenges during the school day. When the gifted program in a school is developed for the “all-around” gifted student, however, students like Luisa and Elizabeth might be overlooked and might not receive any differentiated services. Maybe these students don’t need all of the services provided by a traditional gifted program, but they would certainly benefit from being challenged in their strength areas.

This is when we need to start shifting our thinking from creating one gifted program that serves the “all-around gifted student” to providing services for students with strengths in specific areas. This shift in thinking helps us to be more responsive to our students’ needs and helps ensure that they are challenged in school every day.

How do we go about this? You might start by thinking of gifted education as a continuum of services or a smorgasbord of opportunities available to your students. These services might include pull-out classes in specific subjects (reading groups or math groups, for example), subject acceleration, ability grouping for part of the day, honors classes, etc. Other services that may offer appropriate challenges might include participation in contests or competitions as well as doing independent study projects.

Thinking about gifted education in this way helps us to shift our focus from “Who are the gifted students in our school?” to “Which students demonstrate talent in specific areas and how might we help develop those talents?”  It’s all about trying to find the best ways to serve our students.

If you’re interested in this topic, you might enjoy reading Beyond Gifted Education: Designing and Implementing Advanced Academic Programs by Peters, Matthews, McBee, &McCoach (2014, published by Prufrock Press).

Who Needs Subject Acceleration? The Nuts and Bolts of Decision-Making

Some students are ready for subject acceleration – but which students, exactly? How do we know which students have mastered the classroom curriculum and are ready to handle more advanced work in a specific subject? Another related (and important) question is, how do we make sure they won’t have any gaps, if they move ahead?

STEM_Excellence_Hygienic_Lab_Trip_2017-4

Important tools that help us make decisions about subject acceleration include achievement testing and above-level testing.

Achievement testing includes standardized, grade-level tests such as the Iowa Assessments, TerraNova Test, and Stanford Achievement Test. These tests help us compare students to other students their own age. Typically, we recommend that students scoring at the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the main subject areas of one of those tests should be considered for further testing. (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students.) These students have correctly answered most of the items of the test, and we don’t really know what additional information they have mastered. For those students, the next step is above-level testing. (An important note: We do not require that students earn scores at the 95th percentile on the Composite of the test, just in a specific subject area. So, for example, we focus on finding math-talented students by looking at students’ scores on the math subtests.)

An above-level test measures a student’s aptitude. At the Belin-Blank Center (and at many university-based talent searches around the country), we use a test that was developed for older students and administer it to younger students. Some of the young students earn high scores, some earn low scores, and some earn moderate scores on that test. That information helps us to understand which students are ready for more.

Who is ready for the next step?

We have several rules of thumb for making decisions about what should happen next. One rule of thumb is the 50th percentile rule: Students earning scores at the 50th percentile or higher on an above-level test (when compared to the older group of students) are likely candidates for subject acceleration. Why the 50th percentile? The 50th percentile represents average performance for students at the grade level of the test. When a talented student earns a score at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test, it is a good indicator that their performance is comparable to average students at that grade level. It’s a good indicator that they are ready for more challenge.

How can educators use this information?

If a group of students takes an above-level test, educators can examine the scores of the students and group them for instruction based on their test scores. For example, if 5 students scored at the 50th percentile or above when compared to older students on whom the test was normed, those 5 students could be grouped in an accelerated class in that subject area or moved up a grade in that subject. Students earning lower scores would benefit from a more enrichment-oriented approach and can be grouped accordingly. Of course, other things to consider when making decisions about subject acceleration include grades earned and specific content already mastered.

shutterstock_270696455

What about gaps?

Gaps are often a concern for educators and families considering moving students ahead. We worry that a student who is advanced will miss some critical information by skipping over some content. To help with this problem, achievement testing for the class the student will skip is helpful. If a student is skipping 5th grade math, for example, it’s useful to give that student an end-of-5th-grade exam or an achievement test that measures what is typically taught in 5th grade math.  The student will likely get a very high score on that test, but the testing may point out specific areas the student has not yet mastered. A mentor or teacher can then work with the student on the concepts he or she missed in order to get the student up to speed before starting the 6th grade math class.

Summary of the steps

Step 1 is administering the grade-level standardized achievement test. Students earning scores at the 95th percentile in the relevant subject area are recommended to move on to Step 2, aptitude testing. In Step 2, students take an aptitude test, which is a test that was developed for older students. The Belin-Blank Center provides above-level testing using two different aptitude tests: I-Excel for bright 4th-6th graders or the ACT for bright 7th-9th graders. In Step 3, those students also take achievement tests on the higher level content, so we can determine if there are any gaps in the students’ backgrounds. Finally, the student is placed in an advanced class.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel or ACT testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.

For more information, see:

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 4.07.28 PMThe book, Developing Math Talent, by Susan Assouline & Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik. See especially the chapter on the Diagnostic Testing->Prescriptive Instruction Model for detailed information about using tests to help inform decisions.

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

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

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

Still have questions? 

Visit belinblank.org/talent-search for more information, or email assessment@belinblank.org.

Gifted Education Awareness Month: We’re Sharing the Best-Kept Secret!

In Iowa, October has been declared Gifted Education Awareness Month! To celebrate, we’ll be sharing some of your favorite posts from the blog all month long. Today, we’re sharing the time our own Dr. Ann Shoplik spilled the beans about the best-kept secret in gifted education!

shutterstock_629006642

(Spoiler: It’s above-level testing, and we can help with that.)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted by Dr. Ann Lupkowski Shoplik on October 6, 2016

October is Gifted Education Awareness Month!

Governor Reynolds declared the month of October to be Gifted Education Awareness Month. The Iowa Talented and Gifted Association (ITAG) proposed many activities to celebrate giftedness in your school and district! Some of these include:

  • Ask to have gifted students present their achievements at the October school board meeting
  • Communicate with other staff about how to best work with your gifted students
  • Attend the ITAG Conference Parent Night

How will YOU celebrate?

shutterstock_71855890_sm

Beyond ITAG’s suggestions, our team hopes you celebrate by thinking about who your talented students are and what they need to stay challenged and engaged at school. One way to do this is by selecting students for above-level testing to find out what they already know and, more importantly, what they are ready to learn next. Another way is to help students sign up for advanced courses, such as those available through the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA).

As you may know, IOAPA and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) have teamed up to provide identification and programming services in order to help Iowa teachers find talented middle school 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 above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for IOAPA courses, make sure to begin the above-level testing process soon. 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 90thpercentile 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 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).
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing. Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results that can help with these discussions.

shutterstock_71855890

As part of this process, you may be wondering ‘What do gifted students look like? Who are good candidates for above-level testing or advanced courses?’ High grades are a traditional means to determine giftedness, but grades and assessment scores are not the only avenue. For instance, many gifted students are bored in class, and therefore may stop trying or may create classroom disruptions.  In order to expand your school’s view on gifted qualification, make sure to look at class performance along with psychosocial factors, and socioeconomic and cultural factors. This blog post discusses identifying gifted students from underserved backgrounds.

However you choose to observe Gifted Education Awareness Month, we hope you’ll consider us a resource and partner in supporting Iowa’s brightest students and developing their talent!

Making Defensible Decisions About Subject Acceleration

Blast Electric Art 2018-4.jpgThe school year is just getting started, and it’s a good time to think about opportunities for your academically talented students.  Maybe some of your students have already mastered the classroom curriculum, and you’re not sure how to keep them challenged and engaged. Perhaps your district is trying to identify students who are ready for additional challenge. Maybe some students are interested in taking advanced courses, but you’re not sure if they would qualify, or what classes they should take. Above-level testing can help with all of these scenarios. It is a defensible, objective, research-based method of identifying students for academically challenging opportunities.

Above-level testing occurs when a bright young student takes a test developed for older students. Taking a test above level gives the young student an opportunity to showcase his or her aptitudes and provides a better assessment of the student’s readiness to learn advanced material. Thus, above-level testing is useful for making placement decisions, such as accelerating into an advanced math or science course.

Why above-level testing? High scores on grade-level tests demonstrate that students have mastered grade-level material, but they don’t tell us how much additional challenge the students need. Above-level tests can help us identify the extent and types of challenge each student requires.

Which Students Benefit from Above-Level Testing?

The Belin-Blank Center provides above-level testing using I-Excel for bright 4th-6th graders or the ACT for bright 7th-9th graders. We recommend nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing.  (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)  Students do not need to be labeled “gifted” in order to participate in above-level testing. In fact, research shows that about half of the students who participate in this type of testing are not in their school’s gifted program.

Using the Results

What can we learn from the results of above-level testing?  Some students earn low scores on the test, some earn scores in the middle of the range, and some earn very high scores. The Belin-Blank Center developed guidelines that help educators and parents determine what educational options might be most appropriate for the student, based on their performance on the above-level test. For I-Excel, educators receive an Aggregate Report summarizing students’ performance, which helps educators make decisions about placement changes and adjustments to curriculum.  The detailed Individual Report (provided for both I-Excel and the ACT) can be shared with parents and provides detailed information about students’ strengths in math, science, English and reading and helps support data-driven decisions about individual students’ academic needs.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel or ACT testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.

Costs

The cost for I-Excel for the upcoming school year is $45 per student for group testing; this fee is discounted to $22 per student for students residing in Iowa.  Please note, the Belin-Blank Center no longer has grant funding to provide I-Excel testing at no cost to Iowa 5th graders.  However, Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations so they can try out I-Excel with their students.

Individual ACT registration is $70.  This includes both the testing fee and the talent search fee, and students are provided with the individualized report mentioned above.

For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are provided for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

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

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

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

Still have questions? 

Visit belinblank.org/talent-search for more information, or email assessment@belinblank.org.

 

 

 

The Power of One: Lessons Learned from a Mentor

Wallace_Group

The Belin-Blank Center is proud to organize the Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development every two to four years.  This year’s April symposium was in Baltimore and co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth.  It was truly remarkable to gather with 200 other individuals, many of them renowned researchers in gifted education, creativity, and related areas.  The conversations that occurred at the dinner table were impressive!

One of the purposes of the Wallace Research Symposium this year was to honor the legacy of Julian Stanley. His ideas and his scholarly example can inspire all of us.

Stanley’s creative ideas and hard work planted the seeds for many of the activities and programs we provide in gifted education today. Millions of students have benefitted from Talent Searches, in which bright students take an above-level test (one that was developed for older students). This simple concept, which is still considered somewhat revolutionary, has given us a way to discover high-ability students. Once discovered, it is possible to provide these students with appropriate challenges.

Perhaps most important is the work Stanley did documenting the characteristics and educational and career trajectories of exceptionally talented youth. Dr. Stanley began a 50-year study on talented youth in the 1970s, which continues today. This is an almost unheard-of accomplishment in educational research.

Lessons learned from Julian Stanley:

  1. Mentors are important. Academically talented students benefit from mentors who not only teach them content, but also guide them through educational decisions, inspire them to work hard, and point out challenging opportunities.
  2. Objective tools, such as standardized tests, provide valuable information to discover and guide talented students.
  3. It is useful to look at specific domains of talent. Instead of searching for the all-around gifted student, focusing on specific subjects, such as mathematics or science, helps us to discover students who are ready for additional challenges.
  4. Acceleration is one of the best-researched methods for challenging talented students. Stanley’s Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth contributed a great deal to this work and shows us that academic acceleration and appropriate educational placement can have a profound effect on talented students, even many years later.

Julian Stanley changed the landscape of gifted education. It all started with the power of one.

Watch the video about the legacy of Julian Stanley.

Your 7th-9th Graders Can Take the ACT

pexels-photo-220320.jpegYour 7th-9th graders have a unique opportunity to take the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center; this test is usually given to 11th and 12th graders during the college admissions process. Bright younger students can take it as a way of demonstrating their academic abilities, becoming eligible for academic recognition such as the Belin-Blank Recognition Ceremony, and becoming eligible for educational opportunities (such as summer and weekend programs) and scholarships.

Eligible 7th-9th graders will have earned a score at the 95th percentile or above on a core subject of a grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments).  Those students have already demonstrated high achievement on grade-level tests and are ready to show what they have learned or are ready to learn by taking an “above-level” test, or one that is designed for older students. A disadvantage of grade-level tests is that they do not accurately measure highly-able students’ abilities; think of it like a yardstick that is too short to measure the extent of their talents. The above-level test essentially lengthens the yardstick and helps us to know more about the students’ abilities and to make sound educational recommendations for them.

The cost for ACT is $70. The next test session is April 14th, and the deadline is March 7th (a late fee is added for those who register after that date).

We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

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.

volunteer-422598_1920.jpg

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 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).
  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 (https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_1QSZO3Zblbhp5op) or contact javits@belinblank.org.

Responding to the Arguments Against Acceleration (Again)

1 Acceleration works green

Question from a gifted coordinator:

My principal found 3 articles indicating that students in mixed ability math courses perform well in later math courses. She is using these as an argument NOT to group our math-talented students for mathematics. How do I respond?

My response:  

I would like to respond with an entire body of research evidence rather than selecting a handful of studies to cite. Educational researchers use a technique called “meta-analysis,” in which they look at hundreds of studies, thousands of students, and many different school situations to address important questions such as this one. Some of those meta-analyses are listed below.  My focus is on what is best for high-ability students.

An important question to ask is, “How do accelerated high-ability students compare to non-accelerated students who are equally able?”  In other words, what is lost if we do not allow academically talented students to move ahead as their abilities and motivations would allow?

What we have learned from meta-analyses is that acceleration is a positive, powerful option for talented students. Many of the research studies focused on math-talented students, but many others include accelerated students who are talented in other subjects:

  • These students benefit in significant ways from participating in classes that challenge them at the right level.
  • Math-talented students who are allowed to accelerate retain what they have learned, tend to continue pursuing studies in math and science, pursue more challenging majors and more prestigious careers, and earn more money than comparison students.
  • Accelerated students also tend to generate more creative products such as patents and research articles than non-accelerated equally-able peers.
  • Gifted students are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject.
  • Gifted students who accelerate turn out to be higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive, short-term, and long-term.

In my opinion, not allowing academically talented students to move ahead appropriately is educational malpractice, because the evidence is so clear and so positive supporting acceleration.

Resources

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

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

Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Gross, M. U. (2004). A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. The Templeton National Report on Acceleration. Volume 2. Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development (NJ1).  See especially the chapter by James Kulik: http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Nation_Deceived/ND_v2.pdf#page=22

Kulik, J. A., & Kulik, C. L. C. (1984). Effects of accelerated instruction on students. Review of educational research, 54(3), 409-425.

Rogers, K. B. (2007). Lessons learned about educating the gifted and talented: A synthesis of the research on educational practice. Gifted child quarterly, 51(4), 382-396.

See www.accelerationinstitute.org for more evidence.

Talent searches help us to learn more about academically talented students and to decide who might benefit from acceleration:  https://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/students/bests/whybests.aspx

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Untitled.jpg

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 www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

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 belinblank.org/talent-search and belinblank.org/ioapa for more information on the programs, or email assessment@belinblank.org or ioapa@belinblank.org 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 assessment@belinblank.org 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 www.i-excel.org.

An Exciting Javits-Funded New Project

We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Javits grant!  The joint project – by co-PIs Professors Susan Assouline, Saba Ali, and Megan Foley-Nicpon, and methodologist Dr. Duhita Mahatmya – consists of a five-year, $2.1 million plan to increase educators’ capacity to identify and provide talented and gifted programming to underrepresented students in Iowa.  Dr. Ali, Associate Dean for Research in the University of Iowa College of Education, and Drs. Assouline, Foley Nicpon, Mahatmya, of the Belin-Blank Center, will use a career intervention Dr. Ali developed, along with I-Excel, a Belin-Blank Center online above-level assessment, to further the goals of this project.

We are fortunate to bring talent and career development opportunities to students with disabilities and students of color living in rural Iowa communities…I look forward to the difference we will make for many students who otherwise would never have been seen or heard.

– Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon

The title of the effort is the “Culturally Responsive Talent Identification and Career Exploration (TICE).”  According to the project abstract, “[u]nderrepresented students, especially students from economically  disadvantaged backgrounds, students of color, rural students, and students with disabilities, are at risk of being overlooked for participation in talented and gifted programs. Project personnel will integrate an expanded talent development model…and a career intervention program…to maximize the identification and development of underrepresented talented and gifted students.”  The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) will also contribute to this project, broadening the courses available to these students by offering online coursework in the schools.  We look forward to this opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of the Belin-Blank Center and the College of Education from the last several decades to impact bright students who are so often overlooked.

 

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility

The partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) is a great way to connect talented students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities.

Eligibility for IOAPA middle school courses is determined through use of grade-level (Iowa Assessments) and above-level (I-Excel or ACT) assessments. BESTS recommends nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing. (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)

file066978

Scores at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test are indicative of a need for additional challenge, such as that provided by IOAPA courses. For further discussion of above-level testing and using the scores, check out our past blog posts, especially this one and this one. Above-level assessments can provide individual domain scores specific to each content area measured, and an overall composite score reflecting performance across areas.

IOAPA recommends using content-area scores, rather than overall scores, to ensure that advanced learning opportunities are available to all talented students in their area(s) of strength. I-Excel and ACT both yield scores in Science, Mathematics, English, and Reading. ACT also includes a Writing section that yields its own score. The table below details the relevant content area score(s) for each of our IOAPA middle school courses.

content-area eligibility

In addition to the guidelines in the table above, consideration of course prerequisites can be useful when debating in what subject area(s) students should qualify. This information is available from the IOAPA course catalog by clicking “Learn more.” under the course(s) of interest.

For additional information on BESTS, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search or email assessment@belinblank.org. For further information on IOAPA, visit www.belinblank.org/ioapa or email ioapa@belinblank.org.

Helping Iowa Teachers Discover Students Who Are Ready For Advanced Online Courses

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) are working together to help schools provide a defensible, objective, research-based method of selecting students for above-level coursework. The above-level tests administered through BESTS can yield essential information for determining whether a student is ready for additional challenge, such as that provided by an IOAPA course.

file066997

Why above-level testing? Scores from grade level tests demonstrate that students have mastered grade-level material, but they don’t tell us how much additional challenge the students need. Above-level tests can help us identify the extent and types of challenge each student requires. See our previous post for more details on how above-level testing works.

Students in grades 4-6 participate in BESTS by taking I-Excel, and this test can be administered by teachers to one or more students in their schools whenever is convenient for them. This is available to Iowa fifth grade students for free, and the cost for students in other grades is very reasonable. Students in grades 7-9 are recommended to take the ACT, and signing up through BESTS will provide detailed interpretation of test scores and information about programs and resources relevant to high ability students.

There are four basic steps to follow for participation in BESTS:

  1. Choose the semester for which you want to enroll students in IOAPA courses and begin registering for BESTS. For courses beginning in Spring 2018, begin the BESTS process by October. For courses beginning in Fall 2018, begin the BESTS process no later than January 2018.
  2. 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.
  3. Notify the students identified in Step 2 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS, and work with the Belin-Blank Center to arrange assessment sessions for interested students.
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action.

Curious about bringing BESTS to your students? Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more information, and a video about talent search and above-level testing. When you’re ready to set up testing, email assessment@belinblank.org.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I-Excel Testing Session for 4th-6th Graders at University of Iowa

BBC students outsideAre you thinking about having your high-ability student take I-Excel?  The Belin-Blank Center is hosting a testing session on the University of Iowa campus on June 12th.

I-Excel is considered an above-level test. It contains 8th grade content, but it is administered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders.  Students scoring at the 95th percentile or higher on any subject of the grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments) have reached the ceiling of that test.  An above-level test raises the ceiling, measures the student’s aptitudes more accurately, and can inform parents and educators about readiness for advanced curriculum.   More information and a video about above-level testing can be found at this link.

I-Excel is a test of 8th grade content, which provides a challenge for talented 4th-6th graders.  This test enables students to demonstrate their academic strengths in math, science, English, and reading.  The results of an above-level test tell us what students are ready to learn, which can help parents and educators make appropriate curriculum modifications and programming.  Outstanding individual scorers will be recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.  Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results. This interpretation includes recommendations for curriculum readiness.  More information about I-Excel can be found here.

The next testing session on the University of Iowa campus is June 12th, and students may register here.  Check-in begins at 12:30, and testing will conclude around 3:00 p.m. The cost is $65. A few weeks before the test, we will send more details to students who have signed up.

Students unable to participate in the testing session at the University of Iowa can still take I-Excel testing this school year. See detailed information about Individual Testing, which can be arranged at a convenient location and time.  The deadline for testing this is June 10th, and testing will resume again in the fall.  If you have any questions, email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

New Test Scores Tool for Iowa Educators

In collaboration with Iowa Testing Programs, we’re proud to announce a new way for Iowa teachers to find students who could benefit from an above-level test.  Educators in Iowa who have access to eITP can now run lists of students who qualify for above-level testing (administering a test designed for older students to younger students).  The tool creates a list of students who scored highly enough on their Iowa Assessments that they would benefit from the additional challenge of an above-level test.  To learn more about above-level testing, please visit belinblank.org/talent-search.

A preview of the new feature. If you have access to your school’s Iowa Assessments scores, you can use the tool at https://itp.education.uiowa.edu/eitp/auth/individual/BestsTalentSearch.aspx

Differentiating? Finding the Students Who Need Something Different

 

 

DSC_0075On this blog, we’ve talked a lot about using above-level testing as a tool to discover exceptionally talented students. It’s an efficient way to find students who need “something more” than the regular curriculum offers. If a group of your bright students takes an above-level test, the results can help you understand which students are best challenged by enriching the regular curriculum, which students might need some more significant adjustments to the curriculum, and which students need acceleration. This additional information not only makes your teaching much more efficient, but it helps students to remain engaged and challenged in school.

One of the tests provided by the Belin-Blank Center is I-Excel, offered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders. It licenses content developed by the testing company, ACT, that was designed to measure the academic progress of junior high students.  From that content, the Belin-Blank Center has been identifying the academic talents of bright 4th – 6th graders for over 20 years.  It contains four subtests: English, Math, Science, and Reading.

After testing, I-Excel scores appear in IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration, the platform for understanding and interpreting test scores, automatically.  Educators can view both group and individual interpretations, and they can easily distribute the individualized interpretations to parents.  I-Excel is offered in three different ways:

  1. BESTS In-School: For groups of 4 or more students, educators can set up a test date in their school any day of the week. Learn more.
  2. Individual Testing: For 1-3 students, parents or educators can set up a test date any time. A licensed educator must proctor the test.  Learn more.
  3. Test dates are also periodically offered at the Belin-Blank Center. Learn more.

We welcome opportunities to work with educators to ensure the I-Excel test results are presented in ways that are useful to you. Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT?

NKPAYZU9vQu_zQNS-2uON3o-wiFFT5sqmE1GfmlH_xY,XObyIvdidjjWj0lHB4CJn7NsGCsf1OvIVul_xAYETg8

Your 7th-9th graders have a unique opportunity to take the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center; this test is usually given to 11th and 12th graders during the college admissions process. Bright younger students can take it as a way of demonstrating their academic abilities, becoming eligible for academic recognition such as the Belin-Blank Recognition Ceremony, and becoming eligible for educational opportunities (such as summer and weekend programs) and scholarships.

Eligible 7th-9th graders will have earned a score at the 95th percentile or above on a core subject of a grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments).  Those students have already demonstrated high achievement on grade-level tests and are ready to show what they have learned or are ready to learn by taking an “above-level” test, or one that is designed for older students. A disadvantage of grade-level tests is that they do not accurately measure highly-able students’ abilities; think of it like a yardstick that is too short to measure the extent of their talents. The above-level test essentially lengthens the yardstick and helps us to know more about the students’ abilities and to make sound educational recommendations for them.

We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Making Sense of Test Scores

ideal-solutions-rocketWe are thrilled to announce the launch of IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration, the platform for understanding I-Excel and ACT test scores.  A comprehensive, easy-to-read report helps educators and parents decide the best curricular fit for one or more high-ability students.  IDEAL Solutions helps to translate data into research-supported action.

The type of information provided by above-level testing (via I-Excel or ACT) helps parents and educators make decisions based on facts and research.  IDEAL Solutions provides individual reports, as well as group reports useful for teachers looking for ways to challenge their high-ability students.

I-Excel, offered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders, licenses content developed by the testing company, ACT, that was designed to measure the academic progress of junior high students.  From that content, the Belin-Blank Center has been identifying the academic talents of bright 4th-6th graders for over 20 years.

After testing, I-Excel scores appear in IDEAL Solutions automatically.  I-Excel is available in three different ways:

  1. BESTS In-School: For groups of 4 or more students, educators can set up a test date in their school any day of the week. Learn more.
  2. Individual Testing: For 1-3 students, parents or educators can set up a test date any time. A licensed educator must proctor the test.  Learn more.
  3. Test dates are also periodically offered at the Belin-Blank Center. Learn more.

ACT, offered to high-ability 7th-9th graders, is primarily used in the college admissions process and is available only through national testing dates established by ACT. Locations are available throughout the United States.  The ACT takes approximately three hours to complete.  Learn more.

For more information, visit the new IDEAL Solutions website!

What Kind of Test Should My Child Take?

Often, we hear from parents and educators who are seeing the signs that children aren’t being challenged, and they’re looking for a way to assess their current level of knowledge so they can make appropriate curricular adjustments.

The Belin-Blank Center offers two major kinds of assessment: above-level testing, and individualized educational assessment.

Above-level testing means giving a test designed for older students to younger students.  For instance, I-Excel consists of 8th grade content, but we administer it to high-ability 4th-6th graders.  Some reasons to consider above-level testing:

  • Parents and/or teachers suspect that the student isn’t being challenged.
  • Parents and/or teachers are looking to understand what level of content the student is ready to learn.
  • The student would like to participate in programs (IOAPA, some summer programs) that require the scores.

And the student should meet the following criteria:

  • Scoring at the 95th percentile or higher on any main subject of a standardized grade-level test.
  • Able to sit still and concentrate for 2 1/2 hours with a short break halfway through.

Learn more about above-level testing through the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS).

Individualized educational assessments are conducted to assist with academic planning.  They involve individual assessment of intellectual and academic skills, including above-level skills, as well as a screening of psychosocial factors that may be relevant in academic planning decisions.  These assessments are not diagnostic in nature; therefore, they cannot be submitted to insurance for reimbursement.  The results are more detailed than above-level testing, and the cost to complete them is higher.  Some initial reasons to consider an individualized educational assessment include:

  • You’re considering whole grade acceleration and would like to get the bulk of the information needed all at once.
  • The student is in 3rd grade or younger, and therefore too young for the grade-level assessments or I-Excel.
  • The student has behavioral/cognitive factors that result in individualized assessment being more accurate than group-administered (e.g., 2e students who don’t “test” as well as expected based on knowledge).

Individualized educational assessments are available through our Assessment and Counseling Clinic.  You can request an appointment with the Clinic using this form.

Talent Search: Bridge to Opportunity

talent-search-bridge-to-opportunity

They say, “A picture is worth 10,000 words,” and that must mean that a video is worth over a million!  We are excited to share with you a video explaining what Talent Searches can do for students, educators, and parents.  Academic Talent Searches discover students talented in math, science, and language arts using the efficient method of above-level testing.

4th-6th graders might take I-Excel, and 7th-9th graders might take the ACT.  These above-level tests help us to understand not only the extent of students’ talents, but also what they are ready to learn next. The tests help us to understand the needs of exceptionally talented students, as well as to think about ways in which we can modify programs and other opportunities offered in school (and outside of school) to best realize those talents.  The Belin-Blank Center staff is eager to work with educators and families to understand how the test scores can be used to inform educational decision-making, so students are challenged every day.

We thank the Sara Rieger (an artist, teacher, and parent), for putting the information about Talent Searches together in such a creative and engaging way!

If you have questions about I-Excel or other opportunities the Belin-Blank Center offers, please contact ann-shoplik@uiowa.edu.  Take a look at our new video, and let us know what you think!

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can I-Excel Be Used to Screen Students for a Gifted Program?

BBC students outside

I-Excel is a new test offered by the Belin-Blank Center. Its purpose is to assist educators in discovering academically talented 4th-6th grade students who need additional challenges in school.  One of the teachers with whom we work asked, “Could I-Excel be used to screen students for a gifted program, or would you recommend using other methods for screening?”

This is an excellent question.  The short answer is “Yes!”  We recommend the following steps for educators:

  1. Look at the results from the standardized testing routinely administered at your school (for example, the Iowa Assessments, Stanford Achievement Tests, Terra Nova, etc.).
  2. Select the 4th, 5th, or 6th graders scoring at or around the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the core content areas (such as reading, math, language, science, etc.).
  3. Invite those students to participate in I-Excel testing. We suggest that the students take all four subtests of I-Excel (Math, Science, English, and Reading) to get the most comprehensive information.
  4. Use the I-Excel information in combination with other information you have available to select students for your gifted program and/or other appropriately challenging programming.
    1. You might choose to focus on only one area; for example, if you are seeking students in need of additional opportunities in math, you’ll want to look most closely at the Math subtest of I-Excel to identify high-performing math students.
    2. IDEAL Solutions is the platform for understanding I-Excel test scores. Once your students test using I-Excel, educators will have access to an individualized interpretation of the test scores as well as a group interpretation (if 10 or more students tested). This information is designed to help you make informed decisions about the types of programs to provide for challenging your students.
    3. For example, in a given school with a comprehensive TAG program, educators might decide to use all four subtests of I-Excel to identify students for the gifted program. In another school, where the TAG program is more focused on advanced science and mathematics, educators might use only the Science and Math subtests of I-Excel as part of their larger identification process. Students with very high scores on the English or Reading subtests may be ready for more advanced material in language arts.

I-Excel is useful for helping educators determine which students have specific talents in one area (for example, Science), and which students demonstrate high ability across the board (Math, Science, English, and Reading). Gifted programs and other advanced opportunities can be designed with the students’ varying strengths in mind, and different schools will choose different approaches to challenge their students.

Because I-Excel is an above-level test, it can be used as an indicator of specific aptitude when completing the Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS).  The IAS was designed to help make decisions about whether or not a student is ready for a grade skip.

Always be sure to check your local and state policies for gifted program identification, to be sure your process is consistent with requirements.

We welcome opportunities to work with educators to ensure the I-Excel test results are presented in ways that are useful to you. Have other questions?  Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details.

Message from the Director: Who Are the Gatekeepers for Talent Development?

That was the question roaming through my thoughts with each opening and closing session of our summer pre-college student programs.  For the nearly 1,000 students who attended one or more of our summer programs, each opening session exudes anticipation as the staff and faculty describe the amazing classes and opportunities awaiting the students.  The closings are similarly fulfilling, yet also different, because students, faculty, and summer program staff have spent an intensive week engaged in learning.  The closing sessions are bursting with energy as the students, teachers, and residential staff share their week-long experiences with each other as well as with parents.  The bonds that are formed during the student programs in the summer are unique.  One of the high school students captured the sentiment:

THANK YOU! I have spent 6 of the last 8 summers at Belin-Blank camps and I am so going to miss them. Thank you for all the opportunities, friends, and experiences you have provided me with. I will forever treasure these summers. Thanks again for everything. I love your programs and what you do here.

I never tire of the thrill of being part of a team of professionals that open the talent development gates to young, highly capable students eagerly seeking ways to develop their talents. I also can’t help but wonder about the bright students whose families and schools don’t know about programs like this and thus miss out on the “opportunities, friends, and experiences … [to] forever treasure.”  How can we make programming accessible to them?  Who are the gatekeepers for these students?

Similarly rewarding is the annual experience of opening the talent development gates to educators pursuing professional development.  Over the summer, 183 teachers enrolled in 249 credit hours.  The Center’s concluding on-campus professional development opportunity, the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute (B-BALI), was truly an opportunity for all attendees to reflect on their role as gatekeepers for talent development in their respective schools, districts, and states.

B-BALI featured expert presentations by several of the A Nation Empowered authors and all of four of the editors (S. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. Lupkowski-Shoplik).  Professor Emerita Joyce VanTassel-Baska’s final keynote presentation, “The Individual and Societal Value of Acceleration:  Research, Practice, and Policy,” was as engaging as it was comprehensive.  Professor VanTassel-Baska wove the three strands of the title into an elegant finale that referred to Julian Stanley’s Talent Search Model as the genesis for the various types of accelerative practices that should be available to high-potential students who are ready to learn more advanced material at a faster pace and at a younger age than typically-developing students.

As Professor VanTassel-Baska’s keynote concluded, I realized that the question about gate-keepers really needs to be not “who are the gatekeepers,” but rather, “Are you a gatekeeper for talent development?”  This is a perfect question for the beginning of a new school year.  Educators, now is your chance to open those talent development gates for your students and to support them walking through the gates to the myriad opportunities for developing their talents.

Although developing the talents of our young people is a lifelong journey, the starting point – the gateway activity – for many who are talented in academics starts with participating in the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS).  BESTS incorporates the Talent Search Model.  As models go, the Talent Search Model is elegant in its simplicity.  BESTS is a system of above-level testing that produces results designed to inform high-potential students and their parents and teachers how much acceleration and enrichment students need.

Despite its potency, the Talent Search Model is not widely used in schools.  There are multiple reasons for this, not the least of which is that traditionally the process occurred outside of the school setting.  Although this is still true for 7th – 9th graders, the Belin-Blank Center is expanding the model for 4th – 6th graders.  Now, teachers and parents of high-potential 4th – 6th graders can access  above-level testing through BESTS in their schools, which we call BESTS In-School.

Educators, especially the teachers of 4th – 6th graders in gifted and talented programs, can become the champions of talent development by opening the gates through appropriate acceleration and enrichment opportunities in subject-specific areas (math, science, English/language arts).  It can start with BESTS In-School.

We hope this year is the year that educators and parents will partner with us to open the gates and support high-potential students though this robust model of talent development and/or through one of the myriad opportunities offered by the Belin-Blank Center.

Everyone Loves an Early Bird Discount!

Register by July 8th for the early bird discount for the conference on academic acceleration!

The SeTypes of accelerationventh Biennial Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute is focusing on Research-Based Evidence about Acceleration and Gifted/Talented Students in July 2016.  The institute will provide attendees with practical information about acceleration, using existing research and tools to help make data-driven decisions.  Participants will have opportunities to learn from educators who have successfully implemented various forms of acceleration—and from students or parents who have personally experienced the benefits of appropriate programming.
All Institute participants will receive a copy of the two-volume book, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, which includes updated information about the best-researched yet most under-utilized educational option for gifted students: academic acceleration.

Speakers who plan to participate include:

Editors of A Nation Empowered:

  • Susan Assouline
  • Nicholas Colangelo
  • Joyce VanTassel-Baska
  • Ann Lupkowski Shoplik

Authors of Chapters in A Nation Empowered:

  • Linda Brody
  • Laurie Croft
  • Megan Foley Nicpon
  • Lori Ihrig
  • Katie McClarty
  • Michelle Muratori
  • Susannah Wood

Additional expert speakers:

  • Wendy Behrens
  • Jane Clarenbach
  • Beth Hahn
  • René Islas
  • Maureen Marron
  • Jaquelin Medina
  • Panel of students who have accelerated

We are looking forward to seeing you at the Institute! For more information and to register, visit:  www.belinblank.org/bbali.

 

 

Message from the Director: What’s Wrong With Being Confident?

An appealing refrain plus a catchy tune find their way into our heads and often stick.  This is exactly what happened to me during a recent Zumba class when the refrain, “What’s wrong with being confident” from Demi Lovato’s song “Confident” started. During Zumba, my thoughts are typically absorbed with upcoming Belin-Blank Center programs or events, the director’s message, or a research project.  These thoughts often flit from one to the next and back and forth like a moth in a room with lights on opposite sides of the space.  It’s no big surprise that these simple words, with the subtle, yet profound message, infiltrated my mind.

First I thought about two special events hosted in March.  The month started with the highly successful, Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), at which 13 high school students confidently presented their research findings to an audience of nearly 200 teachers and students from around Iowa and 5 were selected to attend the National JSHS.  We finished March with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Recognition Ceremony, where Gold Key, Silver Key, and Honorable Mentions from Iowa were recognized for their creativity.

How wonderful to meet these young, talented, creative, and confident students and – for both programs — to have the support from the national offices of these long-running, prestigious recognition programs.

Everything that we do at the Belin-Blank Center is designed to nurture potential and inspire excellence and thereby support the development of self-confidence. We live up to our tagline through well-established programs and service as well as through new, innovative programming:

“Confidence” is a longish song, one reason it’s good for a Zumba warm up!  My thoughts jumped to a current research project, based upon previous Belin-Blank Center research findings that investigated the differences in the attributions boys make for success in math or science compared to girls.

The answer to the research question “What attributions do gifted boys and girls make for success – and failure—in math and science?” was juxtaposed with Lovato’s words and appealing tune: “What’s wrong with being confident?”

The respondents in the study were asked to choose among ability, effort, luck, or task difficulty as attributions for success and failure. Ability and effort were overwhelmingly the two categories selected (these two attributional choices accounted for 75% or more of the responses for success in math or science). However, the two choices with the highest percentages for ability for both math and science varied significantly for boys and girls: 44% of the boys chose ability as their reason for their success in math and 42.5% made the same choice for their success in science. The next highest choice for boys was effort, 32% and 37%, respectively. Girls’ choices, however, varied significantly from boys: 26% of girls chose ability as the attribution for their success in math and 23% chose ability as their attribution for success in science. Nearly twice as many girls (50%) chose effort as their attribution for success in math and more than twice as many (55%) chose effort as their attribution for success in science.

Attributional research is but one facet of the complex topic known broadly as motivation, an area that is extremely important to our understanding of patterns that could impact, positively or negatively, the performance of students. Attribution theory represents a well-researched cognitive model. However, despite its relevance to our understanding of gifted students, attributional research specifically investigating the beliefs that gifted students have for their academic successes and failures has not been thoroughly researched.  Results from the study mentioned above are much more extensive than reported here; however, they are the foundation for a new investigation of attributional choice regarding success and failure from a current generation of students.

For educators and psychologists to be effective in designing curricular or counseling interventions, it is important to know an individual’s motivational mindset. It is also important for society to recognize these mindsets. As we concluded a decade ago, “We see potential negatives for girls [or boys] who do not accurately recognize their academic abilities. They may be more tentative about undertaking challenges or putting themselves in competitive situations” (Assouline et al., 2006, p. 293).

These findings, along with our new research, lead back to the question: What’s wrong with being confident?

Iowa Online AP Academy: Above-Level Testing and I-Excel

For many middle and high schools that partner with the Iowa Online AP Academy, a common question is how to determine which students may be ready for online above-level coursework. This is especially true for middle school students, as the high-level online format presents a challenge that many middle schoolers have not yet encountered. One of the best ways for educators to identify students that might be ready for this challenge is through the use of above-level testing.

What is above-level testing? Above-level testing is a process during which a student takes a test intended for older students. For many high-ability students, taking a regular grade-level test (e.g., a 4th grader taking a 4th grade test) can demonstrate that they are bright, but the results do not reflect the full extent of their skills and knowledge. An above-level test allows students to encounter material that they have not yet been exposed to, giving parents and educators a better idea of areas that will still challenge these students.  Above-level testing gives high-ability students the space to show what they know and what they are ready to learn.

above-level testing

What types of above-level tests might students take through the Belin-Blank Center? The Center offers opportunities for above-level testing through the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search. Students in grades 4 through 6 take I-Excel, our new online test, and 7th to 9th grade students take the ACT.

Why might I encourage my students to take above-level tests? Above-level tests not only give parents and teachers great information about their students’ abilities, they can also be used to help identify students who might be good candidates for Iowa Online AP Academy coursework. We especially encourage above-level testing for middle school students interested in IOAPA courses, but it can also help inform curriculum planning for younger and older students as well.

Another measure that schools might consider using with their students is Engage, a psychosocial measure that helps schools assess risk factors associated with academic success. Engage is available for free through the Center.

What are the above-level testing requirements for potential IOAPA middle school students? We strongly encourage middle school students interested in taking above-level coursework through IOAPA to take above-level testing before registering for courses. Our guidelines are as follows, and we consider scores to be valid for up to two years following testing:

Recommendation Measure Guideline
Very important* Above-level test
(6th grade: I-Excel; 7th-8th grade: ACT)
50th percentile or above
Very important* Any grade-level standardized tests taken within the last year
(e.g., Iowa Assessments)
95th percentile or above in the course content area.  This is also the recommendation for participating in above-level testing.
Important Teacher/parent confidence in student’s readiness for challenging, independent, online coursework High confidence
Important Previous relevant coursework within the past two years Sufficient background knowledge/skills*
Somewhat Important Additional test scores
(e.g., CogAT, other IQ)
Well above average
After Enrolling ACT’s Engage instrument
(measures psychosocial skills)
Results should be used for student support.

More about Talent Search can be found here. To learn more about IOAPA, visit belinblank.org/ioapa.

Message from the Director: Thanks a Million x 10!!

Question: What is the result of juxtaposing generosity and inspiration with excellence in programming and collaboration?

Answer: Educational leadership and innovation designed to create outstanding educational experiences for some of the world’s most capable high-school-aged students, all supported through an endowed program made possible with a $10 million dollar commitment to the Belin-Blank Center.

 

In the February newsletter, we’ll have additional details regarding the program and the people who inspired philanthropist Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan to create an endowment for this unique and highly specialized program (formal naming subject to Board of Regents, State of Iowa approval). The endowment will include merit scholarships to students admitted to this specialized program and comprehensive programming to support the scholarship recipients.  Learn more at belinblank.org/academy.

This exciting news is an indescribably incredible welcome to 2016.  While the calendar year is just winding down, 2016 has been a major presence at the Belin-Blank Center since August, when we commenced planning for summer. In fact, it’s not too early for professionals and students to think about this coming summer.

At the same time, it’s not too late for parents to register students for spring 2016 opportunities, including above-level testing through BESTS and enrichment experiences through the Weekend Institute for Gifted Students (WINGS). Likewise, professionals have myriad options for spring professional development, including a webinar on twice-exceptionality and several courses offering from one to three semester hours of credit.

An end-of-year edition of a newsletter would not be complete without an acknowledgement of the highlights from the past 12 months and an expression of gratitude to the people responsible for the highlights as well as the every-day activities, which form the foundation of the center’s programming. My thanks to the Belin-Blank Center’s staff of 14 administrators, 5 secretaries, 19 students (including graduate, practicum, and undergraduate students), 2 faculty partners, and 2 resource staff members. Through our collaborations, we made possible the two-volume publication of A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students; summer programming for 743 pre-college students; the installation of the Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan Gallery; the launch of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program for middle-school students; professional development courses and workshops that resulted in 852 credit hours earned by 572 educators; the creation of I-Excel, an online above-level test for advanced 4th-6th grade students; specialized social-skills groups for high-ability students; and at least 15 paper, poster, round-table, special sessions at the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) conference in Phoenix.

Our founders and benefactors continue to inspire our work with the students and professionals we serve. We look forward to continuing this work into the next year! Happy New Year!!

Have You Seen Our August Newsletter?

It’s hot off the (virtual) presses and full of updates from the Belin-Blank Center: belinblank.org/newsletter

Aug15_newsletter

WINGS is Back!

DSC_0015Come join us this spring at the Belin-Blank Center for the Weekend Institute for Gifted Students (WINGS)! We will be holding two sessions; one on March 28th and the other on April 25th.

WINGS consists of half-day enrichment opportunities for elementary and junior high students (grades 2-8) that take place during the spring semester on The University of Iowa campus. Classes will be budding in science, art, math, writing, computer science, and social studies to cultivate students’ interest and enliven their curiosity!

Students are not required to participate in the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) to participate in WINGS; however, we encourage all students to participate in BESTS in order to learn more about readiness for academic challenge.

Morning classes will meet from 9:00–12:00 and afternoon classes will meet from 1:00–4:00. While students in grades 2–8 may register for both a morning class and an afternoon class, lunch supervision will not be provided between the morning and afternoon sessions. Classes are $65.

Registration for WINGS will open February 2, 2015. 

Visit belinblank.org/wings for more information.

How Will Changes to ACT’s Tests Affect Talent Search?

As the educational community anticipates the release of ACT Aspire, ACT’s latest assessment in their suite of tests, the Belin-Blank Center has been fielding questions from parents and educators about the impact of the new test on the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS).

Here’s the short answer: for the immediate (2014-2015 academic year) nothing will change!

Students in grades 7-9 will continue to register for the ACT Test, which is administered as part of ACT’s national testing program. Students who register through the Belin-Blank Center will have access to our comprehensive Interpretation Guide, which provides detailed information about above-level test results and how these results correspond to academic programming.

Students in grades 4-6 will continue to register for ACT Explore. Explore will be administered as part of the national elementary student testing services and is an option only for ACT-recognized talent search organizations. In other words, Traditional testing on the national testing dates will continue. Furthermore, In-School Testing through the Belin-Blank Center will continue to be available for the next academic year.

The Belin-Blank Center is in the process of investigating opportunities for testing beyond 2015, including the use of Aspire for 4th – 6th graders (and possibly even younger). We’ve been discovering academically talented students through the talent search model for nearly 25 years. We will continue to provide valuable information and opportunities for high-ability students, their schools, and their families, and the talent search will remain a vital service of the Belin-Blank Center.

How Do You Know What Students Are Ready to Learn?

We recommend above-level testing!

bell_curve Above-level testing is an educational procedure in which a test developed for older students is administered to younger students. The goal of a Talent Search (like the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search) is to discover, via above-level testing, students who need further educational challenge to fully realize their academic talent.

Traditionally, parents sign their children up for national testing dates (Explore for 4th-6th graders, and ACT for 7th-9th graders).  We’ve also introduced a new option for schools to test 4th-6th graders at their own school: In-School Testing.  Pending renewal of funding, we will offer free testing through In-School Testing for Iowa 6th graders again for the 2014-2015 school year.  Only certified educators are eligible to sign up for In-School Testing.

Above-level testing is also a great way to identify students who might be ready to take AP coursework during their 9th or 10th grade year (as opposed to a typical start in 11th or 12th grade).  The Belin-Blank Center is offering a limited numbers of spots in the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy to high-ability Iowa students who score well on above-level tests through our In-School Testing program.  The Belin-Blank Center is also in the process of developing pre-AP options for younger Iowa students who score well on above-level tests through In-School Testing.  More information about these options will be available in the fall.  In the meantime, teachers who have questions or suggestions may email assessment@belinblank.org.

 

New School Year, New Talent Search Opportunities

As we get ready for a new school year, it’s a good time to think about ways to assess and accommodate your high-ability elementary and middle school students!  The Belin-Blank Center can help you do both things flexibly and affordably.

Assess: In-School Testing (grades 4-6)

Now in its second year, In-School Testing allows teachers and gifted coordinators to schedule an above-level Explore® test date anytime, anywhere.  For Iowa teachers, a limited number of students in sixth grade can test at no cost.  All In-School Testing schools will receive individualized interpretations of their students’ scores, as well as an aggregate report.  Learn more.

Accommodate: Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA)

Iowa’s In-School Testing 5th and 6th grade students scoring in the 95th percentile and above on the mathematics or science portion of Explore will be given a new opportunity: enrollment in IOAPA, providing above-level coursework online without a course fee.

More information about this option will be made available to schools after student test scores are received.

How does In-School Testing differ from the Traditional Talent Search Model?

The basic talent search model is built upon the principle of taking an above-level test to determine readiness for academic challenge.   In the traditional model, parents register their student and receive the scores.  Parents may choose to share those scores with teachers so that they can plan together for academic intervention.

In-School Testing makes above-level testing accessible to all qualified students in grades 4-6.   In-School testing uses the 8th grade test, Explore.

In-School Testing is NOT available for 7-9th graders who qualify for the talent search because the test that is used, the ACT, is a secure test and cannot be administered in-school.

What guidelines determine whether a student qualifies to test?

The goal of above-level testing is to determine readiness for additional challenge.  Therefore, students need to have a very strong performance on a grade-level test.  This is typically determined by a score at or above the 95th percentile on a core subject of a grade-level test, such as the Iowa Assessments.  Read more about qualifying for talent search.

Do participants in BESTS automatically qualify for the school’s gifted program?

No.  Many participants in BESTS do qualify for the school’s gifted program; however, many do not.  The coordinator of gifted programs is in the best position to help the regular classroom teacher understand how the results of an above-level test can guide educators in providing appropriately challenging curriculum in areas of student strength.

Still Need to Take EXPLORE?

Register Online for BESTSWhile the national test dates are already finished for the year for EXPLORE, if you’ll be in the Iowa City area on June 6th, your 4th-6th grader can still test.

Learn about your child’s academic abilities and needs, qualify for Belin-Blank Center programs (BESTS participants receive an automatic $60 discount), and provide an exciting challenge for your high-ability child!

For details and to sign up, visit belinblank.org/talent-search.

What Do Talent Search Scores Mean?

If you’ve received your child’s EXPLORE® scores through a Talent Search, you might be wondering what’s next.  What does a score at the 52nd percentile in Reading mean for a 4th grader, and how should that score guide your child’s learning?

Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) participants automatically receive the Belin-Blank Center’s Interpretation Guide, which provides an individualized comparison to other high-ability students, as well as specific curriculum points that the student has mastered and skills for the student to practice.

The Belin-Blank Center’s Interpretation Guide can be generated in less than five minutes at InterpretMyScores.com.

Questions?  Contact assessment@belinblank.org

After 20 Years of Searching for Talent, What’s New in BESTS?

New for 2012-2013

  1. Parents who register their child for BESTS through the traditional system of registration and testing (on one of ACT’s national testing days) will receive an automatic $60 rebate on the cost of a Belin-Blank summer program.
  2. Did you know that the Belin-Blank Center (in partnership with the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary Students [C-MITES]) pioneered in 1992 the use of EXPLORE, an 8th grade test, as an a talent search instrument for  4th-6thgraders?
    • This year, we have developed a new twist on the traditional approach to testing elementary students: in-school testing.  Through in-school testing (available only for EXPLORE) teachers have access to a flexible way to identify the students most in need of accelerated coursework.  Testing dates are arranged with the Belin-Blank Center.
    • For Iowa Schools only, the Belin-Blank Center is piloting school partnerships that will cover the costs of the administration of the EXPLORE for in-school testing for 6th graders. The grant that provides payment for EXPLORE is limited.  This will be on a first response, first reviewed basis until all funding is used or by December 1st. Consider sharing this information with your elementary or middle school colleagues.  Contact Dr. Susan Assouline to discuss partnerships and opportunities.
  3. Both traditional registrations and in-school testers will receive our re-designed comprehensive interpretation of above-level test scores.

For more information on all of our programs go to:  www.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank

Talent Search for Back-to-School

As students head back to school, meeting their academic needs is on everyone’s mind.  For high-ability students, above-level testing is a great way to ensure that students are being challenged by their current academic placement.

While grade-level tests measure what students have learned, above-level tests measure what students are ready to learn next.  Register your student for the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) and find out how much challenge is needed to realize their full academic potential.

BESTS News!

Now, through in-school testing for grades 4-6, teachers can have direct access to the kind of information that will help them differentiate for their academically able students.

The Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) is an above-level testing program that is extremely effective in discovering students who are ready for challenge and accelerated coursework.   Above-level testing  has been a staple of services provided by university-based gifted education centers for more than 30 years!

Go to www.belinblank.org/inschooltesting to learn more and sign up!

In-School Above-Level Testing Now Available

For 2012-2013, we will be adding in-school above-level testing to our Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) menu of services.  In-school testing means that teachers of students in grades four through six can now register their students directly rather than relying on parents to register for national testing dates.  Teachers can work with the Center to select a test date (available in September, October, March and April) and then administer the test(s) at their own school.  Test results go directly to the teacher for use in curriculum planning, acceleration decisions, and sharing with parents.

Available packages include:

  • Above-level testing (EXPLORE®)
  • Psychosocial assessment (ENGAGE®)
  • Math-specific assessment (IAAT™/IARA)
  • Math-specific recommendations (IDEAL Solutions® for Math Acceleration)
  • An online portal to access test results and reports

For more information, go to www.belinblank.org/inschooltesting/ or email Dr. Susan Assouline at susan-assouline@uiowa.edu.

Why Talent Search?

Journal of Psychoeducational AssessmentBelin-Blank Center Associate Director Susan G. Assouline and Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik (Carnegie Mellon University) wrote an article in the February 2012 issue of Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment comparing the Talent Search model to school-based models of gifted education.

The article provides a great history and overview of the Talent Search model – check it out!

Boys and Girls: Is the Glass the Same?

We recently revealed gifted students’ reports of the level of challenge in math, science, and language arts.  Now, let’s look at the responses according to gender.

First, more boys than girls participate in the talent search program.  Of the responses from 3,104 boys and 2,735 girls (nearly 6,000 students), 53% were boys and 47% were girls.

Not surprisingly, there are differences in boys’ and girls’ responses*.  All of the differences were statistically significant, with the exception of ability grouping:

  •  66% of boys and 72% of girls are in the regular classroom learning the same mathematics as everyone else.
  •  17% of boys and 15% of girls work in a small group with other students who are good in math within the regular math classroom (this is not a statistically significant difference).
  •  29% of boys and 26% of girls work at a higher grade level for mathematics.
  •  30% of boys and 26% of girls have math in a special class with other gifted math students.
  •  8% of boys and 7% of girls work individually with a teacher or other adult to study math that is advanced (more challenging) for their age and/or take advanced math through a distance learning program.

Although the difference in percentages seems relatively small (for instance, 29% vs. 26%), each difference is statistically significant. Girls have less of a chance to learn math in a differentiated environment than boys.

Interestingly, there were no statistically significant differences between boys and girls in their responses to similar questions about language arts.

In science, there were statistically significant differences between percentages of boys (86%) and girls (88%) in the regular classroom, as well as for small group work (boys = 8% and girls = 7%), but not for any of the other forms of differentiation.

 These research results are part of the Belin-Blank Center’s annual talent search program.  A talent search offers above-level testing to high-achieving students.

*Percentages will not total one hundred percent because students were permitted to respond to all that applied.

Smart Math: Is the Glass Half Full?

Over a four-year period, high-achieving students – defined as those who score at the 95th percentile or higher on a grade-level achievement test – responded to questions about their curriculum as part of the Belin-Blank Center’s annual talent search.  A talent search is a program of above-level testing made available to high-achieving students. Below, we share preliminary results.  Over the next month, we will continue to blog about this topic.

Gifted students’ reports of the level of challenge in math, science, and language arts support concerns noted in national reports and by parents.  But before deciding if the glass is ½ full or ½ empty, you’ll need a bit of context.

From 2005-2009, nearly 6000 high-achieving 4th, 5th, and 6th graders responded as follows* about the way they study math:

  • 69% are in the regular classroom learning the same mathematics as everyone else.
  • 16% work in a small group with other students who are good in math within the regular math classroom.
  • 28% work at a higher grade level for mathematics.
  • 28% have math in a special class with other gifted math students.
  • 7% work individually with a teacher or other adult to study math that is advanced (more challenging) for their age and/or take advanced math through a distance learning program.

Although about 2 out of 3 talent search participants (69%) study math in the regular class, 63% indicated that they work at a higher grade level, are in a special class, or work on advanced math individually!  So, the glass is filling up with differentiated learning opportunities.

Those numbers are more favorable than the percentages of the same students responding about language arts: 79% are in the regular class and  39% work at a higher grade level, are in a special class, or complete advanced work individually.  In science, 87% are in the regular class and 27% work at a higher grade level, are in a special class, or complete advanced science individually.

Next, we’ll share the results when boys and girls are looked at separately.

*Percentages will not total one hundred percent because students were permitted to respond to all that applied.