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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 16, 2005

UI Partner In $904,772 Study Of Gifted Students With Special Needs

A University of Iowa center dedicated to gifted education is partnering with the Iowa Department of Education for a pioneering research project that seeks to help elementary and secondary schools meet the needs of academically promising students with learning disabilities or autism (including autism-like) disorders.

The "Twice Exceptional" project will be funded with a three-year, $904,772 federal Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program grant to the Iowa Department of Education, which is teaming with the UI's Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Iowa's Area Education Agencies. The Department of Education recently received an initial grant installment of $318,654.

Belin-Blank Center Associate Director Susan Assouline, Ph.D., who will direct the research, said the partnership will offer a coordinated program of scientifically based research to enhance the capability of elementary and secondary schools to help students with special education needs make the most of their academic gifts.

She said the project refers to gifted students with disabilities as "twice exceptional" because they face a double risk in the educational environment.

"On the one hand, because of their strong academic potential, their disability is often not recognized until they spend enough time in the system 'waiting to fail,'" Assouline said. "On the other hand, because they 'fail to flourish,' their strong academic potential is often not fully realized. The double impact of these systemic flaws results is a very vulnerable group of learners with unique assessment and programming issues."

The goal of the project, then, is to comprehensively evaluate gifted students who are referred to the Belin-Blank Center because of concerns about difficulties with learning or because of disabling socialization problems.

"Ultimately, we strive to establish best practices for a consistent approach to discover twice-exceptional students throughout our state and provide evidence-based recommendations that are relevant in schools," Assouline said. "As a result of the project, educators will be able to improve their understanding of the unique learning needs of twice-exceptional students including how they differ from their gifted peers without disabilities or from students with learning difficulties who are not in gifted education. Educators want to be more effective, and they can be when presented with new information that impacts attitude and skill."

By the end of the project, the Belin-Blank Center and its partners hope to help educators better identify and more effectively evaluate twice-exceptional students, encourage them to provide appropriate interventions, help them better understand the unique learning needs of twice-exceptional students and provide them with the knowledge and confidence they need to be a positive force in the students' lives.

"I am very excited about this grant," said Nicholas Colangelo, Ph.D., director of the Belin-Blank Center. "Not only is it a partnership with the Iowa Department of Education, but the area of twice-exceptionality is an important and vibrant part of the future of gifted education."

Judy Jeffrey, director of the Iowa Department of Education, said the partnership will be an important element in the state's ongoing commitment to support and enhance the quality of Iowa's teaching staff.

"This kind of high quality professional development is a good investment because we know quality teachers have the biggest impact on how much and how well students learn," Jeffrey said. "Educators will be eager to gain new research and tools to help more students reach their highest potential."

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, was instrumental in winning passage of an expansion of Javits funding under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Only school districts or Departments of Education may apply for the grants and the Iowa Department of Education was one of only 14 grant recipients this year. An estimated 140 grant proposals were submitted for funding.

Funding for the first year of the project is guaranteed, while funding for the remaining two years of the grant will depend on continued congressional funding of the Javits initiative.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007, stephen-pradarelli@uiowa.edu.