Our primary areas of focus include twice-exceptionality, equity and access to opportunity through a talent search model, and academic acceleration.


Many gifted students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. These may include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Specific Learning Disabilities(SLD) such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, or mood disorders such as anxiety or depression. 

The Belin-Blank Center is a pioneer in researching twice-exceptionality, beginning with our 2005 collaboration with the Iowa Department of Education. That study was crucial in spreading knowledge about what twice-exceptionality is and what it looks like in a child. It also provided recommendations about how to best support these students' talents and academic needs inside the classroom and out. 

For almost 15 years, we have been working to understand and support the characteristics, strengths, and struggles of these unique individuals. Now, in collaboration with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, we are moving the field forward again. This time, we are combining education, psychology, neuroscience, and genetics to better understand the mechanisms and behaviors surrounding twice-exceptionality. 

Equitable Access to Opportunity

In Iowa, where a majority of schools are in rural areas or small towns, geography can sometimes stand in the way of academic opportunities. Due to small student populations and limited funds, students in these schools often do not have the resources and programs available to their urban and suburban counterparts. Since 1999, the Belin-Blank Center has been a champion for increasing access to challenging coursework and other opportunities that allow talented students in these settings to develop their full potential. Our goal has been that geography no longer dictates opportunity. The talent search model is a critical tool in this process.

Rural students are an underrepresented population in STEM education. Our STEM Excellence and Leadership program seeks to raise rural students' aspirations and achievement in STEM subjects through an informal STEM learning environment. We do this by focusing on an out-of-school math and science curriculum for grades 6-8 as a conduit to more advanced coursework in high school. Through research funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the National Science Foundation, we have demonstrated that the talent development model can broaden the identification of STEM talent in rural schools (Assouline, Ihrig, & Mahatmya, 2017). Educators implementing the out-of-school program leverage the strengths of rural communities and encounter the same barriers that pose challenges to rural teachers during formal instructional time (Ihrig, Mahatmya, Assouline, & Lynch, 2019). Moreover, educators and students perceive program participation positively (Ihrig, Lane, Mahatmya & Assouline, 2018). Results highlight rural educators’ agency as key in shaping effective informal STEM learning environments to broaden rural students' participation in quality STEM programming.

The Talent Identification and Career Education (TICE) project, in collaboration with the University of Iowa's College of Education, is made possible with Jacob K. Javits federal funding. TICE aims to increase the number of Iowa middle-school students who have access to and participate in talented and gifted programming. Through an expanded talent search model and a hybrid career exploration curriculum, TICE students get the opportunity to identify and develop their strengths in academic, psychosocial, and career domains. TICE includes guided career exploration activities and connects students with academic acceleration opportunities through the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA). Researchers have found that the academic success of students from traditionally underrepresented groups (e.g., rural students, students of color, English language learners, students with disabilities, etc.) improves when (1) they are identified early and (2) their learning is connected to career goals and their communities. Together, these elements support the talent development of high-achieving Iowa students from diverse backgrounds.

Academic Acceleration

Academic acceleration is the most research-supported but under-utilized and misunderstood intervention for gifted students.

Acceleration is an academic intervention that moves students through an educational program at a faster rate or younger age than what is typical. When done appropriately, it creates a better match between a student and the level and pace of instruction.

For many people, “acceleration” is synonymous with "grade skipping," but there are actually over 20 different types of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten or college, moving ahead in just one subject, and enrolling in classes at two different levels at the same time (dual/concurrent enrollment).

The Belin-Blank Center is an international leader in research on academic acceleration. Our expertise is housed in our Acceleration Institute, with research broken down for parents, educators, policymakers, and researchers. Most notably, we published the watershed report A Nation Deceived, which highlighted research-based practices for challenging academically talented youth, and its ten-year follow-up, A Nation Empowered, which tells the story of how well we have applied what we have learned.

We also want to help teachers and students directly benefit from our decades of research on acceleration, so we provide research-based practical solutions for schools. Educators and families wondering whether or not a particular student should skip a grade can find guidance in the Iowa Acceleration Scale, a well-respected tool updated in 2009 that helps to help schools make effective decisions regarding whole-grade acceleration. In 2021, we launched the all-online Integrated Acceleration System, which helps educators and families with decisions about grade skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, subject acceleration, and early entrance to college. Information for making decisions about whether a student should be moved ahead in a single subject is available in the subject acceleration section of the Acceleration Institute website. Our report Developing Academic Acceleration Policies supports schools in creating comprehensive and research-based acceleration policies. 

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