Why Take a Test Through BESTS?

Our staff are often asked who should take a test through the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search and why. First, a little background: high-ability students tend to score very highly on grade-level tests like the Iowa Assessments. If they’re scoring at the 95th percentile or higher on any subject, they have reached the ceiling of that test. That tells us that they have mastered the items on that standardized test, but it doesn’t tell us how much more challenge they need.

What Is Talent Search?

This is where a talent search like BESTS comes in. If a 4th grade test is not challenging for a particular 4th grader, they need a more challenging test to accurately assess their knowledge. Talent searches provide that more-challenging test in the form of an above-level test. Above-level testing is an educational procedure in which a test developed for older students is administered to younger students. For 4th-6th graders, BESTS provides I-Excel, which consists of 8th-grade content. For 7th-9th graders, BESTS provides the ACT, which is used as a college-admissions test.

The goal of a talent search is to discover, via above-level testing, students who need further educational challenge to fully realize their academic talent. BESTS was initiated in 1992 to identify talented students and provide parents and educators with more specific information about their academic needs.

If students in your school do not take the Iowa Assessments, but take another standardized test, such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, the same requirements apply. If students in your school do not take standardized tests annually, scores from the most recent testing may be used.

If a student is slightly below the 95th percentile, and the parents and educators strongly believe that the student is a good candidate for above-level testing, they may test. However, we typically discourage exceptions to the 95th percentile guideline because research shows that it makes it more likely that the child will be overly frustrated by their above-level testing experience.

So to sum up:

  • Who: Students in grades 4-9 who have scored at the 95th percentile or higher in at least one subject of standardized tests. Occasionally, third graders meeting the criteria may also test.
  • Why: When students max out grade-level tests, above-level testing gives students space to show what they know and are ready to learn next.


What Is the Purpose of Talent Search?

Above-level testing offers a variety of benefits, including:

  • Taking an above-level test enables students to demonstrate academic strengths by taking a challenging test that is not typically available to them at their grade level.
  • It’s fun! In a survey, we asked BESTS students how they felt about being identified to participate in the talent search. Over 95% said they like it or liked it a lot. When we asked them to tell us why they were taking the test, 50% said they thought they would enjoy the challenge of the test and 42% wanted to know more about their talents.
  • Outstanding individual scorers are recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.
  • All students who test through the Belin-Blank Center are eligible to participate in Belin-Blank Center precollege programs.
  • Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results.
  • The results can be helpful for curriculum planning.

How to Sign Up

…for 4th-6th Graders

There are three ways to take I-Excel:

  • The most common option, BESTS In-School, is when a teacher creates a test date for children at his/her school. The teachers sends a registration link to parents, who register their children.
  • An open test date on the University of Iowa campus, which the Belin-Blank Center generally holds annually in June. Once the date is set, there will be a link on this page to sign up.
  • Individual Testing, in which parents find a licensed educator to proctor the test for their child.

…for 7th-9th Graders

ACT is only available through national testing dates on select Saturdays during the academic year. Sign up for an ACT test date here.

Above-level Testing and Talented and Gifted Programs

Notifying a family of a child's eligibility to participate in the talent search does not mean a school is identifying the child for gifted services, since the qualifying Iowa Assessments score is only one piece of data, and identification for gifted services requires multiple criteria.

Further, gifted program criteria are different from school to school, and above-level testing is not meant to be used exclusively for placement decisions in gifted programs. Rather, information from the above-level test should be used to make decisions for each individual student about appropriate programming changes. These changes may or may not include placement in the local gifted program.

Studies have shown 50% or more of students who participate in a talent search are not identified for gifted and talented services. However, not notifying parents eliminates the opportunity for students with potential to develop a latent talent in a specific area. The point of a talent search is to cast a wide net.