Category Archives: Acceleration

How We’re Supporting Academic Talent in Rural Iowa

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently published a new report on rural education programs that develop academic talent. The report, “Small Town, Big Talent: Identifying and Supporting Academically Promising Students in Rural Areas”, highlighted the work that is being done across the state of Iowa through the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, administered by the Belin-Blank Center.

The program takes place extracurricularly in rural school districts throughout the state. Teachers identify talented middle-school students with interests in math and science, increase their aspirations, and engage them in advanced, in-depth coursework to prepare them for STEM opportunities at the highest levels.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s report makes the following recommendations for organizations and educators working with rural schools. Here’s how Iowa’s STEM Excellence and Leadership program realizes these 9 ideals. 

  1. Use quantitative testing appropriately. We believe that every child deserves to learn something new every day, including the ones that ace every test. It’s often the case that bright students are ready to learn things beyond the level of the grade they are in—but how can you tell what level would be more appropriate for a particular student? One way, called above-level testing, is to give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. In the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and at the Belin-Blank Center, we use above-level testing to uncover information about a student’s academic abilities and learning needs, helping parents and teachers discover what that student is ready to learn. Learn more.
  2. Use educator and community feedback. The STEM Excellence and Leadership program is grounded in the philosophy of place-based learning and provides support for educators to have agency in shaping their local programs around the needs and interests of their students and communities. This means that each program implements a unique curriculum that leverages local strengths, opportunities, and needs. Local districts have strong voices in their programs, which have incorporated prairie restorations, algebra, rocketry, butterfly gardens, probability, robotics, statistics, and invention conventions.
  3. Use student interviews. We gather feedback from STEM Excellence and Leadership students by visiting classrooms, conducing focus groups, and sending out surveys. Understanding how students experience our programs is key to living up to our ideals and knowing the extent to which we are truly inspiring excellence and nurturing potential.
  4. Pay special attention to underserved populations. Research shows that rural students have fewer STEM educational opportunities, are less likely to attend a four-year college, and less likely to major in STEM than their urban and suburban peers. We believe talent is not bound by zip code and neither should be opportunities for advanced STEM learning.
  5. Expose promising rural students to people and opportunities outside their home communities and connect talented students with older, near-peer role models cultivating a robust peer community. Students who participate in the STEM Excellence and Leadership program come together in the spring to attend a Student Research Conference at the University of Iowa. There, they learn about research conducted by undergraduate students from rural Iowa communities and hear presentations from Iowa high school students conducting original research. Scholarships sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation are also available to support STEM Excellence and Leadership students in attending Belin-Blank Center summer programs, where they spend their days taking a deep dive into a topic of their choice with like-minded peers. Through these summer programs, students have access to valuable university-level resources and experts. They also live in a residence hall with their classmates and get a taste of life as university students. 
  6. When possible, provide consistent engagement throughout the year. STEM Excellence and Leadership is a year-long program with a fall and spring session. With programming before school, after school, on the weekends, and during the summer, STEM Excellence and Leadership programs create bountiful STEM opportunities for rural students throughout the year.
  7. Encourage professional development in schools. A hallmark of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program is that communities of teachers from a variety of disciplines come together to learn about the identification of STEM talent, the needs of gifted learners, and principles of math and science education. Summer professional development programs create communities that understand and support the development advanced STEM learning ecosystems within and across districts.
  8. Provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities. Through administering the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, we are able to support educators across the state in creating STEM ecosystems that provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities for rural students.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the Jack Kent Cook Foundation for a Rural Talent Initiative grant and a Talent Development Award that have supported the implementation of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and the Student Research Conference. Additionally, a National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant supports current STEM Excellence and Leadership programming and research and rural STEM talent development.

AP® vs. Concurrent Enrollment

Finding advanced coursework for gifted and high-achieving students is important. You may find yourself questioning where to begin and also wondering what is most beneficial for your student. This post helps to explain the similarities and differences between Advanced Placement® (AP®) and Concurrent / Dual Enrollment.

What is Advanced Placement® and Dual Enrollment?

  • Advanced Placement®  (AP®) is a nationally standardized 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.
  • 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.

How do credits transfer?

  • Advanced Placement®: Passing an AP® exam with a score of 3 or higher generally allows students to earn either advanced standing or course credit for entry-level college courses, depending on the university’s requirements. That is, students may obtain required elective credits or course credits (as if the student had taken and passed the course at the university) for entry-level college courses. For example, at the University of Iowa, receiving a 4 or higher on the AP® Biology exam gives you credit for a specific entry-level biology course (BIOL:1140 Human Biology) that might apply towards your degree.
  • Concurrent Enrollment: 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, per University of Iowa policy: Course work earned at a two-year college may be applied toward up to one-half the credits required for a bachelor’s degree. Excess credit and grades will be used in computing your grade-point average (GPA) and may be used to satisfy course requirements, but they will not count toward the total hours needed for graduation from the university.

What does the research say?

A body of research has consistently demonstrated that taking AP® exams and achieving at least a 3 or higher is correlated with greater success in various ways in college. Specifically, a recent study (Wyatt, Patterson, & Giacomo, 2015) found that AP® students who scored a 3 or higher on at least one AP® exam had more positive college outcomes than dual enrollment students affiliated with a 2- or 4-year institution.

There is also much research suggesting that participation in AP® courses alone, without taking/passing AP® exams, is still beneficial for students attending college. This speaks to the concept of “college prep” and coincides with anecdotal responses from Iowa teachers that students were prepared for college courses and the students felt that college expectations were below the expectations for AP® courses!

For more information about the history of AP® and future initiatives, check out this podcast.

What does the Iowa Online AP® Academy offer?

The IOAPA framework works with your high school curriculum so that you can take advanced classes (i.e. Advanced Placement® courses) that are of interest to you. In addition, AP® 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?

IOAPA 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 2018-2019 school year, the completion rate for IOAPA high school courses was 93.3%, and of those students, 89.5% 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.

IOAPA: Semester Check-In

We are now over half way through the fall semester! We wanted to take the time to provide the IOAPA community with some resources that may be helpful for finishing the semester, as well as provide you with reminders and upcoming dates and deadlines.

There have many changes and added resources to AP® courses. Are you aware of all of these?

These changes have been implemented to make your role more streamlined from registration, to exam ordering, to test day.

  1. Click here to access a handout is quick guide to the new changes to AP® for AP® Coordinators.
  2. Click here for access to the AP® Coordinators Manual Part I (Part II will come out in March). This manual includes:
    1. What is new for 2019-2020
    2. 2020 AP® Exam schedule
    3. Exam ordering policies and deadlines
    4. Instructions about new exam registration and ordering processes

AP® Exam Registration and Ordering

Do you have questions with the new AP® Exam ordering process?

You will use your AP® student roster to update exam ordering information, including SSD accommodations, for each student. For more information, click here to watch a quick and helpful video from the College Board and click here for more detailed instructions.

What about my students who will only enroll in a one-term, spring semester course?
  • When students get enrolled into their spring semester courses with IOAPA, the AP® Coordinator will create the exam only sections for those students. There should not be a need to denote those sections as “second semester.”
  • APEX and Edhesive will enroll those students into “second semester” AP® Classroom sections on the College Board site.
  • When the school’s AP® Coordinator orders the exams for the one-term, spring semester students, the AP® Exam registration deadline is March 13, 2020.

Why did the College Board switch to ordering AP® Exams in the fall semester?

The College Board implemented a pilot program for fall AP® exam registration that included more than 800 schools and 180,000 AP® students in the fall of the 2018-2019 school year. Below is what the College Board noticed:

  • Students and teachers reported the students were more invested, committed, engaged, and focused.
  • When students register for the AP® Exam in the fall, 15% more students completed the exam.
  • Students’ chances of earning a 3 or higher increase when compared to students in schools with spring registration.
  • There was a 12% increase in the number of scores 3+ earned by minority students, and a 20% increase in the number of scores 3+ earned by low-income students.
AP® Exams Taken by Low-Income Students: Scores of 3+

For more information on the pilot study, click here, and click here to watch a short video to hear the experiences of teachers and students in the pilot study.

Reminder: The final deadline to order AP® Exams for fall registration is November 15th, 2019!

Advocating for Acceleration: Suggestions for Parents

A parent recently told us about her child’s teacher, who confidently stated, “Well, you know the research tells us that it’s a really bad idea for kids to start kindergarten early.” Another parent said that the climate at his children’s school is unsupportive of acceleration. When approached about the possibility of subject acceleration or grade acceleration, the principal simply said, “Kids who accelerate don’t fit in.”

Those of us who have read (and done some of) the research want to jump into those conversations with both feet, summarize 70 years of research, and demand accelerative opportunities for the children. This isn’t necessarily the best approach. Being an advocate for our children might mean introducing information slowly or finding ways to inform educators other than forcefully giving them a list of the “Top Ten Reasons My Child Should be Allowed to Accelerate.”

One important thing to mention up front is that, in general, educators simply are uninformed about acceleration. Believe it or not, even in graduate programs in gifted education, students don’t necessarily learn about the research and tools for acceleration, let alone how to practice acceleration in schools. Regular education teachers and administrators spend very little time in their undergraduate courses learning about gifted students, and even less time studying acceleration. All of this means that you, the parent, might be better informed than the educator sitting in front of you. It also means that the educator sitting in front of you might, with every good intention, believe that certain myths about acceleration are true.

Get ready. You might have to learn the information on your own, and you might be the one teaching your teachers and administrators about acceleration. Fear not! There are lots of tools to help you with this:

Learn the facts.  Research tells us that acceleration is often the most appropriate avenue for helping academically talented students find a match between their abilities and the curriculum available at their school. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute gathers the important research and information about acceleration in one place. Research articles, practical advice, video stories – it’s all there. Other great places to find information include the Hoagies Gifted website and the Davidson Institute website.

Share what you have learned. Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and Volume 1 of A Nation Deceived are both very approachable resources that a busy administrator or teacher can read quickly. You can download both of those documents for free from the websites linked above. If you want even more information about the research, read Volume 2 of A Nation Empowered.

Be reassured that there are objective tools that can help us know when it is appropriate to accelerate a student. You don’t have to make the decision about a grade skip or subject acceleration based on a “gut feeling.” The Iowa Acceleration Scale was designed to help families and educators work together to gather information, discuss important factors, and make an informed decision about a grade skip. Above-level testing is the essential tool for making decisions about subject acceleration.

Advocacy might also mean helping to write policy for your school or district. First, a caution: Policy work takes a long time. If you are trying to solve a problem for your child, focus on your child and the issues that are pertinent to your child. Don’t try to solve everything for everyone. Leave the policy for another day.  However, if you are in a position to help make things better for future students, this might be the time to have those policy discussions. The Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced a helpful document last year on Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. This should help you get started on writing defensible policies for acceleration.

OK. It may seem like a lot but have courage. You have the tools, you have the information, and you can be an effective advocate for your child’s acceleration. Go for it!

IOAPA: Continued Funding for AP Exams

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to announce the availability of scholarships to pay for the cost of Advanced Placement exams for low-income students in rural schools who are currently participating in IOAPA courses.

IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors: Make sure to apply for this funding opportunity by October 15! For more information and for access to the application, click here.

The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. If schools are already paying for AP exams, they should not request this funding. Funding is only available for students who are taking or have taken an IOAPA Advanced Placement (AP) course in the 2019-20 school year.

The per-exam cost for the 2019-20 school year is $64 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools should pay the $64 per student to the College Board. Schools should submit an invoice to the Belin-Blank Center after students have taken the AP exams along with documentation showing they have paid the College Board for these students’ exams. There will be no reimbursement if a student does not take the exam.

Awards will be announced by November 1, 2019.

As a reminder, the College Board’s new deadline to order AP exams is November 15, 2019.

Please email us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

2019: IOAPA + Edhesive

IOAPA has been providing computer science courses to students across Iowa since 2015! We are able to offer these opportunities because of our partnership with Edhesive, an online curriculum provider. Whether you are new to using Edhesive or have a few years of experience, it is always helpful to refresh with important tips and information, as well as changes within the online course provider! We hope this blog post serves as a resource for teachers mentoring for computer science IOAPA courses.

IOAPA Mentors’ Role:

Since Edhesive is not a credit-bearing institution, mentors will serve as the teacher of record at each school. Mentors and schools also decide how involved they want to be when offering Edhesive courses. However, mentors are responsible for the following six items:

  1. Setting up your course: Follow this link to learn how you can divide your course into grading periods and change/update student names in your gradebook.
  2. Helping students enroll: Follow this link to assist your students in enrollment, add/remove students, and adding a second course for a student.
  3. Provide access codes to students: Follow this link to know where all the quiz and exam access codes can be found.
  4. Monitor student performance and progress: Follow this link to learn how you can view the “Course Access Report” to see what course items your student has viewed, participated, along with when these were viewed or completed, and to view overall activity, assignment submissions, grades, and quiz and exam statistics!
  5. Transfer students’ grades in Edhesive to your school’s transcript: Follow this link to learn how to download the grades from your online Edhesive gradebook to your computer as a CSV file.
  6. Complete the AP Course Audit with the College Board: Follow this link to learn how to complete the AP Course Audit for AP Computer Science A and AP CS Principles. AP Computer Science Principles mentors must also create a Digital Portfolio with the College Board.

Supports & Resources

Edhesive has recently created new onboarding videos for Edhesive teachers! These serve to provide a short introduction to getting started on and using the Edhesive platform. There are 25 short videos, totaling only 30 minutes to show you everything you need to know about getting started with your Edhesive courses. Click here to access the Edhesive Onboarding Videos. For additional tutorials and guides, mentors can visit the Help Center or email support@edhesive.com.

The teachers listed in the course (Rebecca Dovi and Becky Stacey) do not interact with students. If students have questions, they should ask their IOAPA mentor or utilize the Student Forums for additional support with their coursework.

Similarly, if mentors need support you can connect to Edhesive teaching assistants (TAs) and other teachers through the Teacher Forums.

IOAPA Classes 2019-2020

We are just over a week into the fall semester! During this busy time of year, we don’t want you to forget about some important information related to your IOAPA courses. To keep you in the loop, here are a few upcoming items for IOAPA.

  • If your students decide the class is not for them, not a problem! Just make sure to drop the course before September 13th to prevent the $350 drop fee. For more information about our drop policies, check out the IOAPA handbook on our website.
  • Check your previous emails from ioapa@belinblank.org, as these emails contain important information and deadlines about the upcoming year. If you did not receive these emails, make sure to check your spam / junk folder.
  • Don’t forget: New to Fall 2019, AP Coordinators need to order AP Exams by November 15, 2019! (Click here for instructions and check here for additional deadlines).

Helpful Tips to Start the Semester

Textbooks: Recommended textbooks for courses on APEX can be found by clicking “Learn more” on the relevant course(s) from the IOAPA course catalog. Edhesive courses do not require textbooks.

Online Support: APEX and Edhesive offer support guides and videos on their websites! Also, feel free to reach out to their customer service with technical questions.