Category Archives: Testing

How We’re Supporting Academic Talent in Rural Iowa

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

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

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

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

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

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.

IOAPA for Middle School: It’s Time to Prepare for Above-Level Testing!

We are nearing the end of 2018! Although there are many fun and stressful end-of-year activities and holidays approaching, we encourage you to think about planning for 2019 Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) coursework. The best way to do so for middle school students is to start with above-level testing. Above-level tests can provide essential information for determining whether a student is ready for additional challenge. If you have students in your classroom who have mastered the curriculum, or you are unsure of how to keep some students challenged and engaged, you may want to consider above-level testing.

For instance, IOAPA is partnered with the Belin-Blank Exceptional Students Talent Search (BESTS), our above-level testing program. This partnership helps connect students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities. Check out this blog post for instructions on getting started with above-level testing, or this one for recommendations on using scores to inform eligibility for advanced coursework.

PRSI Classroom 2018-2

As always, contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

Gifted Education Awareness Month: Services at the ACC – Educational Assessment

In Iowa, October has been declared Gifted Education Awareness Month! To celebrate, we’ll be revisiting some of your favorite posts from the blog all month long. We get a variety of questions about what our Assessment and Counseling Clinic does and how to know if a particular service is right for a given child. Today, we’re focusing on educational assessments.


Services at the ACC: Educational Assessment

Dr. Alissa Doobay, Licensed Psychologist, Supervisor of Psychological Services
Dr. Alissa Doobay, Licensed Psychologist, Supervisor of Psychological Services

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.

Following the assessment, parents are provided with a comprehensive report detailing the test results and our recommendations. The cost depends on the number of hours spent, but a typical educational assessment includes approximately 6 hours of testing and costs $730.

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 most other assessments.
  • 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).

We also offer twice-exceptional assessments, which include intellectual and academic testing in addition to a diagnostic assessment to determine whether the child meets criteria for a particular psychological diagnosis (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Specific Learning Disorder, anxiety or depression, etc.). These evaluations are conducted by a licensed psychologist and may be submitted to insurance depending on your insurance provider. There is a currently a waitlist for twice-exceptional assessments.

Could an educational assessment help your child?  You can request an appointment through our online intake form.

Originally posted on January 12, 2017

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!

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(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