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Millcreek Journal

International baccalaureate program awards diploma to high school seniors without testing

May 07, 2020 11:53AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

International baccalaureate students at 10 Utah high schools will be earning their diploma without taking their final tests. Those students include those in the Salt Lake Valley at Highland, Hillcrest, Skyline and West high schools as well as at Providence Hall.

In late March, IB announced that they would no longer hold the May 2020 examinations that were scheduled for the diploma program and career-related program candidates because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, and instead, “depending on what they registered for, the students will be awarded a diploma or a course certificate which reflects their standard of work,” their webpage stated.

It is the first time IB has canceled examinations in its 52-year history.

The IB diploma program is made of three core required components— theory of knowledge, a 4,000-word individual research extended essay, and a creative activity service project — in addition to studying six core subjects: language and literature; language acquisition; individuals and societies; sciences; mathematics; and the arts.

Students are evaluated using internal and external assessments, and courses finish with an externally assessed series of examinations, usually two or three timed written tests. Internal assessment varies by subject, for example, fieldwork in geography, laboratory work in the sciences, artistic performances, oral interviews in languages and investigations in mathematics. These typically are graded by the classroom teacher, whose grades are then verified by an appointed external moderator.

The career path not only includes courses from the diploma program, but also those of career-related studies, such as technical and professional coursework. There also is a focus in service learning, language development and a reflective project.

IB went on to state that the awarded diploma or certificate will be “based on student’s coursework and the established assessment expertise, rigor and quality control,” which are already built into the programs.

“Our goal continues to be to find ways to support our global community during these uncertain times and provide the best possible outcomes for our students,” their webpage stated.

At Hillcrest, which is one of three local schools that offer both the diploma and career path, senior Emily Zhang said she first saw the announcement on her IB account, then has been receiving updates from the school’s IB coordinator John Olsen.

“It’s a little weird not to do testing,” she said. “A lot of us are happy that we don’t have to sit through them, but we’re also in shock. We’ve spent the past two years preparing for them, so where do we go from here? It’s unprecedented.”

Olsen said that with the diploma candidates this year, the international assessments (IA) are critical.

“In the past, we have had teachers grade them and then a sample would be sent to be reviewed at another IB site in the world,” he said. “This year, we’re still grading them here, but each one will be sent to be reviewed at two additional IB sites. So basically, three moderators will be conducting three different independent checks to see what students know. Our teachers are trained around the country so it’s fair that they will treat students the same as an IB school in Argentina may treat them. They’re all looking extensively at the IAs with a fine-tooth comb.”

However, as schools were abruptly put on soft closure in mid-March, some of Hillcrest’s 93 students who were to test this year left school that day, not knowing they wouldn’t return, and their projects were left unfinished. Olsen said teachers are working with those students to access the materials to help them finish their IAs.

While Zhang has turned in her IA, she said students aren’t clear on how the final score will be calculated. Scores with the IB diploma are used by colleges and universities to determine the amount of college credit a student earns with the program and are expected to be released July 5.

And even though students won’t be taking the year-end test, Zhang still feels that she will be prepared for college.

“I should be fine heading into college,” she said. “I already had tested in two areas last year, so I feel prepared. A lot of us already were reviewing our notes for this year and our teachers are continuing the rigorous curriculum to maintain the IB standard.”

Olsen said some teachers are continuing as if a test is imminent – even having students take previous year tests as practice. Schools also are to submit six IB subjects and teacher comments for IB to review.

“Our teachers are still giving the coursework at the same rigor, so students are prepared, and they earn their grade,” he said. “IB is adjusting the best they can so the IB diploma will reflect the student’s standard of work.”