IB Impressed with International Baccalaureate

March 27th, 2013

Category: News

As the focus on raising rigor intensifies, more and more schools in Delaware have become interested in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit several IB schools in Maryland and see what all the fuss was about.

When I first heard about the program in college it sounded to me like the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses. There was a big test you took at the end class. Success on the test resulted in advanced placement or college credit. The abbreviation was even two letters, just like AP. It sounded like the only difference was the fact that IB was international. However, people involved in the program were always adamant that the comparison was too limited. Indeed, everyone I have ever met who has taken or been involved in IB has been a strong advocate for the program, citing its broad impact. Last week I finally understood what they were talking about.

I am a fan of AP courses—they are a great way to raise the rigor to which high school students are exposed. The IB program though, is more than just coursework; it is about redesigning the very way students learn and engage with content and each other. At the high school level it includes a curriculum, but the program extends through middle and elementary school as a layer that builds upon what is already taught in the school. Built upon a constructivist foundation, IB asks students to own their education, pushing them to understand the why and how of what they are learning and be able to apply their knowledge, continuing their development through engaged inquiry.

This idea is certainly not unique to IB, but it was present in a systematic and fundamental way in all three of the schools I visited. Class after class, I saw students in charge of their own learning, leading discussion and asking and answering questions of each other. 7th graders shared about the importance of understanding their own learning styles and the interconnectedness of science and the arts while teachers share their philosophy of “answering questions with another question.”

The proof is in the pudding. Presenters cited research that suggested that students in IB programs not only perform better academically, but show significant differences from their peers in the “intangibles” that allow them to be more apt to succeed in colleges and careers.

It’s no wonder then, that educators in Delaware are taking notice. The program, originally thought of as only suitable for elite private schools, has sprung up in schools across the state, and many more districts are considering implementing the model. It is indicative of the shift from setting rigor to the level we think students can handle to looking instead at the level where our students should be and helping them rise to meet that bar. It is a simple but profound distinction that is happening not just in IB schools, but in schools throughout Delaware, and our students have shown they are capable of rising to the challenge.

Brian Yin




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