Author Archives: djfields

Using BESTS for IOAPA Decisions

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) team up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers discover talented students and develop their abilities. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, IOAPA will require 6th or 7th grade students to have taken I-Excel in order to be eligible for IOAPA courses. We highly recommend using the ACT to inform eligibility for older students to take IOAPA courses. Testing is not required for students registering for Spring 2022 courses, although it is recommended.

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. (Spring registration opens November 8, and we expect seats to fill quickly.) You may also use above-level test results from this academic year to decide which students you will register for fall 2022 classes, when that registration is available. 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 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. Contact as soon as possible to set up testing. We have two options for testing, one for 7th-9th graders, and one for 4th-6th graders.
  4. 7th-9th graders take the ACT. Due to the pandemic, ACT has been prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer above-level testing for our 7th-9th grade students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, visit for specific information and email to be added to the notification list. ACT testing is not required, but it is highly recommended.
  5. 4th-6th graders take I-Excel. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are flexible to schedule. However, 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. I-Excel testing will be required for students interested in taking 6th-7th grade courses next school year, so we highly recommend testing eligible 5th and 6th graders this year.
  6. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.


  • The cost for ACT registration will be announced at a later time. Students testing through the Belin-Blank Center will receive access to individualized reports explaining their test results and comparing them to other talented students in the same grade.
  • The cost for I-Excel is $45 per student when groups of 4 or more students are testing.  Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in the past 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations to try out I-Excel with their students. Schools receive group results as well as individual student reports following I-Excel testing. Families also receive the individualized report.
  • For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are available for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

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

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Students’ Needs— 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

Update on IOAPA’s Computer Science Courses

This year, there are some changes with IOAPA’s computer science (CS) courses. Our curriculum for these courses is now provided by a non-profit organization called ProjectSTEM.

So, what will this transition look like for IOAPA students and mentors?  Much of the experience will be the same as before. The course material is the same, but there are some slight differences within the platform. You can find helpful information for navigating ProjectSTEM’s website on their help center or reach their support team at

Below are some helpful notes about this transition:

  • Be sure to keep an eye out for emails from Project STEM. This includes adding emails from the domain to your safe sender list.   
  • Our middle school course formerly called Introduction to Computer Science is now called CS Python Fundamentals.  
  • The CS Python Fundamentals course is only offered as a full year course. A one-semester option is not available.

A common question about our CS courses is what does “more mentor involvement” look like? Mentors do not need to have any previous CS teaching experience or knowledge to facilitate a course within ProjectSTEM. The curriculum and lessons for these courses are already prepared. Additionally, the majority of assignments are assigned grades automatically as your students submit them. This is particularly true in the CS Python Fundamentals and AP Computer Science A courses.

The AP Computer Science Principles course requires the most mentor involvement, as has always been the case. This course requires students to submit some essay questions that need to be graded by mentors. However, these assignments have a rubric in the Teacher Resource Sidebar, which gives mentors the information they will need to accurately grade the essays. Additionally, mentors and students can ask ProjectSTEM’s Teacher Assistant team questions in their forums. While teacher assistants cannot make grading decisions, they can provide guidance and answer specific questions mentors may have about the content.

For more information about ProjectSTEM, visit their help center. If you have more specific questions, contact their support team at And as always, please feel free to reach out to the IOAPA team with any questions or concerns at

IOAPA Registration is Open for Fall 2021

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) offers Iowa students free access to online advanced course offerings for students who would otherwise be unable to find these courses offered in their school district.

Additionally, the Belin-Blank Center provides AP exam scholarships to eligible IOAPA students each semester, in an effort to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa.

IOAPA registration for Fall 2021 classes is now open! This includes full-year courses, as well as one-semester fall courses. Registration for Spring 2022 one-semester courses will open in November.

Visit our website for a wealth of helpful information, including our course catalog, important dates, registration, and information about getting started along with support materials designed to help you and your student make decisions about course selection.


  • 15 AP courses are available to high school students. 
  • 14 courses are available to middle school students. These courses are designed for high school students and made available to students in grades 6-8. While not yet required, we still recommend above-level testing as the best method in identifying students for advanced coursework. When in doubt, you can also review our guidelines here.

Course descriptions and syllabi for each course can be located by clicking “Learn More” on the course’s entry in our Course Catalog.


To begin, visit our website ( and review the Getting Started information. When you are ready to register, navigate back to and click Register.

Step-by-step course registration instructions are included below:

  • Register your school and assign a site coordinator and mentor. The first step is for principals to register their schools. They can do that on our website ( by clicking on Register. As part of this step, schools assign a site coordinator and a mentor. They can be the same person or different people; however, the mentor needs to be a certified teacher at the school.
  • Nominate the student(s) taking IOAPA course(s). Completing the school registration page sends the principal an automated email with a link in it to nominate the student. The principal either needs to complete the nomination or forward the link to the site coordinator or mentor to complete.
  • Confirm that student has self-enrolled in the course. Once the student has been nominated, an email will be automatically sent to the student to enroll himself/herself in the actual course. Be sure to have students check their junk mail folders, as the automated emails sometimes get filtered there. Students should complete this process and be sure to click submit when they’re done.

After registering, be sure to complete any College Board requirements for offering AP courses:

  • Register your school with the College Board.
  • Complete the AP Course Audit process for Online/Distance Learning courses by the end of January in order to be able to label courses as “AP” on students’ transcripts.
  • Encourage high school students to take the AP exam, and order all AP exams by the College Board’s deadline.

As always, please feel free to reach out to us at with any questions or concerns.

AP® Exam Scholarship Winners!

Congratulations to our AP Scholarship Exam recipients! The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. Funding is still available for Fall and Spring IOAPA AP students! If you have students that are eligible, please apply for this funding by the final deadline of February 26, 2021. Please click here for access to this online application.

Visual Guide to IOAPA Middle School Courses

To aid in decisions about spring enrollment, we are excited to share the IOAPA Middle School Course infographic. This infographic uses data from 2019-2020 IOAPA students. This, along with our high school infographic and other useful information, can be found on our website, in the “Being Successful” section of the page. On this page, you can also find our course catalog and more information about individual course options.

Visual Guide to IOAPA High School Courses

To aid in decisions about spring enrollment, we are excited to share the IOAPA High School Course infographic. This infographic uses data from 2019-2020 IOAPA students. This, along with our middle school infographic and other useful information, can be found on our website. On this page, you can also find our course catalog and more information about individual course options.