IB confirms BVH will not be holding seated exams

Environmental+Systems+and+Societies+%28ESS%29+teacher+Jennifer+Ekstein+instructs+her+students+on+what+is+required+for+their+Internal+Assessment+%28IA%29.

Alexa Vazquez

Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) teacher Jennifer Ekstein instructs her students on what is required for their Internal Assessment (IA).

After many months of waiting, the International Baccalaureate (IB) community at Bonita Vista High (BVH) was given an answer to the many questions concerning the official plan for exams during the ongoing pandemic. IB students were informed by IB Coordinator Jared Phelps that there would be no seated exams in May. Phelps forwarded the information from an email he received from the IB Organization (IBO) on the morning of Feb. 11. 

“Your IB grade (score 1-7) for each course you’re testing in will be based on the Internal Assessments (IA) you submit in your IB class and on your teacher’s ‘predicted grade’ that they think you’d earn on the IB exam if you did get to take it,” Phelps wrote in his announcement to the IB Diploma Candidates of 2021.

After receiving the announcement on the IB scores and assessment, both teachers and students indicated that they felt a great relief. On both sides, the feeling came from not having to worry about the extra stress or the content that was not covered in the course. 

“I am glad the IBO recognized that BVH is not in a position to have sit-down exams. I’m mostly relieved that the way in which we’re going to be examined is fair and just considering distance learning and San Diego being in the purple-tier,” IB Diploma Candidate and senior Cambria McClelland said. 

Regarding the IAs in particular, there have been both positive and negative responses from students and teachers. Many are grateful that the IBO is putting more weight on it as it is a factor that clearly represents students’ knowledge of their courses. The negative revolved around the extra pressure and stress surrounding the IAs and Extended Essays. 

“Doing my IA over distance learning was something I was not looking forward to because normally you get to be in person with your teacher there to help you and make sure everything is running smoothly,” IB Diploma Candidate and junior Kailee Wendeln-Lankard said. “However, this year we all had to do our IAs from home, and while the teachers were very helpful and tried their best to help us along the way, there was only so much they could do.” 

Science classes have had the most challenges when it comes to completing their IAs, as Wendeln-Lankard said when referring to her Environmental Systems and Societies (ESS) class. IB Biology teacher Michelle Mardahl, Ph.D., explained how it is first a challenge coming up with projects students can do at home, and a challenge to grade all of the reports, since they are all around 12 pages long. 

“I want my students to get the highest grade that they can get. So [when] I’m looking at [the reports], I’m saying, ‘Oh my gosh, your titles aren’t complete, you need to have a complete title. Oh, you’re missing units, you [don’t have] enough scientific reasoning. You didn’t show your math.’ It takes me like a good hour to go through every IA,” Mardahl said. “I’m very paranoid [because] I want the IAs to be pristine and as good as they can get.”

In his announcement, after communicating how the students will be assessed and how the scores will be given out, Phelps addressed the financial aspect of the exams. 

“You will still need to pay for your IB exams, even if you’re not taking the seated exam in May because IB will still be grading all of the IAs and spending time and energy in trying to fairly assess your learning and provide a score,” Phelps wrote. 

Phelps continued to explain that the fee for each exam will remain the same 125 dollar amount as it would have with the seated exams. Although he understands students’ frustration that the price has not changed, he clarified that the money will still be used to pay for the labor in grading a part of the assessment.

“At the end of the day, I feel like that’s kind of necessary because there’s people that are going to be grading your IA. I think that maybe the fee should be reduced because it’s not even close to the same amount of work that they’re grading, but they should still be paid,” IB Diploma Candidate and senior Diego Gonzalez said, referring to the absence of seated exams to grade.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

To provide more guidance to teachers on grade predictions, which are now 50 percent of students’ overall scores, the IBO sent statistics gathered on grade averages for BVH on Feb. 28. 

“The IBO has noticed in their statistics that schools’ predicted grades and passing rates don’t change massively from year to year. They might change a little bit, but it’s not drastic,” Phelps said. “It tends to be in a window, so I think IB is communicating that they expect to see similar percentages of students passing exams.”

IB French and Spanish Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL) teacher Marina Dillingham believes having her predicted scores be worth more of the overall score is logical considering the current situation. 

“The seated exam was the external evaluation. That’s how people outside of my classroom got a chance to assess the students. [However,] if they’re not going to have that opportunity, then definitely, the weight falls more on the person who’s been talking to them for nine months, [the teacher],” Dillingham said.

“At the end of the day, all IB students can really do is the best given their circumstance, and this looks different for everyone. ‘Being prepared’ has a tremendous grey area that’s hard to define. What does it mean to be prepared for anything anymore?””

— IB Diploma Candidate and senior Cambria McClelland

Students showed different reactions to the fact that the predicted scores will contribute more to their overall scores. For Gonzalez, he questions if it is really an accurate representation of students’ knowledge of a course since many students have just been cheating. McClelland and IB Diploma Candidate and junior Xavier Millan wish there was more information on how teachers will be predicting the grades, since they are already familiar with the grading of the IAs. They illustrated how, as students, they are left to trust their teachers and assume their teachers will give out scores based off of the students’ overall grades.

“Somebody who performs well in all areas of the language speaking, reading, writing and  listening is going to get a high predicted score. It doesn’t matter what they do with the score or how they count it. It’s still my opinion based on what I have observed through[out] the year,” Dillingham said. 

Phelps specified that the IBO decided to have no seated assessments based on surveys they sent out to IB coordinators at IB schools around the world. The surveys asked how their schools are handling COVID-19 and how the pandemic has affected them. 

“Everyone’s in different situations financially, socially, whatever it may be. I feel like that’s the right thing to do, to not have any seated exams,” Gonzalez said. 

Phelps believes the program analyzed the data taken from the surveys and came up with a plan “fairly quickly” given that they had the information by Jan. 20 and they sent out the official plan on Feb. 11. 

“They needed to get to a point where we were close enough to exams, for coordinators, and their administrative teams to feel like they were able to make decisions; but not so close that it was too late to make that decision,” Phelps said. “Us having this information in early February [is about] two months better than what we were dealing with last year, which is helpful.” 

Phelps expressed that there cannot be a perfect replacement, but he believes the plan set by the IBO is both a fair and compassionate one. He said he is “inclined to trust IB’s statistics work and data analysis when they tell us that this is the most fair solution that they can come up with.” McClelland noted that one of the top things that matter to her is that the IB graders take all of the students’ limitations, academic and personal, into consideration. 

“At the end of the day, all IB students can really do is the best given their circumstance, and this looks different for everyone. ‘Being prepared’ has a tremendous grey area that’s hard to define. What does it mean to be prepared for anything anymore?” McClelland said.

This piece was updated on March 11, 2021.