Future of May IB Exams Unknown

IB has yet to make a definitive decision about IB exams

Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school year there was an increase of 31  students registered for IB exams. This is a 20 percent increase from last school year compared to this one.

Nicole Macgaffey

Between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school year there was an increase of 31 students registered for IB exams. This is a 20 percent increase from last school year compared to this one.

Nadia Martinez, Podcast Manager

The future of the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams is unknown. In March of 2020, the IB organization made the decision of canceling exams for the 2019-2020 school year due to the global effects of COVID-19. This was done in order to have a consistent experience for IB students. Currently, most exams will be evaluated through the Internal Assessments (IA) and a procedure called predicted scoring. 

“Given the circumstance, [canceling the exams] was reasonable. IB is a good organization in a way that they’re cognizant of what happens and they’re compassionate towards students that may be struggling,” English Accelerated and IB Literature Higher Level (HL) 1 and 2 teacher Raymond Chhan said.

The future of IB exams is going to be different from what students have seen in previous years. Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) has made efforts to resume on-campus instruction with the intent that in-person exams could be held, however, these efforts have been in vain as California experiences a rise in COVID-19 cases. Consequently, IB will be utilizing the method carried out the year before, only on a much larger scale.

“Distance Learning has made it difficult for student interactions. If I’m not running into technical issues, students are having trouble feeling engaged from their side of the camera,” Honors Chemistry, Advanced Placement (AP) Chemistry, and IB Chemistry teacher Jeffery Rivera said. “The pandemic has changed the course and the assessment structure a lot.”

IB administrators have now been taking out entire papers from the written exams, or have certain subjects weigh their IB test scores heavily on the IAs. For the IA, students are tasked with completing a student-driven project or writing a paper with minor guidance from their teachers in class. Unlike last year, for instance, IB Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) is requiring every student who is taking the exam to turn in an IA for their IB score.

“My students do so much better on [the] exam than [they] do with IAs. [This year,] you’re coming up with your own experiment, you’re doing it at home, you’re going to have to get equipment. I would have been able to control that if it was in-person learning, I can’t control what’s going on in a person’s home,” Accelerated Biology and IB ESS teacher Jennifer Ekstein said.

The IA is worth the same amount as other IB exams. Previously, the IA was a smaller project that would be graded by the teacher. This year, the IA is especially crucial as it will determine students’ scores. As a result, teachers like Ekstein have shifted their course and centered it around the IA to prepare their students. 

“At this point, I have to give up my weeks to the IA, where I would normally have done my IA back in December. I would have been running over topics for the IA at the same time. But I’m going to have to make sacrifices for the sake of my student’s health, and due to the fact that I don’t know what’s going on in May,” Ekstein said.

In addition, IB has a process called predicted scoring, where teachers predict what their students’ scores will be on the exams. Last year, teachers sent in their student’s IAs and then sent in the year’s score predictions. 

“The theory [of predicted scoring] is that if you’ve been teaching IB for a few years, you’ve encountered students, you’ve worked with them before, you have some sense of how a student in your class compares to how they tend to do on exams,” Math Analysis and Approaches IB HL 2 teacher and IB program coordinator Jared Phelps said.

Usually, IB exams are scheduled a year in advance. The exams are split across multiple days because many of them involve different sections. For instance, IB Chemistry is tested on three separate papers. Paper 1 is a multiple choice section, paper 2 is a free-response section and paper 3 is made up of required topics that the students choose such as Medicinal, Energy, Biochemistry or Materials Chemistry.

“If IB decides to strictly assess candidates by the IA it will be stressful for my students to run effective investigations,” Rivera said. “They are not allowed on campus yet and there is only so much equipment or chemicals I can send home for safety reasons. I am hoping that the second semester will allow some opportunities for actual small group meetings to have them run labs.”

IB instructors may not be able to provide the typical instruction for their students and have made some concessions. For IB Chemistry, there is no paper 3 of the exam, so there is less for students to study for. 

“Everything is now geared towards the core material. I’m fine with that. The core material is essential to a strong chemistry foundation. However, I firmly believe that the additional material that is now not required is what separated IB from AP,” Rivera said. 

Currently, the plan for IB exams is still changing due to the condition of schools re-opening resting on the climate of California’s COVID-19 cases. However, for now, IB exams are predicted to have the same procedure as the year prior. 

“[The IB organization] knows that a lot of students aren’t going to learn everything, so teachers should do their best,” Phelps said. “IB wants to keep their options open and be able to apply a non-uniform solution. Unfortunately, the people that are hurt by this uncertainty, are teachers and students. Hopefully, everything works out in the end.”