Category Archives: Advanced Placement

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.

IOAPA: Important Dates & Deadlines

Keeping track of dates and deadlines can be overwhelming. This post includes all the important dates and deadlines related to IOAPA and AP courses. Make sure to bookmark this blogpost to have these dates handy throughout the 2018-2019 school year.calender

  • September 14, 2018: Last day to drop IOAPA courses without being assessed a $350 drop fee. (Note: Per the IOAPA drop policy, these fees are waived for students in middle school and computer science courses.)
  • October 1, 2018: AP Computer Science Principles teachers are strongly encouraged to submit AP Course Audit materials by this date to ensure access to the Digital Portfolio. Visit the College Board website for more information on the AP Course Audit as it applies to AP Computer Science Principles.
  • October 15, 2018: Preferred date by which AP Course Audit materials should be submitted for previously authorized courses to be renewed for the 2018-2019 school year.
  • November 1, 2018: IOAPA spring registration opens. Keep this date in mind, we expect spring enrollment to fill quickly!
  • December 14, 2018: IOAPA fall classes end.
  • January 7, 2019:IOAPA spring courses begin.
  • January 25, 2019:Last day to drop IOAPA spring high school courses without being assessed a $350 drop fee.
  • January 31, 2019:Deadline for submission of AP Course Audit materials for new courses (i.e., courses that have not been offered by your school prior to 2018-2019).
  • February 22, 2019:Deadline for submitting testing accommodations requests for students with disabilities who plan to take AP Exams. See our post about the changes to this process that took effect in January 2017.
  • March 13, 2019: Suggested deadline for that pre-administration materials for AP Computer Science Principles
  • March 29, 2019:Priority deadline to order 2019 AP Exams.
  • April 30, 2019:Deadline for submitting Performance Tasks for AP Computer Science Principles students.
  • May 10, 2019: IOAPA spring courses end.
  • May 6-17, 2019:AP Exams are administered. A complete schedule of exam dates is available on the College Board website.

Important College Board deadlines can be found on the AP Central website, and important IOAPA dates can be found on our website.

Follow IOAPA on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA for reminders about deadlines, as well as other useful information to support mentors and students.

Visual Guide to IOAPA High School Courses

We are excited to share the new IOAPA High School Course infographic using data and feedback from 2017-2018 IOAPA students and mentors! This, along with our middle school infographic and other useful information, can be found on our website, on the Support Materials page.

2017-18 IOAPA Infographics - HS.png

Visual Guide to IOAPA Middle School Courses

We are excited to share the new IOAPA Middle School Course infographic using data and feedback from 2017-2018 IOAPA students and mentors! This, along with our high school infographic and other useful information, can be found on our website, on the Support Materials page. 2017-18 IOAPA Infographics - MS

IOAPA and Above-Level Testing: Important Announcement

Above-level testing is used extensively in gifted education. It can be useful for making decisions about (1) identifying a student for a gifted program, (2) determining what a student is ready to learn next, (3) deciding whether or not a student is ready for subject-matter acceleration, and (4) deciding whether or not a student is ready to skip a grade. (For a detailed explanation, check out this blog post.)

IOAPA schools use above-level testing to determine which middle school students might be eligible for IOAPA (or other above-grade-level) courses. Traditionally, the Belin-Blank Center provided above-level testing for Iowa 5th graders (I-Excel for BESTS In-School) at no cost.  However, due to changes in the University of Iowa’s budget, the Belin-Blank Center is no longer able to provide these testing opportunities free of charge. The good news is, we are still able to offer a significant discount to students in the state of Iowa. For the 2018-2019 school year, the standard fee for students throughout the nation is $45 per student for group testing. For Iowa students, the fee is discounted substantially to $22.  This cost may be covered by the schools, parents, or a combination of the two.

We understand that the fact that the Belin-Blank Center is no longer covering the entire cost of above-level testing for Iowa 5th graders is unfortunate and may cause some difficulty for schools. However, we do not want to discourage future above-level testing for 5th graders, and for all grades! Our goal has always been to reduce barriers that stand in the way of Iowa’s students having access to advanced coursework. To that end, Iowa schools that have not used above-level testing in the last three years can contact us at to get up to 20 free I-Excel tests during the 2018-2019 school year.

For more information, visit or email

Back to School: IOAPA

Summer is ending and its back-to-school time! While you are settling into the new fall semester, don’t forget to get ready for IOAPA courses.

Here are a few things to consider for IOAPA courses:

  • IOAPA classes are starting! The first day is Monday, August 27th.
  • If you join the class late or decide the class is not for you, don’t worry! The first week is often considered an ‘orientation week’ to get used to the course, log-in, etc.
  • Watch for an email at the beginning of the semester from It will include important information about the upcoming year. If you do not receive an email, make sure to check your spam / junk folder.
  • Reminder: The last day to drop a course is September 16th. For more information about our drop policies, check out the IOAPA handbook on our website.

More helpful information:


For additional information, please visit our website for information about courses, support materials, and more. For questions, email

Have a great start to the semester!

IOAPA for Middle School – Advice From Current Mentors

A recent question on the Belin-Blank Center’s email listserv for gifted education teachers sparked a conversation about various success stories and best practices from experienced IOAPA mentors. With their consent, I have gathered that advice into a blog post so more teachers can benefit from their experiences.

Importance of Frequent Face-to-Face Connection
Several mentors indicated the necessity of face-to-face interaction with students to monitor performance and promote progress. Deann Scearce (Mount Vernon Middle School) indicated that her 7th and 8th grade students are scheduled into her classroom every other day for their IOAPA class. IOAPA requires courses to be scheduled as part of students’ regular school day, and recommends that the mentor be available during scheduled work time. Kelley Grothus (Madrid Middle School) schedules her students for 1.5 hours each day (including lunch). She says, “Sometimes we sit together to go through the material or just so they can talk through their quiz prep and have someone listen to them. Through lunch, I make them the teacher and have them explain what they are learning to me.” Marcia Powell (Oelwein Middle School) uses her mentoring time to “have a conversation if [students] are lagging and to encourage them or reward them with smiles, high-fives, or something else.”

In addition, Kelley noted the benefit of developing an online learning community. IOAPA permits schools to register up to 6 students per course, and Kelley uses that to her advantage by offering specific courses each semester (i.e., creative writing one semester, and psychology the next). She reported that “this allows that kids to work together & discuss rather than learn in isolation.” Similarly, Marcia recommends that students “enroll in groups of two or three so they can bounce ideas off of one another.” These opportunities for collaboration with peers, as well as the mentoring component included in the IOAPA model, establish a platform for success in online learning.


Benefits of the Online Curriculum
Our mentors appreciate the benefits of these self-contained online classes. Michelle Kavars (Lewis Central Middle School) touted the fact that “there is no real need to ‘teach’ lessons as there are videos, exercises, self-checks, and quizzes along the way.” Each course is a little different, and includes different instructional modalities specifically designed to address the course content; however, this mix of videos, readings, assignments, and quizzes is common, and content expertise is not necessary for IOAPA mentors as all the necessary content for our middle school courses is taught by the online instructor. Kelley attested that “the content is well-organized, sequenced, & managed for you, allowing me to expose the students to a variety of content that matches their strengths and interests.”

Significance of Purposeful Planning
IOAPA allows schools to make courses available to students based on their unique needs and interests, when doing so in person would be resource-prohibitive. However, as many of our mentors reported, purposeful planning is key to success in online learning. Kelley strives to give her students “an authentic & personal connection to the online content.” Our other mentors indicated similar efforts to overcome skepticism often associated with online learning through intentionally establishing ways to connect with students.

This planning is also essential when determining what IOAPA courses to make available to students. Taking advantage of courses offered in person, even if at another grade level, is valuable; according to Kelley, “when there is an in-person expert to teach [students], we utilize that.” IOAPA prohibits schools from using our online courses to help with scheduling conflicts; schools are only permitted to offer those courses that are not already available to students through the school. In the case of middle school courses, if transportation or other issues prevent students from accessing an appropriately challenging course within their district, IOAPA courses may be used to address those needs. For example, if an 8th grade student requires geometry, but the course is only available at the high school level, they would be permitted to enroll in the IOAPA Geometry course. We would still recommend prioritizing in-person classes if it is feasible to do so.


When offering IOAPA middle school courses, one of the most frequent conversations you’ll have with parents and administrators will concern credit. It will be essential to discuss with middle school and high school administrators how credit will be assigned for IOAPA middle school classes, which are high school level courses offered out-of-level to younger-than-typical students. You can see our previous blog post on this issue. Deann’s school follows a unique credit policy: Students review their final grade and decide if they want to receive high school credit – with the grade they earned going on their high school transcript and affecting their high school GPA.

Finally, planning cannot end with the current school year. Marcia indicated the importance of considering each student’s course progression through high school, and considering alternative courses that could supplement learning in a content area (i.e., offering online computer science or statistics to a math-talented student, in addition to challenging math curriculum), especially if sufficiently advanced courses in the content area are likely to be unavailable later in the student’s academic career.

Overall, our mentors express satisfaction with the IOAPA program, and we know that this program would not be successful without the tireless work they put in each day to support students. If you’re interested in making these classes available to your students, visit Contact with questions, and stay tuned to the blog for more advice from students and mentors this summer.