Author Archives: kschabilion

Helping Students Overcome Overcommitments

As this article from Galin Education states, “high school students are busy.” Especially as they consider college and job applications, students feel compelled to say “yes” to every request or opportunity that arises, because each challenging course, volunteer opportunity, or extracurricular activity seems to increase their future prospects. This can be especially true for gifted students, who often excel in multiple areas and may be encouraged to be involved in every group, club, and sport in addition to challenging coursework. However, when students spend every waking minute (and many minutes when they should be sleeping) working to complete all their obligations, it leaves little time to develop their own interests and passions or to relax and engage in leisure activities.overachieverOf course, enrolling in challenging coursework and participating in volunteer and extracurricular activities are worthy commitments. There is a line, though, where students go from being involved to being overcommitted. Teachers and parents can help students examine and evaluate their involvements and make changes as needed.

Suggestions for Overcoming Overcommitments: From the article linked above, this article from the American Psychological Association, and this article from Gifted Child Quarterly.

  • Encourage students to consider why they are involved in each activity. For example, are they involved merely to impress selection committees, friends, or parents, or are they driven by interest?
    • Gifted students may be overwhelmingly involved, but they are interested in all of their activities. In this case, they might need someone to help them prioritize.
  •  Help students examine their schedules: Over a typical day or week, what responsibilities are mandatory? How much time is left for other activities?
  • Teach students how to say “no” and mean it: Students may feel powerless to turn down involvement, and end up committing to something out of an inability to say “no”. This can be especially relevant for high-achieving students with a desire to help solve everyone’s problems.
  • Equip students with time management skills. Help them understand how much time to devote to their responsibilities, and how to schedule time for leisure and relaxation.

Do you think your IOAPA students are overcommitted? How do you support them?

In Case You Missed It – Staying Motivated in IOAPA Courses

This post was previously published in September 2014. Enjoy!

There is no getting around it—online APTM courses can be difficult to complete.  This can be especially true for students whose drive dwindles during the semester.  With that in mind, how can IOAPA students boost their motivation?

Create a realistic schedule

Given that IOAPA students must structure study time more so than students who take classroom-based courses, it is crucial that they create realistic work schedules.  A mistake commonly made by teenagers and adults alike is to assume tasks take a shorter time to complete than they actually do.  Students should thus plan sufficient time for each course assignment.  Furthermore, they must recognize when to say no to activities that will not fit into their schedules.  Students who know their limits and create balanced work schedules are less likely to feel burnout and low motivation.

Work efficiently and take breaks

Learning to work efficiently allows students to set aside time for when they focus on assignments and in turn, time when they step away from work.  In other words, students should reserve a specified amount of time in which time they will focus all energy on the task at hand.  Some researchers suggest working in 90-minute intervals.  Once the work period is over, they take a break.  Incorporating fun and relaxing activities into each day allows for renewal.

Check that perfectionism

Some high-achieving students expect perfection and may be less than enthused to take courses in which they will not receive an A.  This expectation is unrealistic—especially for demanding activities like APTM courses—and may prevent students from engaging in rewarding yet challenging experiences.  At the same time, high perfectionism can be unhealthy in that being overly self-critical decreases well-being and increases the risk for depression.  That is not to say that striving for excellence is bad; in truth, this same desire is linked to positive outcomes like hope and school achievement.  Some students (and adults!) may simply benefit from acknowledging that perfection is rarely necessary for a job well done.

Review goals

Regularly reviewing personal goals reminds students why they chose to take online APTM courses.  Students who keep their long-term goals in mind remember that they are not just studying for exams but rather are preparing themselves for college.  Recalling goals may also allow students to reconnect with passion for course topics or the desire to prove to themselves that they can meet the challenge.

Selected Resources                                                                                                                       Stoeber, J., & Rambow, A. (2007). Perfectionism in adolescent school students: Relations with motivation, achievement, and well-being. Personality and Individual Differences42(7), 1379-1389.                                                                                                                                          Williams, K. C., & Williams, C. C. (2011). Five key ingredients for improving student motivation. Research in Higher Education Journal12, 1-23.

Recognizing Stress and Helping Students Manage


Now that we’ve passed the halfway point of the semester, it’s likely that students are beginning to feel the pressure of upcoming assignments, projects and tests for their IOAPA courses or otherwise. Here are some tips for recognizing stress in your students (or yourself!) and ways to manage it.

Recognizing Stress: and suggest looking out for

  • Physical illness or pain with no medical explanation
  • Over-the-top emotional reactions or increased aggression
  • Decreased effort in school or on homework
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  • Unhealthy and dramatic behavior changes, including engaging in more risky behaviors (drinking, smoking)
  • Increased sadness, depression, or isolation from family or friends

Managing Stress: and the American Psychological Association recommend

  • Helping teens understand their own feelings by talking to them about what’s bothering them
  • Helping students break big projects down into manageable chunks if they are a source of stress
  • Celebrating small victories and achievements to help improve self-esteem
  • Finding appropriate ways for teens to blow off steam (exercise, engaging in favorite activities, etc.)
  • Being clear about your expectations to help reduce worries about letting you down
    • It’s also important to consider whether your expectations are appropriate for your student
  • Creating a safe harbor by maintaining routines and rituals that can offer a sense of security
  • Modeling healthy behaviors to manage your own stress – actions speak louder than words!

Other Resources: The University of Iowa Counseling Service (UCS) devoted an issue of their newsletter to stress and anxiety, and it is available here. UCS also has a list of stress management strategies on their website. You can also consult our previous blog post on this topic for more strategies and resources.

A (New) Visual Guide to High School IOAPA Courses

Although Iowa Online AP Academy has been offering Advanced Placement classes to high school students in Iowa since 2001, students and schools often wonder which students may best benefit from certain IOAPA classes. Check out our visual guide to AP classes based on data from the 2015-2016 school year!

If you need more information on IOAPA, visit our website. For a visual guide to our middle school courses, check out this post.


Spring IOAPA Registration is Approaching!

blackboard-583692Spring registration for Iowa Online AP Academy courses will open on November 7 and continue through December 14, 2016. Seats will be limited, so be sure to register promptly if you can! Available high school courses are: AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, AP Psychology, and AP US Government. Available middle school courses are: Creative Writing, Introduction to Computer Science, Probability and Statistics, Psychology, and Honors US History to the Civil War.

To register, visit our website ( If your school registered with IOAPA in the fall, there’s 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 take I-Excel, the new online test developed by the Belin-Blank Center, and 7th and 8th graders 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, and information about the AP exam and free AP Exam Reviews available to all Iowa AP students.

Still deciding what class might be a good fit for your student? We created a visual guide to IOAPA middle school courses based on last year’s course outcomes, and the high school guide is coming soon! Stay tuned to the blog for that and much more on IOAPA courses and other topics relevant to IOAPA teachers, parents, and students.

Questions? Visit our website!

A (New) Visual Guide to Middle School IOAPA Courses

With the introduction of our middle school courses in Fall 2015, many students and teachers may still have questions about the types of courses offered by the Iowa Online AP Academy, who these classes might benefit, and how to select students who will be prepared for and challenged by online coursework.

Based on the information and experiences we have gathered so far, we are excited to provide a visual guide to our middle school classes! These data are based on middle school Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) courses taken during the 2015-2016 school year. We hope they will be helpful as you and your students consider IOAPA registration in Spring 2017 and beyond.

If you are looking for more information about IOAPA’s middle school classes, check out our past posts on middle school courses and above-level testing, or visit our website. Make sure to check back here soon for our guide to high school courses!


Middle School IOAPA and High School Credit

Advanced coursework is extremely beneficial for high ability students at all levels. At the secondary level, though, concerns about earning credits and grades may influence the decision to offer or take appropriately challenging coursework.

Schools often have difficulty determining how to assign credit for advanced coursework, especially at the middle school level. When middle school students take high school-level courses, it can be difficult to decide whether to assign credit for those courses at the middle school level, high school level, or both. See this post for more conversation on that issue.

Once a school decides how to grant credit, another conversation arises. If a middle school student is earning high school credit for a course, should their grade for that course be applied to their high school transcript? What if the grade is lower than the student typically earns and there are concerns about high school GPA and class rank?

We heard from one school about how they handled this situation: School personnel, parents, and students were concerned that by taking a challenging high school math course in middle school, the students’ high school GPAs will be affected before they even enter high school. As a result of these concerns, this school chose to offer the course as pass/fail, rather than as a graded course. This allowed the students to take the advanced course in middle school and earn high school credit, without their final grades being assigned on their high school transcript.

High school graduation requirements are another important consideration in handling this situation, however. In this particular school’s example, ungraded courses do not count toward the required number of courses in the content area. (For example, if a student needs 4 graded English courses to graduate, and they take the advanced Creative Writing course as pass/fail, that course would not count toward the graduation requirement.) This school gave students the option to convert the pass/fail marker assigned for the course taken in middle school back to the grade they received, therefore allowing that course to count toward the graduation requirement. They could make this change at any point in their high school career.

This allowance is important, because it makes it possible for students to complete high school requirements earlier than typical, opening up time in their schedules for further acceleration – including (but not limited to) early high school graduation and early entrance to college.

Let us know how your school handles credit conundrums using #IOAPA or in the comments below. For more information about IOAPA for middle school students, check out our middle school blog series or the IOAPA website.

Comparing AP and Other College Credit Opportunities

Periodically, we review Iowa students’ options for earning college credit. This post is an adaptation of an earlier post from September 2014.

We have discussed some of the differences between AP and other ways to earn college credit in the past, but the various options for students are many and often overwhelming. Why might Iowa Online AP Academy courses be a good fit compared to other options?

What are my options for college-level coursework as a high school student?

  • Advanced Placement (AP) is a nationally recognized program administered by the College Board. Students have the option to enroll in a wide range of different courses and take an exam in May. In Iowa, schools also have the opportunity to participate in the Iowa Online AP Academy, which allows high school students to enroll in online AP coursework for courses their school may not offer.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) is another widely-used program in which high school students enroll in an advanced curriculum and then take examinations for college credit. One main difference between AP and IB is that IB is a curriculum-centered program in which you enroll in several IB courses at once.
  • Concurrent Enrollment is an initiative offered by the state of Iowa that allows high school students to enroll in community college courses while still in high school.
  • Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) also allows high school students to enroll part-time at either two- or four-year colleges or universities.

How do credits transfer for these options?

  • AP: Passing an AP exam with a score of 3 or higher generally allows students to earn either advanced standing (by waiving otherwise required courses) or credits (as if the student had taken and passed the course) for entry-level college courses. For example, receiving a 4 or higher on the AP Biology exam gives you credit for a specific University of Iowa course (BIOL:1140 Human Biology) that might apply towards your degree.
  • IB: If students pass an IB exam with a score above a certain threshold (at the University of Iowa, this threshold is a 5 or higher), then the student may receive course credit for required or general education courses.
  • Concurrent Enrollment and PSEO: Generally, if students pass their class with a C- or higher, they receive college credit. However, this credit may or may not transfer to their post-secondary institution of choice. For example, passing Bio 112 (General Biology I) at Kirkwood Community College transfers in as a natural science general education elective at the University of Iowa, rather than as a specific course in a degree area (which the AP score example above earns).

What does the Iowa Online AP Academy offer that other programs do not?

The Iowa Online AP Academy framework works with your high school curriculum so that you can take advanced classes that are of interest to you. In addition, Advanced Placement courses are nationally recognized as a way to earn college course credit at many colleges and universities across the nation. Finally, as an online program, IOAPA also offers flexibility that traditional courses may not in terms of scheduling, as well as practice with online course formats.

Will Iowa Online AP Academy courses prepare students in the same ways as traditional AP courses?

Iowa Online AP Program students who take the AP exam generally perform just as well as, if not better than, students who participate in traditional AP courses.  Students who enroll in IOAPA courses also tend to successfully complete them—during the 2015-2016 school year, the completion rate for IOAPA high school courses was 95.6%, and of those students,  90% successfully passed their course.

How can I learn more?

You can learn more about IOAPA by visiting our website. The University of Iowa’s AP credit policy is here, or you can visit the College Board’s AP Credit Policy database for the policies of other colleges and universities. You can also read about the state of Iowa’s Senior Year Plus initiative for more specifics on earning college credit in high school.


Resources for AP Students

One benefit of Advanced Placement courses is that there are plenty of resources specifically designed to align with the course content. We rounded up several of those resources for students to support their AP experience.

  • College Board resources:
    • AP for Students:  This website contains information about AP in general and AP exam scores and credit and placement policies, and is also where students go to access their AP scores from previous years.
    • AP Courses: On this page, you’ll find links to sites for each AP course. These sites include course details and study skills relevant to that particular course. For example, on the AP US History course page, students can access study tips for reading and writing, as well as sample exam questions and tips.
  • Non-College Board resources: Note: These sites are not affiliated with or endorsed by College Board.
    • Albert – Test Prep: This site includes practice exam questions for 27 different AP courses.
    • Study Notes: This website contains chapter outlines and study notes for 7 AP courses.
    • BestAPBooks: This site offers lists of the best books to use to prepare for AP exams in 31 subjects.
  • Twitter accounts:

For IOAPA-related questions, visit or contact us by email. Do you know of other resources for AP students? Tell us in the comments or using #IOAPA.

Nonacademic Skills and IOAPA Students

I came across this article from Education Week on the importance of nonacademic skills for learning, and it inspired me to think about how these skills might affect IOAPA students. In this context, we’ll use the term ‘nonacademic skills’ to refer to skills and attributes not measured by traditional standardized testing, including things like self-regulation, growth mindset, and problem-solving skills.

Research suggests that many bright students may experience perfectionism and competitiveness, and may have difficulty tolerating frustration and managing stress. In addition, when faced with challenge, students’ self-esteem may suffer. IOAPA coursework is likely more difficult than anything students have previously experienced, and this may be an unpleasant shock and result in unexpected issues.

In order to help our students overcome these challenges, we must first understand what areas are in need of support. One way to accomplish this is to use tools like ACT Engage (free to schools through the Belin-Blank Center!) to find areas in which each student may need additional attention. Other ways to assess nonacademic skills include questionnaires, observations, and interviews.

Once we know the areas in which students need help, what can we do to support them? Above all, it is important to encourage hard work and to decrease the focus on earning high grades. In addition, teachers must recognize that high academic achievement does not necessarily mean that the student is similarly mature across domains; students may have the academic skills to understand the content, but may lack the study or time management skills necessary to succeed in high-level coursework. They might need instruction on these skills to achieve success.

What strategies do you have for supporting students’ nonacademic needs? Let us know in the comments or using #IOAPA.


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.

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

The 2016 Iowa AP Index Is Out!

2016 Index

The 2016 Iowa AP Index has been released, and for the eighth straight year, George Washington High School in Cedar Rapids is the Top School in AP participation. The Index, calculated using the previous year’s AP exam and graduation data, recognizes the Top 50 schools in Iowa for their commitment to offering advanced learning opportunities through the College Board’s Advanced Placement program.

The Index reflects one facet of service delivery, rather than overall quality. However, “schools that make [advanced learning] opportunities available to the students are clearly committed to the success of the entire student body,” said Dr. Susan Assouline, director of the Belin-Blank Center.

To learn more about the Index, and to see the top 50 AP schools in Iowa, visit

APTTI Is Approaching – Register Today!

APTTI LogoThere is still time to register for the Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI)! The summer institute for teachers is less than a month away (July 5-9), and it’s a great opportunity for teachers to gain training and work towards the AP Course Audit required by the College Board. Courses include AP Macroeconomics (new in 2016!), AP Psychology, and AP Spanish Language and Culture. A full list of courses, along with course syllabi and letters from the instructors, can be found here.

Participants can earn Iowa Licensure Renewal Units, graduate-level credit, or other credit options by attending this Institute. You can learn more about APTTI, including course offerings, registration information, and credit policies, by visiting our website at

We can’t wait to see you at the University of Iowa for this year’s APTTI!