Tag Archives: TAG

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?


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.


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: Academic Acceleration

This month, we’re bringing back some of our most popular blog posts to celebrate Gifted Education Awareness Month! Today, Dr. Ann Shoplik, Administrator for the Acceleration Institute, explains why it’s so important to advocate for academic acceleration! “Acceleration” can be an intimidating word for some, but did you know that there are at least 20 different forms of academic acceleration?

20 Forms of Acceleration

The word “acceleration” actually refers to over twenty different educational interventions! (Source: A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students*)


Why am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

The short answer to this question is that I am tired of gifted students being under-challenged in school. They need the intellectual stimulation that comes from rigorous courses taught at a reasonably advanced level, and acceleration can provide that stimulation. The longer answer is, I am familiar with the research. No educational option for gifted students has the research support that academic acceleration has. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. Gifted students benefit from acceleration. 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.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Now that we have the information that is summarized so clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive 2015 publication, A Nation Empowered, it’s time to put that information to work.  There are at least 20 different types of acceleration, including grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, distance learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. There are many forms of acceleration, and that means that we can tailor accelerative opportunities to the needs of individual gifted students. Acceleration means allowing gifted students to move ahead in school, at a pace appropriate to their needs. Acceleration can be implemented individually, in small groups, and in large groups.  Each type of acceleration can be used to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

Educators and parents do not have to be afraid of implementing acceleration. Tools are available to help them make well-informed decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, and they also include the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider all aspects of acceleration, including academic development, social development, physical development, and school and parental support for the decision), IDEAL Solutions (developed to assist educators and parents as they consider subject matter acceleration in STEM subjects), and university-based talent search programs, which help identify students and give them challenging courses they can take in the summer or via online learning opportunities.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, consider starting with the information found at the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned in this article, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families.

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

Originally posted by Ann Lupkowski Shoplik on March 22, 2016

*Southern, W.T. and Jones, E.D. (2015) Types of Acceleration: Dimensions and Issues. In S.A. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, and A. Lupkowski-Shoplik (Eds.), A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students (pp. 9-18). Cedar Rapids, IA: Colorweb Printing

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 2018 ITAG Conference Parent Night

How will YOU celebrate?



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 a reminder, IOAPA registration begins November 1st

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 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.


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!

Curious About Research?

Do you know academically talented teenagers who show curiosity or promise in doing research, or are you one yourself? Then you need to know about the Perry Research Scholars Institute (PRSI), where students can experience lots of different types of research happening at a top public research university!

Students in grades 8–10 (academic year 2017–2018) may apply for the Perry Research Scholars Institute (PRSI), a two-week residential summer academic program at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center.

At PRSI, students will participate in seminars with university faculty, tour their research facilities, and study their publications. While students will spend some of their time learning advanced lab techniques, they will not be conducting original research in this program. Rather, they will be granted an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at research while it’s happening, in fields such as anthropology, business, education, engineering, medicine, psychology, sustainability, and more. This “backstage pass” approach will help students develop an understanding of research that extends well beyond bench science.

During off-hours, students can expect plenty of fun getting to know other bright teenagers who are also interested in research! They will even experience an authentic taste of life on a university campus, complete with two weeks of living with a roommate in the residence halls. Evening activities include special seminars, off-campus field trips, and cultural and recreational activities. Social events are scheduled, and students will be granted access to the University of Iowa libraries, computer facilities and study areas.

Don’t miss this unique chance to see how research works, up close and personal; experience college life for two weeks; and meet new friends with similar abilities and interests! Applications are open through March 16 at www.belinblank.org/students. The program will run from July 8–July 20, 2018.

summer program students looking at university science research

Looking for more research programs for high school students? Check out the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) and the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP). PRSI is great preparation for programs like these!


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.

Teachers: What Are You Learning This Summer?

The Belin-Blank Center will provide a variety of options this summer – both for experienced and new/new-to-GT teachers!

Belin-Blank Fellowship: Apply by March 4

We invite teachers who do NOT have a background in gifted education to join us June 22-26, 2015 for the 35th Annual Belin-Blank Fellowship, an intensive week-long learning institute for educators interested in gifted and talented learners.  Facilitated by Dr. Laurie Croft, the Fellowship includes guest presentations from professionals such as Dr. Susan Assouline, Director; Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon, Associate Professor of Counseling Psychology, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, Director Emeritus and Dean of the College of Education, and Dr. Randy Lange, Adjunct Instructor and Enrichment Coordinator, LaGrange (IL) District 102. The application and letter of support from an administrator should be submitted online.

Belin-Blank Chautauqua

In July, the Belin-Blank Center is hosting the second Chautauqua series in Iowa City.  Chautauqua I (July 13-18, including class on Saturday) and Chautauqua II (July 20 – 25, including class on Saturday) will feature six separate workshops on campus with additional online components.

Chautauqua I
  • Creativity: Issues and Applications (M-T)
  • Programming/Curriculum for High-Ability Students: Facilitating Student Research Projects (W-Th)
  • Differentiating Projects with Technology (F-S)
Chautauqua II
  • Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted (M-T)
  • Special Topics: Effective Instructional Strategies for Gifted Education (W-Th)
  • Evaluation of Gifted Programs (F-S)

Participants who enroll at the graduate level for all three workshops in either week—or both—will again receive an automatic tuition scholarship from the Belin-Blank Center for one of three classes (three workshops for the cost of two; six for the cost of four).

Limited housing will be available at Burge Hall, adjacent to Blank Honors Center, for those enrolling in all three workshops during either Chautauqua. Contact Melissa Keeling at 800-336-6463 or melissa-keeling@uiowa.edu for registration information. Single rooms are available for $57/night; double rooms are $40/person/night.

More details will be available online early in March.

Summer Classes

In addition to face-to-face classes during Chautauqua I and II this summer, the Center provides a variety of online classes in professional development.

Online classes include:

  • Programming and Curriculum for High Ability Students: Real-World Problem Solving
  • Ethnic and cultural Issues and Giftedness
  • Cognitive/Affective Needs of the Gifted
  • Differentiated Instruction for the Gifted
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level
  • Current Readings & Research in Gifted Education
  • Special Topics: Writing for High-Ability Learners

The Belin-Blank Center also hosts the Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI) during the week of July 6 – 10. Participants may enroll for two hours of credit; the Center provides an automatic tuition scholarship for 50% of the graduate-level tuition.  As well, APTTI participants may enroll in Differentiation at the Secondary Level for a third hour of credit (APTTI participants will also receive the scholarship for this credit hour).

All workshops, on campus or online, fulfill requirements for the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement.  Early in March, more information will be available on our website.

Upcoming Webinar: Objective Decisions on Grade Acceleration

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, November 12, 4:30 – 6:00 p.m.

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS) has been successfully used by educators and administrators throughout the country since 1998 to objectively determine if a student would benefit from whole-grade acceleration.  The IAS guides a child study team (including educators, teachers, parents, and other professionals) through a discussion of the academic and social characteristics of the student.  Dr. Susan Assouline, lead author of the Iowa Acceleration Scale, will lead this Webinar, exploring the instrument and answering your questions.

The Webinar  (or DVD option) is required to enroll in the available credit option; the online credit will explore challenges to acceleration, as well as alternatives to whole-grade acceleration.  Participants will go through the process utilized in the IAS*.

The cost for either the Webinar or a DVD of is $45 (the cost for both is $55).

More information and the link to registration is available at belinblank.org/webinar  


Academic credit is available. Automatic tuition scholarship (50% of graduate tuition, or $226, for one semester hour). Contact Laurie-Croft@uiowa.edu.

* The Iowa Acceleration Scale Manual can be purchased through the Belin-Blank Center for less than the cost at most other outlets.  Please contact Rachelle-Blackwell@uiowa.edu (or 800-336-6463 / 319-335-6148) for details.  One copy of the form used to complete the scale will be provided at no cost to those who purchase the manual through the Center.