Author Archives: cwienkes

IOAPA: Helping Students’ Stress

If you can believe it, we are nearing the end of the semester! Students may feel pressure from upcoming or past due assignments, projects and tests for their IOAPA courses. Helping students to recognize and manage their stress is an important skill that will continue to help them in their education path and future career. 

Identifying stressed students is important, particularly because in 2013, teens reported their stress level to be higher than levels reported by adults.  Students’ stress often looks different from a typical adult’s stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) released an article to help adults identify signs of stress in children and teenagers.  Some helpful tips to identify their stress include:

Watch for negative changes in behavior, as adolescents may have a difficult time recognizing when they are experiencing stress and verbalizing it . Understand that “feeling sick” may be caused by stress, because stress can appear as physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches. Be aware of how your child or teen interacts with others, as children may act out in other settings when they do not feel like themselves. Therefore, communicating with teachers or parents can provide a better understanding and more context of your child’s interactions. Listen to what the student is saying, as increased negative self-talk may be a sign of stress, and always seek additional support if necessary. 

BSI Global & Cultural Studies 2018-6

In 2013, teens reported increased stress when they did not get enough sleep. Further, 20% of teens reported exercising less than once a week or not at all, and 39% reported skipping a meal due to stress. Parents and teachers can model healthy coping strategies to manage stress, and encourage students to exercise, eat well, and sleep!

For additional resources, see:

7 Tips for Helping Your Child Manage Stress

12 Tips to Reduce your Child’s Stress and Anxiety

Bethune, S. (2014). American Psychological Association survey shows teen stress rivals that of adults. American Psychological Association (202), 336-343.



IOAPA: Spring Registration Opens Soon

Spring registration for Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) courses open November 1st and will close December 7th, 2018, or when seats fill, whichever comes first. There are limited seats in each course, and we expect them to fill up fast. Be sure to register as soon as you can! 

As a reminder, IOAPA courses are intended for cases in which the course can not currently be offered through the school district (or, in the case of middle school students, the course is not offered at the student’s grade level). Schools that offer a course on-site are not eligible to offer that course through IOAPA.

Available courses for high school students for spring 2019 include: AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, AP Psychology, and AP US Government. 

Available courses for middle school students for spring 2019 include: Creative Writing, Introduction to Computer Science, Probability and Statistics, Psychology, and Honors U.S. History to the Civil War.

SSTP Musselman Lab 2018-5

For guidance in making course selection decisions, check out our high school and middle school course infographics here!

To register on November 1st, visit our website! 


  • If your school registered with IOAPA in the fall, there is no need to re-register the school. Just click “Enroll Your School” on our website, and you will be redirected to the student nomination step.
  • Students enrolled in year-long classes will be automatically enrolled in the second semester of their course, unless they inform us that they would like to drop, or receive a failing grade for the fall term. For a step-by-step registration guide, check out this post.
  • Middle school students interested in enrolling in IOAPA courses should take an above-level test to determine eligibility: 6th graders can take I-Excel; 7th and 8th graders can take the ACT. For eligibility guidelines, see the Requirements page. For more on above-level testing in general, see this page and this post.
  • Our website includes helpful information about IOAPA courses and registration. Visit the Getting Started page first, and click around to find the IOAPA handbook, information about how to talk to administrators and students about IOAPA. 

Stay connected with us!

  • Subscribe to our blog for more on IOAPA courses and other topics relevant to IOAPA teachers, parents, and students.
  • Follow us on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA
  • Email us at 

Scholarships for AP Teachers

The season may be changing, but it is never too late to think of summer! Make sure to save the date for the 2019 AP Teacher Training Institute (APTTI). This will take place at the University of Iowa campus on June 25-28, 2019.

APTTI Calculus 2017-4

APTTI is a College Board-approved Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI). AP Summer Institutes provide subject-specific training for teachers who are interested in teaching an AP course. Summer Institutes can also benefit teachers already teaching AP courses to develop their skills, or gain familiarity with updates to the course.

As deadlines always seem to quickly approach, we want to inform you of the available scholarships that support teachers in attending an APSI. Scholarships offered by the College Board include:

  • AP Fellows Program: For teachers at schools serving minority or low-income students
  • AP Rural Fellows Program: For teachers at rural schools

Additional details and application materials are available on the College Board’s website. The deadline to apply for these scholarships is typically in February, so if you’re considering attending an AP Summer Institute, apply today!

The Iowa Online AP Academy also offers a grant for Iowa teachers to help offset the cost of APTTI registration and attendance. Click here to learn more.

IOAPA: Annual Report

Each year, IOAPA staff develop a report demonstrating the progress we’ve made toward our goal of making advanced learning opportunities available for all Iowa students. If you’re curious about what we achieved in 2017-2018, check out this infographic for an overview. You can also find many more details in the public annual report posted on our website.

2018 Annual Report Infographic

IOAPA: Supporting your Students

As we are about a month into the school-year, IOAPA students are learning of the expectations, requirements, and commitments to their above-level courses. Balancing high school activities with coursework can be overwhelming, especially because the new level of challenge may be an adjustment to many students. This new challenge can generate worries about their abilities and may threaten their status of being a “smart” student. This blog post explains how referring to a student as “smart” may be harmful — when students don’t feel “smart” (i.e. when taking a challenging course) they may not seek out advanced coursework in the future, fail on purpose, overextend themselves, or (hopefully) ask for help. However, bright students may be unaccustomed to reaching out to ask for help, or discussing their worries about course content and grades. It is important for parents and teachers to support students through this process in order to encourage the continuation of challenging coursework.

SWR 2018-1

Taking IOAPA’s advanced courses may be the first time your students have felt “stressed” about schoolwork! If previous course content came naturally, students may be learning how to study for the first time.  On the other end, students that are successful in a variety of courses (multipotentiality), may be stressed about picking just one interest or career goal. Bright students may also experience stress related to perfectionist qualities, striving for excellence, and having high expectations of themselves.  This blog post discusses what stress may look like in gifted students.

Overall, the challenge presented by IOAPA classes is very beneficial for high ability students. Although the advanced coursework may bring about some worries and new struggles, they also present the opportunity for students to realize the benefits of the challenge, and to continue to seek out stimulating content.

IOAPA: Time to Start Planning for Spring Semester

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) have teamed up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup.

In order to use this year’s above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for next spring’s IOAPA courses, now is the time to begin the above-level testing process. (IOAPA spring registration opens November 1, and we expect seats to fill quickly). There are four basic steps for participation in BESTS.

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge; these are the students who will be recommended for participation in BESTS. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90thpercentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing. The Iowa Testing Program (ITP) provides a tool you can use for identifying those students.
  2. Notify the students identified and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS. Letters you can use for that purpose are found here for the ACT and here for I-Excel.
  3. Contact as soon as possible to set up testing. Note that if you have 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing, they will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit org/talent-search for specific information. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but it’s still important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand.
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Costs. The cost for I-Excel for the upcoming school year is $45 per student for group testing; this fee is discounted to $22 per student for students residing in Iowa.  Please note, the Belin-Blank Center no longer has grant funding to provide I-Excel testing at no cost to Iowa 5th graders.  However, Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations so they can try out I-Excel with their students.

Individual ACT registration is $70.  This includes both the testing fee and the talent search fee, and students are provided with the individualized report mentioned above. The group rate is $60, if the teacher registers the students.

For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are provided for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level Testing — This post offers an overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at

Continuing Support for AP Programs in Iowa

Students who participate in AP programs (1) stand out to college admissions, (2) earn academic scholarships and awards from colleges and universities, (3) perform as well or better in upper-level courses in the content area of their AP course(s), (4) earn higher GPAs in college, and (5) have higher college graduation rates, and are more likely to graduate college in four years or fewer (IOAPA Annual Report, 2018).

Even with the well-researched benefits of enrolling in AP courses, recent news reveals that 8 private schools in the Washington D.C. area are choosing to no longer offer AP programs. AP courses were introduced in the 1950s to offer opportunities for ambitious students to enroll in and receive credit for college-level work. The schools in the D.C. area argue that since approximately 40% of high school students enroll in AP courses, it is no longer true that AP courses are only for the exceptional students. These schools collectively investigated the potential impact of not offering AP courses on their students’ college applications, and stated that colleges simply care that the applicant took their high school’s most demanding course, and that the “AP designation itself is irrelevant.” Therefore, these schools are implementing their own system of advanced coursework.


this new curriculum method by no means is a “one size fits all,” especially for our Iowa schools. Districts with small enrollment sizes (<1000 students) comprises 67% of Iowa school districts2. Rural schools are often under resourced and unable to provide opportunities beyond the traditional curriculum. Because inequities in opportunities exist between rural and urban/suburban students, IOAPA serves to fill this gap.  IOAPA offers advanced courses and equal learning opportunities to all schools in Iowa. For many Iowa schools, AP programs are how motivated students are able to be challenged, and in other words, are able to enroll in the most demanding course offered. For Iowa students, IOAPA is a promising avenue for students’ educational future, as engaging in challenging high school curriculum is one of the best predictors of college completion.1

Referring to AP courses as a “diminished utility” is inaccurate because it “ignores the past 30 years in which public high schools have found AP, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge, to be robust tools to challenge more students — about 2.7 million in 2017, including many exceptional ones who couldn’t afford private school. Enrollment officials from 13 universities including Yale, Michigan, Stanford and UCLA have rejected the eight schools’ contention that AP courses are of “diminished significance.” – Jay Matthews, an education columnist for the Washington Post.

1Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the Tool Box. Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment.
2Iowa Department of Education. (2017). The Annual Condition of Education Report. Accessed on: August 29, 2018.