Category Archives: Uncategorized

Message from the Director: The Mission Continues

In April, I acknowledged the Belin-Blank Center’s “Big Pause,” aimed at doing our part to flatten the pandemic curve. We shared that summer coursework for educators and programs for students would not be as we had hoped.  Although programming was paused, the Belin-Blank Center’s mission to serve and empower the worldwide gifted education community was never on hiatus.

This mission requires us to examine our actions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  We consistently strive to address gaps in these areas; however, my colleagues and I know that we can do better.  We are stepping up our efforts to educate ourselves about the history and impact of racism, particularly as it relates to education.  We started with introspection, which will continue indefinitely as we also work to increase our awareness through dialogue and new learning.  We remain dedicated to diverse, equitable and inclusive programming that increases access to gifted education opportunities in underserved populations.  Based on our own enhanced awareness of the issues, we will be able to take informed actions to improve our programs and services.  

An important aspect of our approach will be to maintain a local focus while also addressing nationwide issues, including educational disparities that have been made salient through COVID-19.  Educators involved in gifted and talented education are aware of disparities in access to gifted programs, and the only federal legislation concerning gifted education, the Jacob Javits Gifted & Talented Students Education Act, has a singular focus on increasing access to underrepresented populations through funding research-based programming. There are two components to this funding.  First, the Javits Act provides grants to state education agencies.  Our TICE (Talent Identification-Career Exploration) project, which works with rural Iowa schools, was funded by one of these grants. 

The second part of the Javits Act establishes a national research center through a highly competitive proposal process approximately every five years.  Since 1988, the University of Connecticut has been awarded this funding.  We congratulate them on their extraordinary work, which was recently renewed.   We are honored that as part of that renewal, the Belin-Blank Center will be one of their partners. The research will focus on the following important questions:

  • How can we simplify identification systems while expanding participation opportunities for underserved students?
  • What impact do teachers have on gifted students’ academic success?
  • What are the benefits of gifted programs? How do they extend beyond academic achievement?
  • Can universal screening be effectively implemented for acceleration?

In the April newsletter, I shared my perspective that these past few months have created some challenges as we adapted to the changes made necessary by COVID-19.   However, we also recognized exciting new opportunities to grow and advance into the future.  My colleagues are hard at work developing new online programs for pre-college students.   We have long dreamt of increasing access to our programming through online options, and now we are poised to make this possible.  We will have more details on these programs, some of which you inspired with your suggestions, over the coming weeks. 

I hope that you are enjoying the sunshine while staying well and safe.  We will see you soon, online, with new, innovative programming that nurtures potential and inspires excellence.

Online Courses for Teachers

True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek writer, early 20th century

The Belin-Blank Center, in partnership with the academic departments in the University of Iowa College of Education, collaborates with educators who work with gifted learners, so that as teachers, counselors, and administrators, they feel confident about being bridges to their students’ futures! 

Teachers who work with gifted/talented learners in Iowa, and in several other states, must earn an endorsement in gifted education.  The State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement mandates a total of 12 hours in different “strands” that ensure teachers better understand the unique nature of gifted learners (the Psychology strand), how to better meet special needs that arise from being a gifted learner (the Programming strand), administrative kinds of issues that impact gifted education (the Administrative strand), and envision working with the K-12 gifted population (the Practicum experience).  The Center provides choices across the required strands so that earning the endorsement in one summer is possible (  For those who already have the endorsement, the focused one-semester-hour workshop-style classes are ideal for updating skills. 

Summer classes are fully online (classes are one-semester-hour unless otherwise noted):

  • Cognitive and Affective Needs of the Gifted (PSQF:4126:0WKA), June 29 – July 17 (Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon).
  • Practicum (EDTL:4188:0EXW), June 29 – August 6 (Dr. Laurie Croft, permission required; this section is typically for full-time students and/or those seeking more than one hour of practicum.  For the one required hour for endorsement, see EDTL:4189:0WKA, below)

Online classes continue in July and August:

  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level (EDTL:4074:0WKA), July 8 – 28 (Dr. Kristine Milburn)
  • Practicum (EDTL:4189:0WKA), July 13 – 31 (Dr. Laurie Croft, permission required; this section is typically for those earning their endorsement in gifted education seeking the one required practicum hour. For those wanting more than one-hour of credit, or for those who are full-time university students, see EDTL:4188:0EXW).
  • Special Topics: Giftedness 101 (EDTL:4096:0WKC), July 15 – August 4 (Anna Payne)
  • Special Topics:  The Gifted Brain: Neurodiversity and Gifted/Talented Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKE), July 22 – August 11 (Dr. Antonia [Toni] Szymanski & Dr. Laurie Croft, team teacher)
  • Special Topics:  Personal Learning Plans (EDTL:4096:0WKB), August 3 – 21 (Lora Danker)

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua, named for the popular adult education movement in the early 20th century, is back in July.  This summer, Chautauqua classes will also be online; each will include virtual class times via Zoom on the dates the class would have met at Blank Honors Center, that is, the first two days of each class.  Scholarships for Chautauqua participants will remain the same.  We wrote more about this year’s changes to accommodate an online-only Chautauqua in A 19th-Century Idea Meets 21st-Century Technology.

Want to Support a Student?

We know that times are hard for many students and their families right now. On this #GivingTuesdayNow, we are grateful that the Iowa way is to support each other.

If you are able and would like to help gifted and twice-exceptional students have their unique needs met, please consider donating at Your support creates life-changing experiences for the next generation of our most promising minds.

IOAPA: Fall Registration Opening Soon

Registration for Fall 2020 Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) courses will open April 15th!

In this time of stress and uncertainty, we are excited to continue to offer above-level courses to high-ability Iowa students at no cost. See our full course catalog for more information on the middle school and high school courses.

  • Students in grades 9 – 12 have the opportunity to enroll in AP courses. These courses use a College Board-approved curriculum that aligns with the material covered in introductory-level college courses. Students have the opportunity to earn college credit for these courses by earning a qualifying score on the end-of-year AP Exam.
  • Students in grades 6 – 8 have the opportunity to enroll in high school level courses. 

Middle School Requirements

We realize the new requirement of above-level testing for middle school courses will be difficult to complete at this time. Therefore, we are waiving this requirement for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, we still recommend above-level testing as the best method in identifying students for advanced coursework. This requirement will go into place for the 2021-2022 academic year.

For more information on how IOAPA is navigating the COVID-19 epidemic, please see this blogpost for information on 2020 AP exams, this blogpost on resources for APEX and Edhesive, and this blogpost for internet and educational resources. 

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for more blog posts and emails that will provide information on next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at

Registration is scheduled to close August 14th. The close of registration may be extended depending on school circumstances and course openings. Relevant information and policies can be found on our website

To stay up-to-date, follow our blog and our Twitter. 

IOAPA & COVID-19: Updated Information about AP Exams

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone. We have created a number of blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19. This one provides updated and key information on how the College Board is navigating the 2020 AP exams. Another blog post provides resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive.  This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources.

As a reminder, the College Board is providing free, remote learning resources and a new at-home testing option for this year’s AP Exams. Also, see Trevor Packer’s presentation regarding the 2020 AP Exam updates and for rationale behind the exam content. Please see below for more details. 

Exam Dates

The College Board surveyed many AP teachers and students, and a majority preferred to test earlier, while the content is still fresh.

  • Exams will be given from May 11–22.
  • Makeup test dates will be available for each subject from June 1–5.
  • Students can take exams at home or in schools, if they reopen.
  • Each subject’s exam will be taken on the same day at the same time, worldwide.
  • View the full testing schedule.

We encourage you to remind your students about exam dates for their courses.

Exam Format

Most exams will have one or two free-response questions, and each question will be timed separately. Students will need to write and submit their responses within the allotted time for each question.

  • Students will be able to take exams on any device they have access to—computer, tablet, or smartphone. They’ll be able to type and upload their responses or write responses by hand and submit a photo via their cell phones.
  • For most subjects, the exams will be 45 minutes long, plus an additional 5 minutes for uploading. Students will need to access the online testing system 30 minutes early to get set up.
  • Certain courses—Art and Design: 2D; Art and Design: 3D; Computer Science Principles; Drawing; Research; and Seminar—will use portfolio submissions and will not have a separate online exam. All deadlines for these submissions have been extended to May 26, 2020, 11:59 p.m. ET. Teachers and students may receive separate course-specific communications.
  • Students taking world language and culture exams will complete two spoken tasks consistent with free-response questions 3 and 4 on the current AP Exam. Written responses will not be required. The College Board will provide additional details in the coming weeks to help students prepare.

Tips for testing on specific devices will be available in late April.

Confronting the Digital Divide

The College Board recognizes that the digital divide could prevent some low-income and rural students from participating. Working with partners, the College Board is investing so these students have the tools and connectivity they need to review AP content online and take the exam. If your students need mobile tools or connectivity, you can contact the College Board directly to let them know by April 24.

Exam Scores and College Credit

As usual, students’ work will be scored by our network of college faculty and AP teachers, and will be reported on a 1–5 scale. The College Board anticipates releasing scores as close to the usual July timeframe as possible.

The College Board is confident that the vast majority of higher ed institutions will award college credit as they have in the past. The College Board has spoken with hundreds of institutions across the country that support our solution for this year’s AP Exams.

Special Benefit for Teachers

To help support teachers and schools that are struggling to collect and score student work for course grades, the College Board will provide every AP teacher with their students’ responses from the online exams by May 26. Administrators and teachers can individually determine whether they’d like to use these results locally as part of a course grade or as a final exam.

Exam Security

Like many college-level exams, this year’s AP Exams will be open book/open note. The exam format and questions are being designed specifically for an at-home administration, so points will not be earned from content that can be found in textbooks or online. However, students taking the exams may not consult with any other individuals during the testing period. The College Board will take the necessary steps to protect the integrity of each exam administration, as they do every year.

The College Board is confident that the vast majority of AP students will follow the rules for taking the exams. For the small number of students who may try to gain an unfair advantage, the College Board have a comprehensive and strict set of protocols in place to prevent and detect cheating. While some of these practices are confidential to maximize their effectiveness, students and education professionals can learn more about our security measures.

At a minimum, test takers should understand that those attempting to gain an unfair advantage will either be blocked from testing or their AP scores will be canceled, and their high school will be notified as will colleges or other organizations to which the student has already sent any College Board scores (including SAT® scores). And they may be prohibited from taking a future Advanced Placement® Exam as well as the SAT, SAT Subject Tests™, or CLEP® assessments.

Remote Instruction and Practice

On March 25, the College Board began offering free live AP review courses, delivered by AP teachers from across the country. The courses have been viewed more than 3.2 million times since they became available. On-demand lessons are now available for Art and Design, AP Capstone™, and Computer Science Principles.

In addition to sharing information about these classes with students, teachers who are providing remote instruction can use AP Classroom for most subjects. The College Board has now unlocked secure free-response questions in AP Classroom so teachers can digitally assign relevant practice questions students can take at home. Additional tips for helping your students practice are available.

Professional Development Opportunities

The College Board will be providing webinars, videos, and other resources to help AP teachers and coordinators leading up to exam day. Coordinators can register for live training on April 10 to learn more about exams.

Additional Information

The College Board has added frequently asked questions to the site so you can find answers to important topics, including information for students with accommodations, details about exam fees and cancellations, credit and placement, calculator policies, and more. The College Board will continue to make updates on the site and share them with you through email, online educator communities, and social media.

Your support is critical to ensuring students have the opportunity to earn college credit and placement. Thank you for all you’re doing during this unprecedented time.

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for future blog posts and emails that will provide information on next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at

IOAPA & COVID-19: Internet & Educational Resources

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone. We have created a few blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19, and we will continue to provide updates and new resources. This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources. This blog post will provide resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive. Another blog post will discuss how the College Board is navigating COVID-19 with AP exams.

Internet Resources

We acknowledge the digital divide could prevent some students from continuing with their online IOAPA courses. We want to provide you with a few resources to combat this barrier:

  1. The College Board is attempting to navigate this situation for students enrolled in AP courses. Please fill out this survey for the College Board to provide mobile tools or connectivity.
  2. The University of Iowa is providing free drive-up wireless service to allow students, faculty, and staff who need high-speed internet Review the Drive-up Wifi Locations page for additional on-campus and off-campus locations, maps, and instructions on connecting.
  3. Many internet providers are announcing various packages to help those who don’t have internet or have slow internet at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Below is a partial list of what is offered. Please note: This list is rapidly changing. Please check with your the provider for the most recent updates and offers:
  • FCC agreement stating providers will waive late fees, not cutoff service for lack of payment, and open hot-spots.
  • AT&T COVID-19 response: Offers open hot-spots, unlimited data to existing customers, and $10/month plans to low-income families.
  • CenturyLink COVID-19 response: Follows FCC agreement, will waive late fees due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19, and will suspend data usage limits for consumer customers for 60 days.
  • Charter Free Internet offer for 2 months.
  • Comcast COVID-19 response: Offers free WiFi for 2 months to low-income families plus all Xfinity hot-spots are free to the public during this time.
  • Mediacom COVID-19 response: Follows FCC agreement, offering complimentary access to all Mediacom Xtream Wi-Fi Hotspots for 60 days, and extending the pricing of Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 broadband service to new customers at $19.99 per month for the next 12 months. 
  • Sprint COVID-19 response: Follows FCC agreement, provides unlimited data to existing customers, and, starting Tuesday, 3/17/2020, will allow all handsets to enable hot-spots for 60 days at no extra charge.
  • T-Mobile COVID-19 response: Follows FCC agreement, plus unlimited data to existing customers, and, coming soon, will allow all handsets to enable hot-spots for 60 days at no extra charge.
  • Verizon COVID-19 response: Follows FCC agreement, plus giving all mobile customers 15GB of extra data from March 25th through April 30th.
  • US Cellular: Follows FCC agreement.

Educational Resources

  1. Amazon Future Engineer and Edhesive have collaborated to offer free access to additional Edhesive computer science courses or professional development through August 31, 2020. See this page for more information.
  2. Check out this list of education companies that are offering free subscriptions due to school closings. It is frequently updated so make sure to bookmark it!

We are continuing to think of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for a future blog posts and emails that will provide information on our next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at

SSTP Acceptance Status FAQ

Acceptance emails for the 2020 Secondary Student Training Program go out on April 1! With this information comes lots of questions, so here are answers to some of the most frequent questions we get.

Q: I’m an alternate. Why was I selected as an alternate?

A: Congratulations! Being an alternate means, you have an impressive and competitive application. After selecting students, we search for research group placements that match based on declared research interests, previous research experiences, and high school coursework. When the pieces fall into place, we offer a placement in a research group for the summer. In many cases, we are unable to provide students with outstanding application materials a spot in a research group because we are unable to find a suitable lab placement.

Q: I’m an alternate. What number am I on the waitlist?

A: We work to match you with your indicated research interest. Because of this, ranking the names on the waitlist 1 – 100 is not possible. When a student declines their invitation to SSTP, we look for an alternate with similar research interests that is a good match for the open seat.

Q: I’m an alternate. I really want to come to SSTP, but I’ve been invited to join other programs. What should I do? 

A: This is a question only you can answer. We cannot guarantee that anyone on the waitlist will be offered a spot in the SSTP program.

Q: What about COVID-19 concerns?

A: The Belin-Blank Center is committed to maintaining the safety and well-being of all our staff, students, and families, and we continue to actively monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. We are following the University of Iowa’s guidance and the CDC’s recommendations, and we will continue to do so throughout the duration of the situation. Furthermore, we continue to rely on University of Iowa leadership for guidance regarding our summer programs.

We have been told that the university will make decisions later this semester about face-to-face programs that begin mid-June or later. As soon as we have that information, the Belin-Blank Center will provide email updates to our program participants and their families about whether their program will proceed as planned or has been canceled, rescheduled, or modified for a different format. If the University of Iowa requires that we cancel a program due to COVID-19, all enrolled participants will receive a full refund of any program fees that they have already paid.

Q: I’m accepted! What’s next?

A: Congratulations! We look forward to your participation in SSTP. Once we have the decision from the University, we will send additional information. There are no further steps you need to take at this time. Assuming the program is able to proceed as planned, you will receive an email with information regarding your faculty mentor match, the first payment deadline, and additional program details.

Congratulations to all of the 2020 SSTP applicants! You are an impressive group of students and should be proud of your many accomplishments.

IOAPA & COVID-19: AP Exams

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone and we want to check in on a few things. We have created a few blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19. This one will provide information on how the College Board is navigating COVID-19 with AP exams. Another blog post will provide resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive.  This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources.

The College Board is supporting AP students by offering free, optional remote learning and at-home AP testing. These resources are offered in order to allow students to still earn the college credit and placement that they have been working toward all year. 

  • For the 2019-20 exam administration, students can take a 45-minute online exam at home. The College Board development committees are currently creating these exam questions.
    • Students are able to take these exams on any device – computer, tablet, or smartphone. Taking a photo of handwritten work will also be an option.
    • The College Board recognizes the digital divide for low-income and rural students. If students need mobile tools or connectivity, please reach out to the College Board.
  • Each AP exam will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March. This will account for the students who may have lost more instructional time than others. 
  • Some students may want to take the exam sooner rather than later, while the content is still fresh. Other students may want more time to practice. For each AP subject there will be two different testing dates. Specific test dates will be posted by April 3. 
  • Colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they’ve worked hard to earn. 
  • Any student already registered for an exam can choose to cancel at no charge. 
  • Beginning March 25, students and schools will have access to free, live AP review lessons,delivered by AP teachers from across the nation. 
  • For more information, check with the College Board’s websiteand their AP updates for schools impacted by COVID-19. 

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for a future blog post and email that will provide information on our next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at

IOAPA & COVID-19: Resources

In regards to the COVID-19 public health emergency, we hope you are all doing well. We recognize this is a stressful time for everyone and we want to check in on a few things. We have created a few blog posts regarding IOAPA and COVID-19. This one will provide resources for navigating your online courses through APEX and Edhesive. This blog post provides internet access and educational/learning resources. Another blog post will discuss how the College Board is navigating COVID-19 with AP exams.

APEX Resources

Apex has suggestions for proctoring exams, and Apex also offered a ‘course-pause’ option for students that lose access to courses. If your courses are set up to be proctored by a mentor, you can:

  1. Have students take exams upon their return.  Per Apex’s standard policy, students will not be penalized for late work.
  2. Work with parents to proctor students taking exams. Mentors can unlock tests remotely.  

You can also request a course-pause for your entire program, or just for students that may lack access. Apex will leave the courses ‘paused’ until you confirm they should be re-opened.  Please reach out to our student services team (; 855-550-2457) to initiate this option.

Edhesive Resources

Edhesive has created a guide on how to continue courses with remote learning. This guide includes tips to support teachers, students, and parents. Edhesive is currently working with their partners at Amazon to support students who may lack equipment and internet access. Support and online teaching assistants will continue to be available to support students and teachers via online forums. 

We are already thinking of how this situation may affect the fall semester, and we are working on being as flexible as possible. Be on the lookout for a future blog post and email that will provide information on our next steps. Our goal is to determine how we can best support our IOAPA community! As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns at

FAQs about the IOAPA + BESTS Partnership

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) are teamed up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities. This partnership helps (1) students remain challenged and engaged after they master the classroom curriculum, and (2) assists teachers school districts in identifying students who are ready for additional challenge. Above-level testing and the implementation of advanced coursework can help with these issues.

This partnership has been around for many years. In this blogpost, we discuss and respond to the most frequently asked questions related to how IOAPA and BESTS work together.

What is above-level testing?

In short, above-level testing is giving a younger student a test that is developed for older students.

Is above-level testing a new concept?

No! It is extensively used at universities with centers for gifted education, but unfortunately it is often not used by schools. The idea of above-level testing was pioneered over one hundred years ago by Dr. Leta Hollingworth. This concept was fully developed by Dr. Julian Stanley in the 1970s when he devised the “Talent Search” in which 7th and 8th graders took the college admissions exam, the SAT. Currently, hundreds of thousands of students around the world take above-level tests each year as part of a university-based talent search (including the Belin-Blank Center)!

Why above-level testing?

Scores from grade level tests demonstrate that students have mastered grade-level material, but they don’t tell us how much additional challenge the students need.  If students do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, then we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be.  Psychologists call this “hitting the ceiling” of the test.

In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s aptitudes, which allows us to make good recommendations about the types of educational challenges the student needs.

How can above-level testing be used?

  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
  4. Deciding whether or not a student is ready to skip a grade

What is the cost of I-Excel?

The cost of I-Excel in Iowa is $45 per student if groups of 4 or more students are tested. The cost is $22 if student is eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. For students testing individually, the cost is $90 ($45 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch). If students test on campus in June at the testing session (this year, June 11 2020), we sponsor $70 of the fee ($35 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch).

I’m ready to set up I-Excel testing – Where do I start?

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge. 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. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but 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 fall registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand. (Note: that if you have 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing, they will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit for specific information).
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

How do I help students prepare for the I-Excel?

The best preparation for taking a standardized test such as I-Excel is to get a good night’s sleep and eat breakfast. This helps to set the student up for success.

Before taking I-Excel, we recommend that students try the sample items so they become comfortable with the format of the test. Beyond that, we do not recommend that students study for the test. The most useful scores result when students understand the format but do not study for the test.  Families receive a link to the sample test in their confirmation email. Registered students can use the email address associated with the registration to access the sample items, or contact to receive the link and a temporary access code.

If the test is not during a regular school day, make sure they know what time to arrive and where to meet.  They should bring:

  • A simple calculator for use during the Mathematics test.
  • A snack to eat during a break. We recommend something healthy, such as an apple.
  • Two pencils.
  • Scrap paper will be provided.

What is the outcome of I-Excel testing?

I-Excel test results will better equip teachers and students to make decisions about which students would benefit from advanced coursework, specifically through the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA). 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.

Content Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility

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 these content-area scores, rather than overall scores, to ensure the advanced learning opportunities are available to all talented students in their area(s) of strength. The table below details the relevant content area score(s) for each of our IOAPA middle school course.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are thrilled to be able to provide educators with specific information about your students via I-Excel, an above-level testing option for talented 4th – 6th graders. For more information about how this could work in your school, visit, or contact

Students in 7th – 9th grade also have an opportunity for above-level testing by taking the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center. We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit

IOAPA: Funding for Spring Course AP Exams

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

We are now accepting applications for AP exam scholarships for students enrolled in one-term, spring semester courses! As a reminder, the deadline to order all one-term, spring semester AP exams in March 13, 2020.

IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors can apply for this funding opportunity by February 21, 2020! 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 for this application is only available for students who are taking a one-term, spring semester 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 March 1, 2020.

As a reminder, the College Board’s new deadline to order one-term, spring semester AP exams is March 13, 2020.

Please email us at with any questions!

Message from the Director: Homecoming

Fall often signals homecoming, which the Belin-Blank Center experienced in full swing this past month.  At our annual advisory board meeting, we welcomed “old” board members, some of whom have served on the advisory board since its inception in 1999, and “new” members, some of whom are alumni of our programs. Everyone on the board enjoys one or more connections to the Belin-Blank Center, and everyone truly loves coming home.

As with all homecomings, feelings are mixed.  Reminiscing about our co-founders and our legacy evokes nostalgia and pride for the work we do and the impact we have on students and educators.  There is also great excitement for new initiatives and updates.  One of the most significant updates concerns our website, designed to help you feel at home wherever you are!

The Belin-Blank Center is home for students who show a deep curiosity, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area.

TAG professionals seeking their TAG endorsement have a home here, too.  

And we are your home for research about:

Visit the new website to see for yourself and… welcome home!

Will We See You in Albuquerque?

Our staff is gearing up to head to the National Association for Gifted Children Annual Convention from November 7-10 in Albuquerque, New Mexico!

If you will be attending too, be sure to check out our presentations and stop by our booth in the exhibit hall to say hello! Here’s where you can find us:

We hope to see you there!

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 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

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, 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.

Message from the Director: What We Do Matters

What we do matters…I had just typed those words as the title to this message when an email from a teacher-mom who has advocated extensively for her twice-exceptional student crossed my screen.  Of course, I switched screens and opened her email.  Her message concluded with these words, “I’m so very grateful that this middle school has seen that 2e kids are HERE and they MATTER.”

You might think that being a teacher would make it easier to advocate.  No.  Being a teacher in the district where your child attends school requires extra effort when advocating for your child’s academic needs.  When a child is twice-exceptional, or 2e (that is, have very high ability and have a learning, behavioral, or social-emotional disability), the effort required increases by magnitudes. This mom has assiduously navigated her professional and personal roles and responsibilities over the past several years to ensure that educators (a) understood the complexity of her child’s strengths and diagnoses and (b) that her child’s needs were being met. 

This teacher-mom effectively advocated for her child and blazed a trail for other 2e students.  What she did matters, and we know this because the school counselor called her to share that the educators and administrators at her child’s school recognized that traditional approaches for identification for gifted services are not enough for twice-exceptional students.  The final phrase, “2e kids are HERE and they MATTER”, captures the essence of the Belin-Blank Center’s tagline: Nurturing Potential/Inspiring Excellence.

Each day, my colleagues and I recognize the wisdom expressed through the psychological principle known as individual differences,. Basically, individuals vary across a variety of traits, including physical size, behaviors, emotions, cognitive ability, and achievement.  The licensed psychologists in our Assessment and Counseling Clinic experience this with every client.  Understanding the variation in twice-exceptional students from typically-developing students allows psychologists  to generate evidence-based recommendations that can be tailored to the student’s needs.  When recommendations are translated into advocacy by parents and action by teachers, it can change a child’s educational and overall life trajectory. Our work matters. 

Help us understand what matters to you – fill out our thirty-second survey.

During the weeks of summer programming for gifted students and professional development for educators of gifted students, this notion of doing something that matters is apparent each day – often multiple times a day.  Sometimes what matters emerges in a class discussion among educators.  Other times, we know that what we do matters when we a student in one of our programs expresses that they were able “to try things that I thought I could never do.”

A new school year is upon us.  The Belin-Blank Center’s amazing faculty and administrative, clerical, and student staff are already busy planning for another summer that will matter to students and teachers and to us!  

You don’t have to wait until next summer…check out the Weekend Enrichment classes, professional development, above-level testing, or the twice-exceptional research project.  Opportunities like these have the potential to make a real difference in a child’s life.  As we start this school year, we applaud the educators and parents who pursue these opportunities on behalf of their gifted learners.  This work matters.

Changes to AP: Beginning Fall 2019

The College Board is implementing some changes and new resources for Advanced Placement (AP) courses! These changes and resources are to provide better support throughout the school year, and to give students the best opportunity to succeed on AP exams. For more information on these changes, click here.

Beginning August 1 2019, AP teachers and students will have access to a variety of new online classroom resources.

What’s new:
  1. AP teachers and students will complete a short digital activation at the start of the year. Students and teachers will then have access to new online classroom resources!
  2. Schools will need to order AP exams by new deadlines in October and November. The College Board hopes that once students commit to the exam, they will more readily invest themselves in their classes.
  3. Classroom resources such as AP question banks, a performance dashboard, and unit guides will be available online.
What will stay the same:
  1. Exams administration during the first two full weeks in May
  2. Exam fee and exam fee reduction
  3. Scores will be reported on usual timelines

Follow us on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA to stay updated on all Iowa Online AP Academy and AP news!

Social Share: Asynchronous Development and Friendship

In addition to sharing our own staff’s expertise on this blog, every month, we scour the internet for interesting and informative perspectives on giftedness and academic talent to share with our followers on social media.

This month, the post our audience viewed the most was a thoughtful piece by Dr. Gail Post, of Gifted Challenges, discussing how asynchronous development in gifted individuals can affect their relationships.

Dr. Post begins with an explanation of asynchronous development and examples of the ways in which it can manifest in daily life. She then offers suggestions for how to help your gifted child cope and thrive.

Gifted children, teens and adults thrive when they understand the social, emotional and cultural impact of their giftedness, when they feel understood and accepted, when surrounded by like-minded peers, and when they are not criticized for any delays in their social-developmental trajectory. As parents, we must help them navigate the path to adulthood, seek out activities where they can develop healthy social relationships, and encourage them to accept, work with, and appreciate their unique differences.

Dr. Gail Post

Check out the full post here: Where can I find a friend? How asynchronous development affects relationships

If you would like to speak to a licensed psychologist about asynchronous development in your own child, consider the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic. You can also read more about asynchronous development and other social and emotional issues on the National Association for Gifted Children‘s website.

And be sure to connect with us on our social media pages for more! You can find us @belinblank on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Come join the discussion!

IOAPA: 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.

sar printmaking 2018-8

IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors: make sure to apply for this funding opportunity by February 15th! 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 2018-19 school year.

The per-exam cost for the 2018-19 school year is $53 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools should pay the $53 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 March 1, 2019.

Please email us at with any questions!

Discovering Students Who Are Ready for IOAPA Courses

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) have teamed up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities.

With the frigid cold and many snow days, it may be difficult to think about this fall. However, right NOW is a great time set up above level testing with I-Excel. Your students’ above-level testing scores are needed to inform eligibility for fall 2019 IOAPA courses.

 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.
  • Notify the students identified in Step 2 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  • Contact as soon as possible to set up testing. Note that if you have 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing, they will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit for specific information. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but it’s still important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s).
  • Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Email or with any questions.

IOAPA: Spring Dates & Deadlines!

We want to help you keep on track for 2019! Here are all of the important dates and deadlines related to IOAPA and AP courses for the spring semester.

  • January 25, 2019: 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.)
  • 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: Deadline for pre-administration materials for AP Computer Science Principles.
  • March 29, 2019: 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.

Ordering AP Exams

Students (generally with advice from teachers, parents, school counselors, or other school personnel) are responsible for deciding whether to take AP Exam(s) for the courses in which they enrolled. Schools are responsible for ordering those exams from the College Board for all students who indicate intent to complete exams. More information about specific procedures for ordering exams is available from the College Board.

Different states and schools handle exam fees differently. In general, for 2019 exams most students will pay the school $94 per exam. The College Board offers reduced-fee exams for students with financial need; these students generally pay the school $53 per exam. Further information can be found on the College Board website.

The Belin Blank Center is pleased to announce that we are offering a new funding opportunity to pay for the cost of AP exams for low-income students in rural schools.  Stay tuned for more information, coming soon!

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

IOAPA for Middle School: It’s Time to Prepare for Above-Level Testing!

We are nearing the end of 2018! Although there are many fun and stressful end-of-year activities and holidays approaching, we encourage you to think about planning for 2019 Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) coursework. The best way to do so for middle school students is to start with above-level testing. Above-level tests can provide essential information for determining whether a student is ready for additional challenge. If you have students in your classroom who have mastered the curriculum, or you are unsure of how to keep some students challenged and engaged, you may want to consider above-level testing.

For instance, IOAPA is partnered with the Belin-Blank Exceptional Students Talent Search (BESTS), our above-level testing program. This partnership helps connect students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities. Check out this blog post for instructions on getting started with above-level testing, or this one for recommendations on using scores to inform eligibility for advanced coursework.

PRSI Classroom 2018-2

As always, contact us at with any questions!

See You at NAGC!

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) will hold its 65th annual convention on November 15-18 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our staff will be available to discuss our programs and services, and answer any questions you may have, at Booth 610 in the Exhibit Hall. We will also be delivering several presentations, and we hope to see you there!


NAGC Convention presenters from the Belin-Blank Center include Dr. Susan Assouline, Professor in the Department of Psychological & Quantitative Foundations (P & Q), Myron and Jacqueline N. Blank Endowed Chair in Gifted Education, and Director of the Center; Dr. Laurie Croft, Clinical Professor of Gifted Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning (T & L) and Associate Director, Professional Development at the Center (and NAGC Board Member); Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon, Professor in P & Q and Associate Director, Research (Past Chair, Research & Evaluation Network); Jan Warren, Assistant Director, Student Services at the Center (Chair, Arts Network); Dr. Alissa Doobay, Supervisor, Psychological Services; Dr. Joy Goines, Staff Psychologist, Assessment and Counseling Clinic; David Gould, Administrator, Bucksbaum Academy; Dr. Lori Ihrig, Supervisor, Curriculum and Instruction; Dr. Duhita Mahatmya, Administrator, Research Methodology; and Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, Administrator, Acceleration Institute. In addition, other familiar names in gifted education from the University of Iowa, Dr. Clar Baldus, Clinical Professor in Teaching & Learning, Consultant for the Arts at the Center (Past Chair, Arts Network), Dr. Susannah Wood, Associate Professor in Counselor Education, and colleagues Dr. Carol Smith, Clinical Associate Professor, and Dr. David Duys, Associate Professor, will be presenting at the NAGC Convention.


Going Back to School Gifted


A new school year can be an exciting or nerve-wracking endeavor for any child. Gifted children often have extra sensitivities or overexcitabilities that can intensify these feelings. Parents of gifted children can also have some apprehension about how best to help their child have a positive and productive learning experience at school. To help ease the transition from summer to school, we have compiled some tips for parents sending their gifted kids back to the classroom.shutterstock_215271067.jpg

Watch out for signs of any concerns about transitioning back to school, like perfectionism, bullying, or boredom. Help your child understand any particular issues they deal with and make a plan for dealing with these throughout this year. Involve the school or other professionals if needed.

Communicate with the teacher(s) early to discuss your child’s unique strengths and weaknesses. Politely let them know what has worked well in grades past (and what hasn’t). If you have any relevant results from testing, assessments, or doctors, consider sharing these with the teacher, so that they can differentiate (or, adjust their plan based on what each child needs) more effectively. If you are pursing an IEP or 504 plan, be sure to get organized and stay on top of those processes.

Don’t be afraid to advocate for what your child needs. Even more importantly, teach your child ways to advocate for their education, as well.

Check the deadlines for any science fairs, art competitions, scholarships, or other enrichment opportunities. It’s also never too early to be planning for out-of-school days, including spring break and, yes, next summer! Work with your child to make a list of camps, classes, or extracurricular activities they are interested in, and note the timelines for those applications processes, as well. Write these on your calendar, and have your child write them down in any calendars or planners they keep. (And be sure to check out our programs for talented students!)

JSHS 2017-22-2

Attend the school’s back-to-school or curriculum nights, and keep an eye out for any potential pain points (or solutions) for your child.

Meet the TAG teacher and offer to support their programming with your available expertise and/or resources. Are you in business? Offer to make a class visit to discuss entrepreneurship. Do you have an interesting hobby, like photography, bug collecting, or stand-up comedy? Offer to put on a workshop and let the students give it a try! Do you have contacts at a local college or major employer? See if you can arrange a behind-the-scenes tour. Do you have some available time? Ask if classroom volunteers or extracurricular sponsors are needed.

Supplement classroom learning with books that match the level at which your child is capable of reading, trips to museums, documentaries, extracurricular activities, and the like.


Reassess your student’s study space at home, and discuss time management skills. Make sure your child has everything they need to work in the way that is best for them. Evaluate whether the amount of study time that your family has built into its schedule is still appropriate.

For more, be sure to check out these other helpful posts:

Above all else, keep in mind that no one parent can do all of the things in this post at all times, and that is okay! The most important things you can do are to listen to your children, support them, and make sure they know you are here for them.

What other tips do you have? Share with us here or on social media (Facebook, Twitter).

Here’s to a year of learning new things, exploring interests, and growing through challenge!

Countdown to Applications

Our five-and-a-half-week intensive summer research program is now accepting applicants!

Need a Last-Minute Summer PD Opportunity?

PD in Science 2014.jpgThe Belin-Blank Center still has professional development opportunities for educators available this summer!

See the schedule (in chronological order) and learn more about getting registered for any of the remaining opportunities this summer.

If you’re thinking about professional learning for the fall semester, we’ll be updating our the link above in late July with the fall schedule.

Best Practices for IOAPA Mentors

Mentors are a key component of the Iowa Online AP Academy model. These individuals may or may not have expertise in the content areas their students are studying, and in most of our courses, mentors are not expected to provide instruction on the course content. (The mentor’s role for AP Computer Science Principles is slightly different; future posts will address this, or you can contact IOAPA staff with questions.) Instead, IOAPA mentors provide support and encouragement for students, assist them in determining where and how to seek help, and monitor progress in course materials and intervene when necessary.

What should I do to be an effective mentor?

  • Build positive relationships with students. According to the University of Minnesota’s mentoring model, checking in with students frequently can promote strong relationships.
    • One study cited in a research synthesis found that “facilitators that are directly working with students day by day are key to the success of the program” and that the physical presence of mentors can motivate students to engage (cited in Borup & Drysdale, 2014).
  • Connect students with resources. Mentors are not expected to have all the answers for students’ questions, but helping them determine where to find support, or how to ask for help, can be beneficial. Check out our blog post on supporting struggling students for more info.
    • This may include serving as a “communication link” between students and their course instructors (Borup & Drysdale, 2014).
  • Communicate with other mentors. Whether for emotional support or professional guidance, your fellow IOAPA mentors are a great resource for new and veteran mentors alike. Check out the IOAPA mentor support network information in the IOAPA Handbook.
  • Encourage healthy work habits. We all need occasional reminders to take breaks and prioritize, and IOAPA students are no exception. Mentors can help students set priorities, schedule time for relaxation, and promote stress management. The University Counseling Service at the University of Iowa developed a list of stress management strategies that may be useful.


Do you have suggestions for other IOAPA mentors? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter using #IOAPA. Also, look out for our mentor survey at the end of the semester to share your thoughts!

SSTP Mentor Studies Effects of Music on Dementia Patients

This is such a great example of the high-level work that students in the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) do over the summer! We’ll have information about applying to SSTP next month.

Let the Games Begin…

Did you know the Belin-Blank Center is also the Iowa and Midwest Region-at-Large Affiliate for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program? If you’re a budding artist or writer, don’t forget to submit your latest masterpiece!


Something fantastic happened today…we received our first submission for the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition!!


You’ll want to take the time to check out the new category updates, how to submit, and the scholarship opportunities available to you this year. We want you to win everything! BUT you have to get your submission in online and your submission forms to us by December 15th – the earlier the better though.

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The IOAPA website has a new look!

Have you visited the Iowa Online AP Academy website lately? Our site has undergone a re-design to make it easier to navigate and access from mobile platforms. Look for:

  • Easier step-by-step process for site coordinators when registering students for IOAPA courses and Exam Review
  • Support materials, FAQs, and the IOAPA handbook for guidance during the semester
  • A newly redesigned course catalog for high school and middle school courses offered by our course vendors
  • additional information on professional development through APTTI and links to above-level testing information (recommended for students considering middle school IOAPA courses)

We hope you’ll take some time to look around our new site. Make sure to check out our changes at!

Iowa Online AP Academy versus Iowa Learning Online: What’s the Difference?

Iowa students have a wide range of options when it comes to online learning, and it can be hard to distinguish between what the best options might be for students. One particular program, Iowa Learning Online, offers online programming like IOAPA, but what makes these two programs different?

Target Audience: The Iowa Learning Online program and Iowa Online AP Academy offer very different courses intended for specific student groups. Specifically, Iowa Learning Online courses aim to supplement student learning at their current grade level. IOAPA’s courses are geared towards providing above-level opportunities for high ability students in Iowa.

Advanced Curriculum: Likewise, because Iowa Learning Online seeks to serve all Iowa students, their class offerings do not include AP or other advanced learning options. The Iowa Online AP Academy’s primary goal is to offer above-level coursework to middle and high school students (through the use of AP courses for students in grades 9-12 and courses intended for high school students for students in grades 6-8).

Costs: Iowa Online AP Academy courses are offered at NO cost for Iowa students. IOAPA’s primary goal has always been (and continues to be) to provide access to AP and other advanced coursework for students whose schools do not offer these courses on-site. The Belin-Blank Center does not oversee the Iowa Learning Online program, and thus cannot provide information on their current or future associated costs.

To learn more about IOAPA, check out our website or follow us on Twitter (@kflanaryIOAPA)!

IOAPA: Connecting with AP and the Belin-Blank Center this Summer

Now that AP exams and IOAPA courses are wrapping up, what are the next steps for IOAPA mentors and AP teachers to take before fall? Here are a few suggestions for how to prepare for AP next year!

Right Now:

After AP exams are finished, the College Board ( releases free response items from this year’s exam. Discussion of these items and how students responded can be a great learning opportunity for your students, and can help them engage with how to prepare for future AP exams.

Some schools choose to celebrate AP success by hosting special lunches or receptions to recognize students for their hard work. Make sure your students know that they have worked hard!

AP exam scores will be released in July. Make sure that your students have their College Board account set up so that they can access their scores promptly!

Check in with students about their plans for Iowa Online AP Academy courses next year. Registration is open, and seats fill quickly! Making decisions about courses now can help students plan for the upcoming school year and how AP courses fit into their plans for after high school.

This summer:

A great way for teachers to continue to learn about AP course content and development is to participate in an AP Summer Institute ( These institutes are designed to give you information about your area of interest and to help teachers develop their syllabus in preparation for the AP course audit process. The Belin-Blank Center is hosting an AP institute on July 5-9—more information can be found on our website (

Summer is also a great time to ensure that all of your paperwork is completed for IOAPA courses for next year. This includes re-registering your school and submitting your IOAPA mentor form from the IOAPA handbook.

Educators might also be interested in attending the AP Annual Conference ( on July 13-17, 2016.

For students looking ahead to next year, this post ( provides some helpful suggestions for students looking to jump start their AP experiences.


Interested in learning more about IOAPA opportunities for students? Check out our website ( for more information about online learning for middle and high school students.

A 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 Fall 2015 data below!

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 and challenged by online coursework. Based on the information and experiences we have gathered from current and past students, we are excited to provide a visual guide to our high school classes!

If you are looking for more information about IOAPA, visit our website. For a visual guide to our middle school courses, check out last week’s post.

IOAPA Fall 2015 HS Data Infographic

IOAPA Fall Registration Opens Today

Registration for Fall 2016 Iowa Online AP Academy courses begins today (April 19) and continues through August  17, 2016. As in past years, schools will need to re-register with IOAPA in order to enroll their students in IOAPA courses. Be sure to check our website for further updates and information about our IOAPA offerings for 2016-2017, including our three new Computer Science courses!

Additionally, we still have online AP exam reviews available for Iowa AP students, even those who did not take a course through IOAPA. This exam review is a great way for both traditional and online AP students to review and prepare for the AP exams in May. Now that exams are quickly approaching, make sure to register to ensure that your AP students have access to this great (free) opportunity! For further information and to register your students, please contact us.



Why am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

The short answer to this question is that I am tired of gifted students being under-challenged in school. They need the intellectual stimulation that comes from rigorous courses taught at a reasonably advanced level, and acceleration can provide that stimulation. The longer answer is, I am familiar with the research. No educational option for gifted students has the research support that academic acceleration has. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. Gifted students benefit from acceleration. Gifted students are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject. Gifted students who accelerate turn out to be higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive, short-term, and long-term.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Now that we have the information that is summarized so clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive 2015 publication, A Nation Empowered, it’s time to put that information to work.  There are at least 20 different types of acceleration, including grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, distance learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. There are many forms of acceleration, and that means that we can tailor accelerative opportunities to the needs of individual gifted students. Acceleration means allowing gifted students to move ahead in school, at a pace appropriate to their needs. Acceleration can be implemented individually, in small groups, and in large groups.  Each type of acceleration can be used to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

Educators and parents do not have to be afraid of implementing acceleration. Tools are available to help them make well-informed decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, and they also include the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider all aspects of acceleration, including academic development, social development, physical development, and school and parental support for the decision), IDEAL Solutions (developed to assist educators and parents as they consider subject matter acceleration in STEM subjects), and university-based talent search programs, which help identify students and give them challenging courses they can take in the summer or via online learning opportunities.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, consider starting with the information found at the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned in this article, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families.

We have the research and we have the tools to help us make good decisions about implementing acceleration for academically talented students. Now, we need the courage to act.

Posted by Ann Lupkowski Shoplik

Pilot Test the New Test, I-Excel

This spring, the Belin-Blank Center will launch I-Excel, a new online, above-level assessment for high-ability 4th – 6th graders.  I-Excel will help educators identify and tailor programs for academically talented students. I-Excel tests in four areas: science, mathematics, reading, and English.

I-Excel offers the research-supported power of above-level testing in a convenient online format.  Educators receive recommendations for their students based upon the results.  Parents and educators receive an individual student interpretation.

We are pleased to report that I-Excel pilot testing has been an excellent experience for students and educators, and we invite you to consider the opportunity to pilot test I-Excel in your school during February or March. There is no cost for participation in pilot testing. To learn more, visit or contact Ann Shoplik at For additional information about using I-Excel to identify students for programming, visit

Ready to start your research career?

Immerse yourself in research this summer!

Research Study

The Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic and Pearson’s Center for College and Career Success are pleased to invite parents of students who have a diagnosis ADHD to apply for participation in a study examining Cogmed Working Memory Training. Students should be within the ages of 7 to 15 can have an identified high ability in one or more talent domain (i.e., through scores on an ability and/or achievement test), but this is not required. The training protocol is 50 minutes per day, five days per week, for the duration of five weeks (25 50-minute sessions).

The purpose of this research study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the Cogmed Working Memory Training program as an intervention for gifted and talented students who also have ADHD. Individuals will be compensated $30 for participation.  Interested families are encouraged to contact Megan Foley Nicpon (319) 335-5575 or We look forward to hearing from you!

Students get early look at college

We’re big fans of summer research and learning – check out the mention of NSI!

The Purbalite

Internet Editor

While most students spent their summer lounging at the pool, several students at Baldwin High school decided to go above and beyond in their preparations for college.

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Hear ye! Hear ye! Time to “Dive In To Your Imagination!”

A great opportunity for young artists and writers!


Hello Artists and Writers! Welcome back to school after what we hope was a wonderful summer. Soon, in every school mailbox in Iowa and our Midwest Regions, there will be the first of many reminders that NOW is the time to start thinking about applying to the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition. But you don’t have to wait for the posters in the mail. You can start right now!

scholastic posterDo you have something that you created this summer? A new painting or poem perhaps? Or, have you begun to sketch out ideas for a new sculptural piece or a flash fiction plot? Whatever your creative jam, put it to the test in the largest and longest running art and writing competition in the United States. The Online Registration System is open now. And just like last year, the deadline will be mid-Decemeber. Don’t worry, we’ll give you a reminder as the deadline approaches…

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A New Lit Magazine Comes to the University of Iowa

Check out this post from our sister blog, Freehand!


A new literary magazine is on scene in our City of Literature!: [B]lack [A]rts; [R]eal [S]tories (BARS) “is an initiative to capture and share the Black voices on campus that are often muted.” We caught up with the Chief Editor of Non-Fiction, Matthew Bruce, one of a handful of students behind the scenes at BARS (Mr. Bruce is an exceptional student in the Iowa Talent Project here at the Belin-Blank Center, one of our university programs that recruits and supports talented and gifted students from groups typically underrepresented within higher education). We asked him what advice he would give to young black writers. Here’s what he had to say:

Matthew Bruce, Chief Editor of Non-fiction

My advice to young black writers is to explore and consume as much as possible. That means reading everything you can; articles, op-ed pieces, novels, essays, etc. That means listening to music; exploring new music and really examining the…

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How to Advocate for Acceleration at Your School

Check out this overview of the recent #gtchat with Belin-Blank administrator Dr. Ann Lupkowski Shoplik on acceleration!

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This week, #gtchat continued our series on acceleration and the new report A Nation Empowered with guest Dr. Ann Shoplik, administrator of The Acceleration Institute and co-editor of the report. Our topic of discussion was How to Advocate for Acceleration at Your School addressing both the needs of parents and teachers.

Ann Shoplik Dr. Ann Shoplik

We first asked, “What factors should be considered when contemplating acceleration?” Dr. Shoplik suggested, “Academic achievement, ability, and aptitude; school and academic factors such as attendance, motivation, and attitude toward learning. Also, developmental factors such as physical size, small & large motor coordination as well as interpersonal skills, relationships with peers and teachers, outside-of-school activities. How important are athletics to student/family?” In addition, “Student and parent attitude toward acceleration; the school system’s attitude and support; plus planning for the future: what’s available?”

How do you begin to advocate for acceleration for a particular child? Any advocacy effort needs to begin with a good plan and fact-finding about available options. Lisa…

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Best Online Resources for Gifted Information

This is wonderful information about some excellent online resources!

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Crowdsourcing has long been thought of as one of the strengths of the Internet and specifically social media communities. This week on #gtchat, we asked our participants to tell us what information they most often seek online regarding gifted issues and where to find the best resources. We also wanted to know how important a sense of community was to those who weekly join us at #gtchat. Self-election was considered acceptable and encouraged. Their links are listed below. The transcript for this chat may be found at Storify.


Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented and sponsored by is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7E/6C/5M/4P in the U.S., Midnight in the UK and Saturdays 11 AM NZST/9 AM AEST to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be…

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Notable Studies in Gifted Education

A good roundup – and we were excited to see #nationempowered on the list!


The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently published a study that examined what strides (if any) states are making in fostering the academic potential of their gifted, low-income students–and found most states severely lacking.

initiative-4-detail Authors of the study graded states using 18 indicator points to assess how low-income, high-potential students were performing in school.

In the wake of this study, PALNYC dug deep into some of the most recent research that has been conducted in the field of gifted education. Take a look at the list below for some stand out studies and articles that caught our eye and let us know if there is an article or study that you would recommend to PALNYC readers.

Featured Event

Hunter College Gifted Education Conference, 3 R’s for Gifted Education: Rigor, Relevance and Relationships

Educators, jimgresoin Hunter College on Saturday, June 13, 2015 for a one-day Gifted Education Conference that will offer insight into classroom strategies…

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Creative Writing Workshop at the National Scholars Institute

Our sister blog, Freehand, posted a great profile of one of our veteran summer teachers!


summeronthebrain_logoSummer is coming! If you’re like us, we are looking to fill our summer with adventure and how better to do that than through the power of the pen!! In order to help you get to know the Creative Writing Workshop at National Scholars Institute here at the Belin-Blank Center, we’ve decided to go straight to the source. Today’s post is a conversation with Creative Writing instructor Monica Bergers. Monica earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and her MA in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2003. She went on to teach a novel writing workshop at Victoria University in New Zealand as part of a fellowship awarded by the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2008. She grew up in Nebraska and Arkansas, and is at work on her first novel, set in the Dust Bowl. We caught up with Monica earlier this month and picked…

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Thumbs up to Invent Iowa

We love this! Such a great session with the Invent Iowa Working Group this past weekend.

Mother to Invention

Had a fun time today brainstorming with the Ashlee Van Fleet and the Invent Iowa Working Group – yep, we got to use markers and stars! Kyle, Logan, Richard and I were thrilled to be included among the program’s veterans, helping to offer ideas for reinventing, restructuring and modernizing this Belin Blank/University of Iowa initiative. I see great things ahead for cultivating innovation and creativity in kids through this program. Thumbs up to the effort!

Invent Iowa committee meeting Invent Iowa Administrator Ashlee Van Fleet, Kyle and Logan give a thumbs up at the end of our Feb. 21 strategy session for reinventing the Invent Iowa program.

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ReInvent Invent Iowa

Since Invent Iowa is on hiatus this year while we revamp the program, this mom and her sons have been brainstorming some great ideas for a new and improved Invent Iowa!

We recently wrapped up data collection to move forward with improving and updating Invent Iowa. The next phase will be to create a working group in order to start implementing the changes, and we would love to have your help! If you are interested in working with us to re-invent Invent Iowa please contact either Lori Ihrig ( or Ashlee Van Fleet ( for more information!

Mother to Invention

Invent iowa curriculm guideThe boys and I were talking about Invent Iowa tonight. For 27 years, the Invent Iowa program has encouraged students to creatively think and solve problems through the invention process. It’s a great learning experience! There are competitions held in the school and throughout Iowa every year. This year, though, the competition is taking a “hiatus” much to the disappointment to my kids, who were planning to enter something. The program is undergoing some internal review.

That got us talking though about the kinds of inventions that are typically submitted. There have been some great ones for sure! Take these from 2013’s competition.

  • Clayton Nurre and Griffin Maloney – Cleat Cleaner
  • Avery Tauke and Connor Mullis – EZ Hookup
  • Maria Hendrickson – Hold Your Horses
  • Alexandra Poremba – Ocean Breathe
  • Caylee Will, Jayden Cavanaugh, Allison Ryan, Madison Davis, Anna Ford, Hannah Dunlop, Addison Smith, Leah Pitts, Meredith Ellis –…

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Another great program at the Belin-Blank Center!

A member of our staff actually went through an earlier version of this program! It’s a great opportunity for students who are ready for college earlier than most.

What can you tell us about STEM Excellence?


The Belin-Blank Center is honored to accept funding from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to support math and science programming for underrepresented rural Iowa students. And I am thrilled to be receiving inquiries from across the state about STEM Excellence following yesterday’s Talent Development Award announcement. While STEM Excellence begins in earnest with applications opening in January 2015, I will not make you wait that long for more information!

 What is STEM Excellence?

The STEM Excellence program will be implemented in K–12 schools, designed for students in grades 6­–8, and provides university-based support for math and science teachers. STEM Excellence has two major components: 1) an extracurricular enrichment curriculum in mathematics and science for high-ability middle school students, and 2) professional development for teachers in the enrichment curriculum, math and science content, and gifted education.

With funding from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, we will work jointly with school districts to serve high-potential, low-income students. We champion the principles of access, diversity, and equality through several major programs for high potential, low-income pre‑college students. Through STEM Excellence we aim to empower academically able students from under-represented, low-income backgrounds. Empowerment means discovering students early and providing an intervention of specialized programming to promote their academic and social-emotional development.

Why STEM Excellence?

Research offers extensive support regarding the positive impact of university-based programs—such as STEM Excellence—on high-ability students. In Karen Rogers 2007 literature review, she found that “If one reads the five lessons that can be learned from this [synthesis of research], one quickly comes to understand that there is a need to find some means to group gifted learners at times for their learning and socialization, along with a need to move them ahead in some form when their learning out-strips the curriculum they are offered” (p. 382).

Furthermore, studies of course selection among high school students found that studying algebra in 8th grade leads to students taking additional math courses in high school, college, and beyond (Spielhagen, 2006). One goal of the STEM Excellence program is to encourage students to enroll in algebra by 8th grade. In a STEM Excellence pilot study, we found that students who completed the program were more likely to take algebra in grades 7 or 8 than in grade 9. Early entrance to algebra put these students on a trajectory to take calculus before college. Even though small, rural schools in Iowa are less likely to offer calculus on site, students in the pilot project had access to calculus via the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA).

STEM Excellence focuses on math and science in grades 6­–8 as a conduit to more advanced coursework in high school. For example, these students may choose to take Advanced Placement courses through IOAPA, which provides this coursework at no charge to schools. Individual students who qualify for free and reduced lunch take the AP exams at a reduced fee.

 Who can participate in STEM Excellence?

 STEM Excellence will directly serve high-ability middle-school students living in high-need, small or rural Iowa school districts. To become a STEM Excellence school and establish a partnership with us, you must complete the application process that opens January 2015. The three ranked factors that will guide the selection process are: 1) high percentages of families who qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL), 2) demographics that indicate predominately rural or small schools, and 3) a history of participation in the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA).

 What does STEM Excellence cost?

We will sponsor STEM Excellence with generous support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Each selected school receives materials, services, and financial support to support program implementation.

What if I want to know more about STEM Excellence?

badge_2I will use social media to keep you up-to-date as we unveil our website, set our professional development series, and begin to accept applications. So, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our newsletter, or check back in on our blog.

Let’s raise the aspirations and achievement of Iowa’s children, and nurture STEM excellence.

Lori M. Ihrig, Ph.D.
Administrator for Curriculum & Instruction