IOAPA: Supporting your Students

As we are about a month into the school-year, IOAPA students are learning of the expectations, requirements, and commitments to their above-level courses. Balancing high school activities with coursework can be overwhelming, especially because the new level of challenge may be an adjustment to many students. This new challenge can generate worries about their abilities and may threaten their status of being a “smart” student. This blog post explains how referring to a student as “smart” may be harmful — when students don’t feel “smart” (i.e. when taking a challenging course) they may not seek out advanced coursework in the future, fail on purpose, overextend themselves, or (hopefully) ask for help. However, bright students may be unaccustomed to reaching out to ask for help, or discussing their worries about course content and grades. It is important for parents and teachers to support students through this process in order to encourage the continuation of challenging coursework.

SWR 2018-1

Taking IOAPA’s advanced courses may be the first time your students have felt “stressed” about schoolwork! If previous course content came naturally, students may be learning how to study for the first time.  On the other end, students that are successful in a variety of courses (multipotentiality), may be stressed about picking just one interest or career goal. Bright students may also experience stress related to perfectionist qualities, striving for excellence, and having high expectations of themselves.  This blog post discusses what stress may look like in gifted students.

Overall, the challenge presented by IOAPA classes is very beneficial for high ability students. Although the advanced coursework may bring about some worries and new struggles, they also present the opportunity for students to realize the benefits of the challenge, and to continue to seek out stimulating content.

IOAPA: Time to Start Planning for Spring Semester

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. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup.

In order to use this year’s above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for next spring’s IOAPA courses, now is the time to begin the above-level testing process. (IOAPA spring registration opens November 1, and we expect seats to fill quickly). 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 90thpercentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing. The Iowa Testing Program (ITP) provides a tool you can use for identifying those students.
  2. Notify the students identified and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS. Letters you can use for that purpose are found here for the ACT and here for I-Excel.
  3. 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 org/talent-search 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) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand.
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Costs. The cost for I-Excel for the upcoming school year is $45 per student for group testing; this fee is discounted to $22 per student for students residing in Iowa.  Please note, the Belin-Blank Center no longer has grant funding to provide I-Excel testing at no cost to Iowa 5th graders.  However, Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations so they can try out I-Excel with their students.

Individual ACT registration is $70.  This includes both the testing fee and the talent search fee, and students are provided with the individualized report mentioned above. The group rate is $60, if the teacher registers the students.

For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are provided for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

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

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at

Continuing Support for AP Programs in Iowa

Students who participate in AP programs (1) stand out to college admissions, (2) earn academic scholarships and awards from colleges and universities, (3) perform as well or better in upper-level courses in the content area of their AP course(s), (4) earn higher GPAs in college, and (5) have higher college graduation rates, and are more likely to graduate college in four years or fewer (IOAPA Annual Report, 2018).

Even with the well-researched benefits of enrolling in AP courses, recent news reveals that 8 private schools in the Washington D.C. area are choosing to no longer offer AP programs. AP courses were introduced in the 1950s to offer opportunities for ambitious students to enroll in and receive credit for college-level work. The schools in the D.C. area argue that since approximately 40% of high school students enroll in AP courses, it is no longer true that AP courses are only for the exceptional students. These schools collectively investigated the potential impact of not offering AP courses on their students’ college applications, and stated that colleges simply care that the applicant took their high school’s most demanding course, and that the “AP designation itself is irrelevant.” Therefore, these schools are implementing their own system of advanced coursework.


this new curriculum method by no means is a “one size fits all,” especially for our Iowa schools. Districts with small enrollment sizes (<1000 students) comprises 67% of Iowa school districts2. Rural schools are often under resourced and unable to provide opportunities beyond the traditional curriculum. Because inequities in opportunities exist between rural and urban/suburban students, IOAPA serves to fill this gap.  IOAPA offers advanced courses and equal learning opportunities to all schools in Iowa. For many Iowa schools, AP programs are how motivated students are able to be challenged, and in other words, are able to enroll in the most demanding course offered. For Iowa students, IOAPA is a promising avenue for students’ educational future, as engaging in challenging high school curriculum is one of the best predictors of college completion.1

Referring to AP courses as a “diminished utility” is inaccurate because it “ignores the past 30 years in which public high schools have found AP, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge, to be robust tools to challenge more students — about 2.7 million in 2017, including many exceptional ones who couldn’t afford private school. Enrollment officials from 13 universities including Yale, Michigan, Stanford and UCLA have rejected the eight schools’ contention that AP courses are of “diminished significance.” – Jay Matthews, an education columnist for the Washington Post.

1Adelman, C. (1999). Answers in the Tool Box. Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor’s Degree Attainment.
2Iowa Department of Education. (2017). The Annual Condition of Education Report. Accessed on: August 29, 2018.

IOAPA: Important Dates & Deadlines

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

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

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

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

Director’s Message: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase V (2008-2013)

It’s August and the start of a new school year in the Northern Hemisphere.  As I’ve written before, new beginnings are both energizing and daunting.  The first 20 years of the Belin-Blank Center resulted in several programs, services, and events that brought us to this point.  Much has happened; yet, there is more to do.

This sentiment captures the state of the Center as we entered Phase V (2008 – 2013) of our 30-year anniversary retrospective.

Not every year has a theme, but 2008 did, and The Time is Now seemed perfect as we marked our 20th anniversary.  All of our programs were mature and strong and we were able to add new opportunities, services, and student programs.

In 2008, we hosted the 9th Wallace Research Symposium.  It was extra special that year because we brought in 79 international educators from 44 countries Originally, we believed that we were bringing international educators to the University of Iowa to enhance their experience.  We quickly learned that, although they were very enthusiastic about the opportunity, it was we who benefitted the most through the increased diversity and the broadening of our perspectives.  To this day, we have maintained our connections with these international educators, having most recently visited with a few during the August 2018 European Council for High Ability Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

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A few months later, we welcomed our first group of China Scholars, which expanded a few years later to include students from Hong Kong.  From 2008 – 2017, we welcomed multiple cohorts of high school students from China or Hong Kong, several of whom eventually attended and graduated from the University of Iowa.

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The year 2008 also brought devastating floods to Iowa, and the UI campus, in particular, where more than $1 billion dollars in damages were sustained.  Still, the Center – indeed, the entire university — continued to serve students and educators and to strengthen our research agenda throughout this trying time.

The early part of Phase V, saw additional resources added to the Acceleration Institute, which features two seminal reports on academic acceleration (A Nation Deceived and its follow-up report, A Nation Empowered) , access to the Iowa Acceleration Scale (published in 2009) and a free download of Guidelines for Establishing Academic Acceleration Policies (also published in 2009).  Both publications are scheduled for an update in 2019.

Our student programs took on a new dimension in 2011, when we were invited to be the administrative home for the Junior Science Humanities Symposium (JSHS) and the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP).  In particular, SSTP would become the model for future summer residential pre-college programs that include  UI credit-bearing courses.

In 2012, we co-hosted, with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), a special summit related to policy on academic acceleration.  This was such a successful event that it precipitated additional co-hosting of events. Specifically, we have since co-hosted the Wallace Symposium with NAGC (2014) and with Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt University (2018).

The final years of Phase V were important transition years with the Center’s founding director, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, retiring in mid-December 2012.  I was honored to become the second director of the Belin-Blank Center and to continue to build our programs and services with the superb team of professionals who comprise the Center.

Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board Dinner 10/25/2012

Phase VI, the final chapter in this 30-year retrospective, is characterized by additional growth, as always, built upon the foundation established by philanthropists and co-founders, Myron and Jacqueline Blank and David and Connie Belin, and enhanced through the Center’s amazing staff and faculty. Stay tuned for our October newsletter, where I am pleased to be sharing all the recent work we have been doing to move into the next 30 years of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence in talented students.

Visual Guide to IOAPA High School Courses

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

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Visual Guide to IOAPA Middle School Courses

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