Author Archives: kschabilion

Making Objective Decisions about Students Taking Advanced Courses

As 2017 comes to a close, you may be starting to think about planning for next year. Maybe you have students who have already mastered the classroom curriculum, and you’re not sure how to keep them challenged and engaged. Perhaps your district is trying to identify students who are ready for additional challenge. Or maybe you have students interested in taking advanced courses, but you’re not sure if they would qualify, or what classes they should take. Above-level testing can help with all of these issues.

Looking back on this year, one of our most exciting developments has been the partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS), our above-level testing program. We’ve rounded up some of the posts we’ve shared over the past several months for use in implementing BESTS and IOAPA for your high ability students.

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

Helping Iowa Teachers Discover Students Who Are Ready for Advanced Online Courses — This post summarizes the connection between BESTS and IOAPA and provides steps for implementation.

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.

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My 4th-6th Grade Students are Taking I-Excel Soon: How Do I Help Them Get Ready? — Guidelines for preparing students for an above-level test are discussed.

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 www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility — Specific guidelines for determining eligibility for IOAPA courses are presented here.

Making Sense of Test Scores This post provides an overview of IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration.

We hope these posts are useful as you begin preparing to implement BESTS and IOAPA for the 2018-2019 school year. Feel free to visit belinblank.org/talent-search and belinblank.org/ioapa for more information on the programs, or email assessment@belinblank.org or ioapa@belinblank.org with additional questions.

Scholarships and Programs for IOAPA Students

While the end of the year is often a time for looking back on the year that’s passed, it’s also a time for looking and planning ahead for the summer and the coming year. We’ve rounded up some relevant programs and scholarships for IOAPA students, from incoming sixth graders to college-bound seniors. Please note that inclusion on this list does not indicate an endorsement by the Belin-Blank Center or the University of Iowa.

Summer Programs for IOAPA Students

  • Belin-Blank Center Summer Programs: The Belin-Blank Center has a wide variety of residential opportunities for students in grades 6 through 11, including advanced courses in areas of interest, advanced research opportunities, and immersive residencies in art and writing. Information regarding these programs is available at belinblank.org/summer, and nomination materials for most programs will become available shortly.
  • Residential Summer Programs Across the Country: The Davidson Institute compiled a list of residential summer programs for high ability students all over the country. View the list here.
  • Summer Day Camps Across the Country: The Davidson Institute has also compiled a list of day camps for high ability students arranged by state. This list is available here.

Scholarships Relevant to IOAPA Students

  • Scholarships for Gifted Students: The Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page has a section devoted to college scholarships, some of which are relevant to high ability students. In addition, the Davidson Institute has lists of scholarships for younger gifted students and older gifted students for attending summer enrichment programs or recognizing achievements.
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarships: The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has many ways to meet the needs of high ability students, including scholarships for students in middle school and high school. The College Scholarship application period has ended for this year, but will be available again next September.
  • Scholarships for Rural Students: There are a number of scholarships specifically for rural students. Some opportunities include the Hagan Scholarship Foundation, the Foundation for Rural Service, and the America’s Farmers: Grow Ag Leaders scholarship.

Additional programs and scholarships may be available through local companies, schools, and universities. It’s never too early to plan for the future – hopefully this list will help jump start your planning!

ICYMI – When IOAPA Staff are Stretched Thin

As you begin to wrap up one semester and plan for the next, we hope this information, originally published in January 2016, will be useful!

In many rural schools, staff take on multiple roles in order to provide a wealth of experiences to their students. However, this often means that teachers are stretched thin in terms of time and resources available for working with students. In many instances, gifted education programs are hardest hit. Gifted coordinators in rural areas often work with students at all grade levels and may not interact with their students every day given the many tasks they have to complete. For our IOAPA schools, this sometimes presents challenges in terms of monitoring student progress, assessing for concerns or difficulties with courses or technology, and working to build relationships where students can ask for help. How can IOAPA coordinators make their program successful despite these constraints?

  • Develop a learning plan with your students. Although most students benefit from clear goals and plans to accomplish them, a learning plan or contract may be particularly useful for IOAPA coordinators filling multiple roles. The learning plan can be used not only to address content or course-specific goals, but also to ask for student input on how you as a site coordinator can best support them and help them meet their goals. Through development of a learning plan with your students, coordinators can know what student goals are for the course as well as strategies that might be useful for success.
  • Plan for check-in daily (even if not face to face). Although online courses encourage students to work independently, it is often still helpful to know that the site coordinators and mentors at their school are available for support. For teachers who many not interact with their students daily, checking in using technology or planning for a regular status update from your students can help you keep tabs on students who may be struggling.
  • Find someone to support your students on-site while they work. If you aren’t available on-site for your IOAPA students’ courses due to scheduling conflicts, make sure that they have someone available to supervise and ensure they are working on their IOAPA coursework. This can range from arranging for students to sit with other teachers during prep periods or study halls or finding teachers to act as mentors (more on that below).
  • Plan for time when students can ask questions. Another key part of supporting your students is ensuring availability for answering questions and providing support even if you do not interact with them regularly. Site coordinators might implement time before or after school for answering questions for their students on a regular basis. Another tool IOAPA site coordinators might use is setting up progress meetings at set points throughout the semester. Progress meetings will allow for face-to-face contact with your students and will help you identify areas in which they might need additional support.
  • Ask an on-site teacher to act as a mentor. Participation in IOAPA requires the establishment of a designated site coordinator and mentor to provide on-site support to your IOAPA students. Although many schools choose to have only one person in these roles, such as the TAG Coordinator, schools can choose to designate a separate mentor or mentors for their IOAPA students. The TAG Coordinator would then take on responsibilities related to the IOAPA site coordinator position while the on-the-ground work would become part of the IOAPA mentor’s duties. For IOAPA site coordinators who fill multiple roles, this can be a good way for a staff member on-site to build a relationship with your IOAPA students and aid in navigating any challenges that students might experience. We recommend considering mentors for your students who:
    • Are available in some way during your IOAPA student’s class time (this might include having students work independently in the classroom while the mentor teaches so that the mentor can check in on them)
    • Are trusted by the mentee. The student may have already developed a relationship with them from previous courses or activities, which can create a system of accountability.
    • Can contribute meaningfully to their IOAPA course due to shared experiences with the student. Although it is not a requirement that a mentor be an expert in the course subject, mentors who can relate personally to the student as well as aid in learning course material can be beneficial when students are feeling struck.
    • Provide feedback with high expectations and belief in abilities. Mentors often act as one of the primary encouragers to their students—by knowing that the mentors are part of their support network, students may be more likely to persist when coursework becomes challenging.

Other ideas and sources of support for IOAPA site coordinators and mentors can be found in the IOAPA Handbook or through participation in the IOAPA Mentor Network. For more about the IOAPA model, visit our website at belinblank.org/ioapa.

Computer Science Education in Iowa

At the end of April, then-Governor Branstad signed Senate File 274 into law, establishing goals for expanding computer science education opportunities for Iowa students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Read more about the bill here. These goals include: offering at least one CS course in each high school and offering basic and exploratory computer science instruction in each elementary and middle school.

The bill also created a work group to make recommendations for meeting these goals by July 1, 2019. The Computer Science Education Work Group released their final report last week. The report includes detailed recommendations for using CS courses to satisfy graduation requirements, integrating CS courses into a career and technical education (CTE) pathway, ensuring equitable access by offering courses in a number of settings, developing a scope and sequence for CS education, and using the CS professional development fund to meet goals. It will be exciting to see these recommendations turn into actions to expand CS education access to all students in Iowa.

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Through the Iowa Online AP Academy, high-ability Iowa students in 6th through 12th grades can access above-level CS coursework, and teachers can take advantage of professional development opportunities. Registration for our spring-semester Introduction to Computer Science course for students in 6th-9th grades is available now; visit our website for more on courses and registration.

Course Resources for IOAPA Mentors

The Iowa Online AP Academy consistently strives to provide the best possible support for our mentors, and we are proud to partner with course vendors who share that goal. Both Apex and Edhesive provide extensive resources to facilitate the use of the course platforms and to promote best practices in online learning. Some of these resources, including a new webinar series for AP Computer Science A, will be described below.

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Edhesive
For our computer science mentors, several course functionalities have been discussed in some detail in previous blog posts, like this one and this one. Edhesive has curated course-specific Support sections, available to each coach (a.k.a. mentor) through their Edhesive dashboard. Support materials in this section include information about teaching in blended classrooms, specific information about course tools such as Code Runner, and resources to guide course pacing to facilitate on-time completion of the material.

In addition to these materials, Edhesive recently presented a series of webinars for AP Computer Science A coaches. The three webinars in this series discuss: getting started with AP CSA; tips, tricks, and tools for using Canvas; and suggestions for maximizing use of the forums. These webinars were recorded, and can be viewed by AP Computer Science A mentors by visiting the Help section (as indicated in the screenshot below) and scrolling to the last module.

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Apex Learning
For the rest of our mentors, Apex Learning offers several methods for obtaining support. In Help Home, which can be accessed from the mentor dashboard, mentors will find Getting Started guides for staff and students, which present information on using the course platform. In addition, there are course-specific syllabi and guides to provide an overview of course content and aid in pacing. Finally, in the Help Home section, mentors can find answers to many “How To” questions concerning the course platform.

Another useful support resource through Apex is the Educator Academy. In this section, you can find video modules and webinars on using different features of the course site, as well as program resources to inform implementation of online learning options at the school level. Some aspects of implementation are guided by participation through IOAPA, but examination of these resources may help guide decisions about school-level policies and practices around IOAPA courses specifically, and online learning in general. In addition, the Educator Academy includes a Community feature in which all teachers of Apex courses can read and pose questions for other teachers and Apex staff.

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We hope the support resources highlighted here can be of assistance. We also have a wealth of support resources on our website, www.belinblank.org/ioapa. Visit the Support Materials section to view the Handbook, our infographics, and other resources for selecting and implementing IOAPA courses. Don’t forget, spring registration for IOAPA opened this week, and classes will fill up quickly. Get the registration process started today!

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility

The partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) is a great way to connect talented students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities.

Eligibility for IOAPA middle school courses is determined through use of grade-level (Iowa Assessments) and above-level (I-Excel or ACT) assessments. BESTS recommends nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing. (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)

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Scores at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test are indicative of a need for additional challenge, such as that provided by IOAPA courses. For further discussion of above-level testing and using the scores, check out our past blog posts, especially this one and this one. Above-level assessments can provide individual domain scores specific to each content area measured, and an overall composite score reflecting performance across areas.

IOAPA recommends using content-area scores, rather than overall scores, to ensure that advanced learning opportunities are available to all talented students in their area(s) of strength. I-Excel and ACT both yield scores in Science, Mathematics, English, and Reading. ACT also includes a Writing section that yields its own score. The table below details the relevant content area score(s) for each of our IOAPA middle school courses.

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In addition to the guidelines in the table above, consideration of course prerequisites can be useful when debating in what subject area(s) students should qualify. This information is available from the IOAPA course catalog by clicking “Learn more.” under the course(s) of interest.

For additional information on BESTS, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search or email assessment@belinblank.org. For further information on IOAPA, visit www.belinblank.org/ioapa or email ioapa@belinblank.org.

Why IOAPA?

As we approach the beginning of spring registration, students might be wondering why they should consider taking AP courses in general, and IOAPA courses specifically. Here are just a few reasons we feel strongly about making online advanced learning opportunities available for students.

  • IOAPA courses extend opportunities not available in person. For many students in Iowa, geography and school resources can too often dictate the opportunities to which they have access. IOAPA reduces these influences by providing free, online courses and AP Exam Reviews, and partnering with schools to make in-person support and AP Exams available.
  • IOAPA courses allow for flexibility in learning. IOAPA courses are scheduled into students’ regular school day, which increases opportunities for accessing support and likelihood of completing the work. However, the courses are independent, which allows students to set their own goals and priorities and complete the work on their terms. This flexibility and independence enables students to practice and develop skills beyond those taught in the coursework.
  • Online courses offer unique challenges. In addition to the rigor of above-level courses, IOAPA students learn how to navigate a virtual learning environment, manage time with other commitments, and advocate for their educational needs. IOAPA is a great learning environment for online courses because it provides students with additional support as they become familiar with the process of online learning. As enrollment in online courses increases, early experiences with the nuances of online coursework prepare students for this unique learning situation.
  • AP courses are nationally recognized. Because AP courses are administered by The College Board, class standards are consistent regardless of where or how you complete the course. Receiving AP exam credit demonstrates a certain level of proficiency that colleges and universities can then use to determine placement. Also, it’s easy to determine how credits might transfer regardless of where you attend college using the database managed by The College Board.
  • Colleges like AP. Researchers in higher education have found relationships between AP participation and achievement, readiness, and college degree attainment. Reporting a commitment to academic challenge like taking AP courses early on reflects positively on students’ drive to succeed post-high school.

If these reasons have been convincing, head over to our website, www.belinblank.org/ioapa for more information, including the course catalog and registration procedures. Spring registration opens November 1, 2017.