IOAPA: Bridging the Gap for Rural Students

Advanced Placement classes are nationally recognized for the rigor and challenge they provide to high school students. When students have the opportunity to participate in AP classes, they generally report that they feel prepared for college courses and appreciate the experience overall. However, the reach of AP classes and programs is still somewhat limited. This can especially apply in rural areas, where distance, small class sizes, and limited resources can impact the ability of schools to reach talented students. For instance, in central Illinois small schools often have limited, if any, AP classes, despite neighboring schools demonstrating the effectiveness of these courses. However, when rural schools strive to provide AP opportunities to their students, they often find that they rise to the occasion. In North Dakota, legislators have worked to provide incentives for students to participate in AP, resulting in a 16.9% increase of students receiving passing scores on AP exams.

When attempting to establish an AP program, rural schools often encounter several barriers. Resources and how to distribute them is often a primary concern for rural school districts, as one individual may be responsible for coordinating all K-12 gifted education. Ensuring that teachers have received appropriate training in AP subject areas and have completed the appropriate course audit also represents challenges for many schools. For many schools, perception of the role and value of AP classes can greatly impact student willingness to attempt AP courses. As stated in this article, many students often feel more secure taking dual enrollment classes where some type of credit is ensured rather than risk the uncertainty of passing an AP exam. Changing these perceptions is often the first step to developing successful AP cultures in schools.

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) has a long tradition of trying to reach students who may not have access to on-site AP classes. IOAPA strongly promotes the rigor of AP classes as well as access for all students through our online course format. To encourage students interested in challenge, IOAPA also requires on-site mentors to support and encourage students enrolled in IOAPA courses. IOAPA provides AP exam review sessions through Apex Learning, as well as opportunities for middle school students to begin working on higher-level coursework through our middle school courses and above-level testing options. Professional development is also a key goal of IOAPA through the Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute. In part because of IOAPA, Iowa’s AP participation has tripled over the last 13 years, and in 2014, 62.7% of Iowa students scores a 3 or higher on AP exams.

To learn more about IOAPA, visit

Learn more about starting an AP program at your school.

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