Let the Games Begin…

Did you know the Belin-Blank Center is also the Iowa and Midwest Region-at-Large Affiliate for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program? If you’re a budding artist or writer, don’t forget to submit your latest masterpiece!


Something fantastic happened today…we received our first submission for the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition!!


You’ll want to take the time to check out the new category updates, how to submit, and the scholarship opportunities available to you this year. We want you to win everything! BUT you have to get your submission in online and your submission forms to us by December 15th – the earlier the better though.

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Middle School IOAPA and High School Credit

Advanced coursework is extremely beneficial for high ability students at all levels. At the secondary level, though, concerns about earning credits and grades may influence the decision to offer or take appropriately challenging coursework.

Schools often have difficulty determining how to assign credit for advanced coursework, especially at the middle school level. When middle school students take high school-level courses, it can be difficult to decide whether to assign credit for those courses at the middle school level, high school level, or both. See this post for more conversation on that issue.

Once a school decides how to grant credit, another conversation arises. If a middle school student is earning high school credit for a course, should their grade for that course be applied to their high school transcript? What if the grade is lower than the student typically earns and there are concerns about high school GPA and class rank?

We heard from one school about how they handled this situation: School personnel, parents, and students were concerned that by taking a challenging high school math course in middle school, the students’ high school GPAs will be affected before they even enter high school. As a result of these concerns, this school chose to offer the course as pass/fail, rather than as a graded course. This allowed the students to take the advanced course in middle school and earn high school credit, without their final grades being assigned on their high school transcript.

High school graduation requirements are another important consideration in handling this situation, however. In this particular school’s example, ungraded courses do not count toward the required number of courses in the content area. (For example, if a student needs 4 graded English courses to graduate, and they take the advanced Creative Writing course as pass/fail, that course would not count toward the graduation requirement.) This school gave students the option to convert the pass/fail marker assigned for the course taken in middle school back to the grade they received, therefore allowing that course to count toward the graduation requirement. They could make this change at any point in their high school career.

This allowance is important, because it makes it possible for students to complete high school requirements earlier than typical, opening up time in their schedules for further acceleration – including (but not limited to) early high school graduation and early entrance to college.

Let us know how your school handles credit conundrums using #IOAPA or in the comments below. For more information about IOAPA for middle school students, check out our middle school blog series or the IOAPA website.

Comparing AP and Other College Credit Opportunities

Periodically, we review Iowa students’ options for earning college credit. This post is an adaptation of an earlier post from September 2014.

We have discussed some of the differences between AP and other ways to earn college credit in the past, but the various options for students are many and often overwhelming. Why might Iowa Online AP Academy courses be a good fit compared to other options?

What are my options for college-level coursework as a high school student?

  • Advanced Placement (AP) is a nationally recognized program administered by the College Board. Students have the option to enroll in a wide range of different courses and take an exam in May. In Iowa, schools also have the opportunity to participate in the Iowa Online AP Academy, which allows high school students to enroll in online AP coursework for courses their school may not offer.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) is another widely-used program in which high school students enroll in an advanced curriculum and then take examinations for college credit. One main difference between AP and IB is that IB is a curriculum-centered program in which you enroll in several IB courses at once.
  • Concurrent Enrollment is an initiative offered by the state of Iowa that allows high school students to enroll in community college courses while still in high school.
  • Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) also allows high school students to enroll part-time at either two- or four-year colleges or universities.

How do credits transfer for these options?

  • AP: Passing an AP exam with a score of 3 or higher generally allows students to earn either advanced standing (by waiving otherwise required courses) or credits (as if the student had taken and passed the course) for entry-level college courses. For example, receiving a 4 or higher on the AP Biology exam gives you credit for a specific University of Iowa course (BIOL:1140 Human Biology) that might apply towards your degree.
  • IB: If students pass an IB exam with a score above a certain threshold (at the University of Iowa, this threshold is a 5 or higher), then the student may receive course credit for required or general education courses.
  • Concurrent Enrollment and PSEO: Generally, if students pass their class with a C- or higher, they receive college credit. However, this credit may or may not transfer to their post-secondary institution of choice. For example, passing Bio 112 (General Biology I) at Kirkwood Community College transfers in as a natural science general education elective at the University of Iowa, rather than as a specific course in a degree area (which the AP score example above earns).

What does the Iowa Online AP Academy offer that other programs do not?

The Iowa Online AP Academy framework works with your high school curriculum so that you can take advanced classes that are of interest to you. In addition, Advanced Placement courses are nationally recognized as a way to earn college course credit at many colleges and universities across the nation. Finally, as an online program, IOAPA also offers flexibility that traditional courses may not in terms of scheduling, as well as practice with online course formats.

Will Iowa Online AP Academy courses prepare students in the same ways as traditional AP courses?

Iowa Online AP Program students who take the AP exam generally perform just as well as, if not better than, students who participate in traditional AP courses.  Students who enroll in IOAPA courses also tend to successfully complete them—during the 2015-2016 school year, the completion rate for IOAPA high school courses was 95.6%, and of those students,  90% successfully passed their course.

How can I learn more?

You can learn more about IOAPA by visiting our website. The University of Iowa’s AP credit policy is here, or you can visit the College Board’s AP Credit Policy database for the policies of other colleges and universities. You can also read about the state of Iowa’s Senior Year Plus initiative for more specifics on earning college credit in high school.


Resources for AP Students

One benefit of Advanced Placement courses is that there are plenty of resources specifically designed to align with the course content. We rounded up several of those resources for students to support their AP experience.

  • College Board resources:
    • AP for Students:  This website contains information about AP in general and AP exam scores and credit and placement policies, and is also where students go to access their AP scores from previous years.
    • AP Courses: On this page, you’ll find links to sites for each AP course. These sites include course details and study skills relevant to that particular course. For example, on the AP US History course page, students can access study tips for reading and writing, as well as sample exam questions and tips.
  • Non-College Board resources: Note: These sites are not affiliated with or endorsed by College Board.
    • Albert – Test Prep: This site includes practice exam questions for 27 different AP courses.
    • Study Notes: This website contains chapter outlines and study notes for 7 AP courses.
    • BestAPBooks: This site offers lists of the best books to use to prepare for AP exams in 31 subjects.
  • Twitter accounts:

For IOAPA-related questions, visit belinblank.org/ioapa or contact us by email. Do you know of other resources for AP students? Tell us in the comments or using #IOAPA.

Can I-Excel Be Used to Screen Students for a Gifted Program?

BBC students outside

I-Excel is a new test offered by the Belin-Blank Center. Its purpose is to assist educators in discovering academically talented 4th-6th grade students who need additional challenges in school.  One of the teachers with whom we work asked, “Could I-Excel be used to screen students for a gifted program, or would you recommend using other methods for screening?”

This is an excellent question.  The short answer is “Yes!”  We recommend the following steps for educators:

  1. Look at the results from the standardized testing routinely administered at your school (for example, the Iowa Assessments, Stanford Achievement Tests, Terra Nova, etc.).
  2. Select the 4th, 5th, or 6th graders scoring at or around the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the core content areas (such as reading, math, language, science, etc.).
  3. Invite those students to participate in I-Excel testing. We suggest that the students take all four subtests of I-Excel (Math, Science, English, and Reading) to get the most comprehensive information.
  4. Use the I-Excel information in combination with other information you have available to select students for your gifted program and/or other appropriately challenging programming.
    1. You might choose to focus on only one area; for example, if you are seeking students in need of additional opportunities in math, you’ll want to look most closely at the Math subtest of I-Excel to identify high-performing math students.
    2. IDEAL Solutions is the platform for understanding I-Excel test scores. Once your students test using I-Excel, educators will have access to an individualized interpretation of the test scores as well as a group interpretation (if 10 or more students tested). This information is designed to help you make informed decisions about the types of programs to provide for challenging your students.
    3. For example, in a given school with a comprehensive TAG program, educators might decide to use all four subtests of I-Excel to identify students for the gifted program. In another school, where the TAG program is more focused on advanced science and mathematics, educators might use only the Science and Math subtests of I-Excel as part of their larger identification process. Students with very high scores on the English or Reading subtests may be ready for more advanced material in language arts.

I-Excel is useful for helping educators determine which students have specific talents in one area (for example, Science), and which students demonstrate high ability across the board (Math, Science, English, and Reading). Gifted programs and other advanced opportunities can be designed with the students’ varying strengths in mind, and different schools will choose different approaches to challenge their students.

Because I-Excel is an above-level test, it can be used as an indicator of specific aptitude when completing the Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS).  The IAS was designed to help make decisions about whether or not a student is ready for a grade skip.

Always be sure to check your local and state policies for gifted program identification, to be sure your process is consistent with requirements.

We welcome opportunities to work with educators to ensure the I-Excel test results are presented in ways that are useful to you. Have other questions?  Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details.

Nonacademic Skills and IOAPA Students

I came across this article from Education Week on the importance of nonacademic skills for learning, and it inspired me to think about how these skills might affect IOAPA students. In this context, we’ll use the term ‘nonacademic skills’ to refer to skills and attributes not measured by traditional standardized testing, including things like self-regulation, growth mindset, and problem-solving skills.

Research suggests that many bright students may experience perfectionism and competitiveness, and may have difficulty tolerating frustration and managing stress. In addition, when faced with challenge, students’ self-esteem may suffer. IOAPA coursework is likely more difficult than anything students have previously experienced, and this may be an unpleasant shock and result in unexpected issues.

In order to help our students overcome these challenges, we must first understand what areas are in need of support. One way to accomplish this is to use tools like ACT Engage (free to schools through the Belin-Blank Center!) to find areas in which each student may need additional attention. Other ways to assess nonacademic skills include questionnaires, observations, and interviews.

Once we know the areas in which students need help, what can we do to support them? Above all, it is important to encourage hard work and to decrease the focus on earning high grades. In addition, teachers must recognize that high academic achievement does not necessarily mean that the student is similarly mature across domains; students may have the academic skills to understand the content, but may lack the study or time management skills necessary to succeed in high-level coursework. They might need instruction on these skills to achieve success.

What strategies do you have for supporting students’ nonacademic needs? Let us know in the comments or using #IOAPA.


The Back-to-School Newsletter is Out!

We’ve got a fun way for kids to spend their Saturdays, a shiny new BESTS page, a roadmap for acceleration, and more in this issue of the VISION newsletter!