We 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.
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 Testing — This post offers an excellent overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.
Helping Iowa Teachers Discover Students Who Are Ready for Advanced Online Courses — This post summarizes the connection between BESTS and IOAPA and provides steps for implementation.
I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start? — Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.
My 4th-6th Grade Students are Taking I-Excel Soon: How Do I Help Them Get Ready? — Guidelines for preparing students for an above-level test are discussed.
Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at 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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org with additional questions.
I-Excel is an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders. The best preparation for a standardized test 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 email@example.com 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.
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.
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!)
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For further information on IOAPA, visit www.belinblank.org/ioapa or email email@example.com.
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. Best of all, the assessments offered by BESTS are available to 5th grade students in Iowa at NO COST, thanks to IOAPA!
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:
- 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.
- Find the students who are ready for additional challenge; these are the students who will be recommended for participation in BESTS. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
- Notify the students identified in Step 2 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS, and work with the Belin-Blank Center to arrange assessment sessions for interested students.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
In 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:
- Identify 4th-6th graders scoring at the 95th percentile or above on at least one section of the Iowa Assessments.
- Contact the Belin-Blank Center to set up a testing date.
- Invite them to participate in above-level testing using I-Excel.
- Administer I-Excel during a school day or on the weekend (depending on what works best for your situation).
- 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.
- 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 email@example.com.