Iowa Online AP Academy Mentors: Advice and Resources

Welcome to another exciting year of IOAPA courses! We know there is a lot going on this time of year, so we gathered up some resources and advice to kick off the IOAPA year all in one place so you can check it out now and refer back anytime.

Advice from IOAPA Mentors:
In a survey at the end of last year, we asked mentors what advice they would give new mentors and site coordinators. Here are some of the most common pieces of advice and recommendations that both new and returning mentors may appreciate.

  • Meet face-to-face with students regularly. Several responders suggested scheduling meetings once per week to check in, discuss grades and progress, and answer student questions.
  • Establish methods of communicating with students between meetings. A few responders reported using text messaging as the best way for them and their students. The specific method used may differ, but the important thing is determining what works best for you and your students.
  • Get familiar with the course vendor’s system before you jump in with students. Whether you’re using Apex or Edhesive, there are idiosyncrasies within the systems that are important to be aware of. Multiple IOAPA mentors noted the importance of reading and watching all support materials and orientation videos, and some also suggest being present while students watch their orientation videos so you can see the student side as well.
  • Communicate regularly with parents/guardians. One person reported using the automated email feature to provide weekly updates, and many mentors indicated the importance of ensuring that parents/guardians are involved in the process.
  • Plan for more support than you think your students might need. Several mentors noted that it can be difficult to get students back on track if they fall behind, so they suggest overestimating the amount of support students will need. It’s easier to fade the support as the year goes on than to catch a student up if they get off track early.
  • Arrange times that you can be present while the student does their coursework. This can be difficult to schedule, but several mentors observed that it can be helpful. One person reported that sitting in on the quizzes early in the year helped them help students become acquainted with the Apex language and system. Another noted that consistent appointments for coursework can facilitate scheduling proctored exams.
  • Have back-up plans. Seek another adult in the building who can give students access to their work space or materials or unlock tests in Apex if you are absent, away from the building or unreachable for any reason.
  • Seek help when you need it, and encourage your students to do the same. IOAPA staff are here to help with any questions you have, or to find answers if we don’t know immediately. The course instructors are another great resource if your students are having trouble with course material (particularly if it’s a subject area with which you are less familiar). Don’t hesitate to ask questions.
  • Be your students’ cheerleader! Provide your students with all the support and encouragement they need to be successful, and have conversations with them about what they need to do to achieve that success. One mentor said, “Many of my students have never had to work so hard.” Recognize that students’ self-confidence may be tested, and that they may need more support in nonacademic domains than academic ones.

For additional resources, check out our previous post on this topic here or peruse the IOAPA Mentor Handbook. Do you have more suggestions for other mentors? Share them with us on Twitter using #IOAPA. You can also follow us on Twitter: @kflanaryIOAPA and @belinblank.

An Iowa Acceleration Scale “Booster Shot”

Iowa Acceleration Scale

The Belin-Blank Center recently hosted the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute. The theme this year was, “A Nation Empowered: Research-Based Evidence about Acceleration and Gifted/Talented Students.” During the Pre-Institute, we spent a whole afternoon talking about the Iowa Acceleration Scale. Many of the people attending the session had already used the IAS, and they were looking for answers to specific questions or they simply wanted a “booster shot” of best practices concerning the scale. Some of the major points made in the session include:

  • Become informed about the research. We have over 60 years of research on acceleration, and it is consistently positive. Knowing the research helps us to make well-informed, data-driven decisions for students.
  • Prepare your team for the meeting. Nobody likes surprises. Help them to understand the purpose of the meeting and the information you would like them to bring to the meeting.
  • Provide information about acceleration. It’s helpful to give team members some basic information about grade skipping (see resources listed below).
  • Collect all profile information before the meeting to use everyone’s time well at the meeting.
  • Talk with the student about the acceleration. The student plays a critical role in making the acceleration experience successful or unsuccessful. Find out if the student is on board and if he or she has any questions or concerns.
  • Schedule enough time for the meeting. This is an important decision worthy of thoughtful discussion.
  • Pre-plan other options. For example, if there is a possibility that the student might be subject accelerated (rather than skip a grade), it would be helpful to think through issues such as transportation and scheduling before the meeting so the team doesn’t get sidetracked with related issues or questions.
  • Select a receiving teacher. This person is critical to the success of an acceleration.
  • Support the receiving teacher. Some teachers feel a little bit intimidated by the fact that they will have a younger student in their class, and they might have questions about how best to support the student and to help the other students in the class welcome the young student.
  • Follow-up with parents, teachers, and student. It is very helpful to schedule a specific time period that serves as a “trial period” for the acceleration. The team should take the time to meet again about the accelerated student and discuss what is working well and how they can make things go more smoothly.


The Iowa Acceleration Scale is an instrument designed to guide the discussion about academic acceleration. The IAS is not a test; it is designed to help the child study team members think about the various aspects of acceleration (for example, academic development, social development, physical development, etc.).

A Nation Deceived:  This 2-volume set published in 2004 provides research and practical information about acceleration. Volume 1 includes some of the myths (and responses) relevant to acceleration.  Volume 2 includes research findings.

A Nation Empowered:  Published in 2015. Volume 1 includes stories about acceleration and is a “quick read” for busy administrators and others looking for an introduction to the topic of acceleration. Volume 2 provides the updated research.


In Case You Missed It: Developing an AP Culture

This post was originally published in December 2015. Enjoy!

When talking with many of our schools, we hear that one of the keys to building a successful AP program is fostering an environment where academic achievement is valued, especially within the AP context. Many of our Iowa Online AP Academy schools and AP Index schools report that developing an AP culture has been key to their school’s efforts in increasing AP course and exam participation, which can lead to greater opportunities for students. For schools where AP participation is low or other opportunities, such as dual enrollment, may be more popular, how can staff create a culture that encourages AP participation?

  • Ensure students are prepared for advanced coursework in high school. Many AP courses have prerequisites to ensure that students are challenged without being frustrated. The College Board encourages schools to consider developing courses beginning in sixth grade that provide this foundation through Pre-AP. Because Pre-AP courses can take many forms, schools have some flexibility in how they choose to implement these guidelines. For some schools, taking advantage of the IOAPA middle school classes may be a great way to introduce the idea of AP preparation within their district.
  • Provide opportunities for students to learn about AP courses. Many schools provide an AP Information Night that allows students and parents to ask questions about what an AP course entails. This can also be a great opportunity for teachers and coordinators to explain the benefits of taking AP classes, the differences between AP and concurrent enrollment courses, and more details about why to take the AP exam. Both the College Board and IOAPA provide resources to help schools develop these presentations and provide resources to parents and families.
  • Utilize AP exam review. For IOAPA students, online AP exam review is provided through Apex Learning for no additional cost to provide student with opportunities to study and improve their understanding of the subject prior to the exam. For other Iowa students, AP Exam Review is also provided at no cost based on available seats. This format coupled with other opportunities to review for the exam can increase student confidence and willingness to take the exam for their course.
  • Acknowledge student accomplishments. Students work hard in AP courses and to prepare for the exam. Recognize their initiative by honoring them at school awards ceremonies or establishing an AP Exam Breakfast following exams to honor student achievement. Some schools also choose to encourage participation in AP classes through grade weighting or providing funding for students to take AP exams. For some students, this can be the extra push that’s needed to take an AP course over a regular course.
  • Develop a strong support team within your school. Whether offering classes on-site or through channels such as IOAPA, schools must designate an individual to serve as the AP coordinator. This person often coordinates the logistics of helping students sign up for and take exams. However, the AP coordinator’s job is often dependent on the support of other teachers and administrators. Building a team that includes AP teachers, IOAPA mentors, and other staff members can help ensure collaboration on the vision for AP programming at your school.
  • Encourage teachers to receive AP instructor training. In order to develop a successful AP program, teachers must develop and submit a course audit to the College Board to ensure that courses are being taught in a consistent way. For teachers, this can be a daunting task, and providing opportunities for teachers to attend AP training can help. The College Board provides a list of AP Summer Institutes on their website (including APTTI, our AP training institute held in July).

Other helpful resources from the College Board can be found below:

How to start an AP course

AP Programs in Rural Schools

Welcome to #APTTI2016!


Welcome to all 125 educators joining us this week at the Belin-Blank Center, where you will receive comprehensive preparation for developing and teaching an Advanced Placement course! This week, you will learn about AP updates, discuss teaching strategies, peruse course materials, prepare for your upcoming course, and network with colleagues from near and far.

For those interested, you have an additional opportunity to earn academic credit or Iowa Licensure Renewal Units for your work here at APTTI and beyond.

We hope your week here is productive, and that you leave here with a host of resources that you can put to use this fall. We also hope that you are able to connect with others and be resources to each other! To that end, we have several social media channels where you can connect with those in your own workshop, or in others, as well as with the Belin-Blank Center.

Use the hashtag #APTTI2016 on your favorite social media platforms to connect! Tell us what you’re learning, make dinner plans, or just chat with each other. We will be posting information and watching for questions, using program director, Kristin Flanary’s, Twitter account: @kflanaryIOAPA.

As an added bonus, we will be hosting several giveaways this week! The more you connect, the better your chances to win. You can earn entries by following @kflanaryIOAPA on Twitter, visiting the Belin-Blank Center facebook page, and/or tweeting a message on your own account. Prizes include $25 gift cards, copies of Serving Gifted Students in Rural Settings and A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, a goodie bag full of Hawkeye merchandise, and an Apple TV. Winners must be registered and present at APTTI. Click below for details and to enter to win.

APTTI Giveaways Collage

Have a great week!


Winners will be selected via and be notified by email. Winners will have 24 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. Each winner may win only one prize. Two to five winners will be selected each day from July 5-8, 2016; all winners will be notified by July 9, 2016. Prizes can be picked up at 600 Blank Honors Center, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242 by July 9, 2016.

A Nation Empowered: Empower Yourself with Information about Academic Acceleration, July 24-26

Invent IA footerThere’s still time to register: The early bird discount is available until July 8th!

We are looking forward to seeing you at the July 2016 conference on academic acceleration ( Our aim is to present attendees with practical information about acceleration, using existing research and tools to help make data-driven decisions.

All participants will receive a copy of the two-volume book, A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, which includes updated information about the best-researched yet most under-utilized educational option for gifted students: academic acceleration.

The Pre-Institute (July 24th) focuses on the important tool for making decisions about a grade skip, the Iowa Acceleration Scale.  The Institute (July 25 and 26) provides the opportunity to learn from researchers as well as educators who have successfully implemented various forms of acceleration, including subject-matter acceleration, early entrance to college, dual enrollment, and grade-skipping. In the portion of the conference focused on policy, participants will have the opportunity to hear from schools, districts, and states with successful acceleration policies. They will share their stories of how they were able to put successful policies in place, as well as what participants should consider as they advocate for acceleration in their region.  Participation in the Advanced Leadership Institute on Monday and Tuesday is NOT required for participation in the Pre-Institute.

We look forward to seeing you in a few weeks at this exciting institute.  Speakers include nationally-recognized experts in gifted education research and policy, as well as administrators and educators.  Participants will have the opportunity to hear from a variety of individuals reflecting on the local impact of acceleration policies and practical implications of the research.  We encourage you to register by July 8th, to take advantage of the early bird discount!  See

Message From the Director: Keeping Time

These two words capture the perennial essence of the Belin-Blank Center’s buzz during the summer weeks and months.  Like a world-renowned orchestra, we’ve been rehearsing our opening number for months.  Like a world-renowned orchestra, we have multiple sections (programs for educators, pre-college students, clinic and assessment services, and research).  And, like a world-renowned orchestra, our professionals are extremely talented artists (administrators) who are trained on a variety of instruments. They are poised and ready to strike the first note as soon as the conductor raises the baton.

Why does the “music” of Belin-Blank Center programming sound so rich and fulfilling?  Because we’ve learned to keep time.  We’ve learned how to balance the benefits of exact timing with the nuances of human expression.   The end result is a polished performance that sounds comfortingly familiar, yet offers a new approach through creatively applying a new tempo, a new instrument, or a new combination of notes.

I hope that educators, parents, and students will experience first-hand the joy of the music we make each summer (and throughout the year!).  If you can’t experience the Belin-Blank Center’s summer in person, tune in to our blog, Twitter feed (@belinblank), or check out photos on our website.  Read our newsletter to stay informed about our newest compositions.

At the end of July, the music softens and the tempo slows, but we never completely stop.  We pause just long enough to take a breath, re-tune our instruments and get ready for our fall performance.

Expanding Opportunities for Young Artists and Writers

We are very pleased to announce that the Belin-Blank Center and Assistant Director for Student Services Jan Warren received the 2016 Gold Key for Excellence in the Field award from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.  This award is given annually to an Affiliate Partner organization that demonstrates extraordinary dedication to creative young people, perseveres through challenges over time, and expands the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program to reach more participants.

Jan Gold Key Scholastic-1

Virginia McEnerney, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, presented the award to Ms. Warren during the annual celebration of national award winners in New York City.  “The Alliance selected you and the Belin-Blank Center to receive this Award because the organization has gone above and beyond basic program requirements to provide additional opportunities for creative teenagers in the state of Iowa, as well as the thousands of students in the greater Midwest who do not have the same local opportunities for recognition.”

Jan Warren accepting Scholastic award

This past year, the Belin-Blank Center processed and adjudicated almost 10,000 pieces of art and writing from nearly 7,000 students.  In addition to the awards process, the Center has engaged community partners to provide additional scholarship opportunities and developed a blog (Freehand) for young artists and writers.  Students may begin submitting works for the coming year in September.