Clarke County’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program report card arrived in the mail last week and, based on the grades, it looks as if Mom and Dad aren’t going to be too happy. Last night the Clarke County School Board and top school administrators agreed that IB results were disappointing but deferred a corrective action plan until a joint School Board – teacher work group can be convened once instructors return from summer break.
Rhodes’ reference was to the extended essay score section of the IB program 2011 performance summary where only two students scored in the “good” range, designated by the letter grade of “B” while 15 students scored in the “satisfactory”, “mediocre” or “elementary” range designated as letter grades “C”, “D” or “E”.
Individual performance in the IB Theory of Knowledge course was only slightly better with 9 students still only achieving “mediocre” results.
Students in the IB Diploma Programme follow six courses either at the “higher level” or “standard level.” An IB diploma is awarded to students who gain at least 24 points (fewer than 1% of students gain the full 45 points possible), subject to certain minimum levels of performance across the whole diploma and achieve satisfactory participation in creativity, action and service.
Generally about 80% of Diploma Programme students worldwide are awarded the diploma each examination session.
Clarke County’s IB diploma rate this year dropped to about 35%..
“Our scores in science, math, and biology are not good and we need additional work there,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Floyd acknowledged before the School Board last night.
With state education budget funding in decline and poor student IB performance, last night the Clarke County School Board debated the options on the best approach for corrective action. But at the moment, elimination of the IB program in favor of the less costly, but more technical, Advanced Placement program doesn’t appear to be on the table.
“Rather than debate whether AP would be better than IB, I believe at this juncture we must make a frank, honest and in-depth analysis of the reasons why our students are doing so poorly in our IB courses, and take the necessary steps to remediate the deficiencies” said School Board member Robina Bouffault (White Post). “There should be an in-depth exploration of the pros and cons of each and every advanced program we currently offer, including the Bridge program.”
“Universities and colleges today continue to be much more geared towards AP than IB,” Bouffault continued. “They work closely with the College Board who provides considerable support, while many of them look askance at the IB Geneva organization, and do not necessarily give credits for IB courses taken, or diplomas. AP has more acceptance – a fact which must be taken into account when opting for the IB diploma.”
However, Bouffault said that she still prefers the comprehensive and more international scope of the IB program, especially as the US economy becomes increasingly global and says that doing away with the IB program is not the solution to the current poor test scores.
Clarke County presently partners with Lord Fairfax Community College, James Madison University, and Shenandoah University to offer dual enrollment opportunities for students to gain college level course credit.
“Proposing to jettison IB would not resolve the current issues, I believe,” Bouffault said. “However, the problem we are going to face is a double one: How to improve our results, and how to be cost efficient while doing it. I believe that our teacher-training in the IB curriculum has been insufficient, and needs improvement.”
At last night’s meeting Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy acknowledged that while the school system had spent two years focusing on teacher training, other factors still contribute to a student’s success or failure with IB courses.
“Clarke County is still an open enrollment school,” Murphy said. “That means that anyone can take an IB level course.” Murphy also noted that IB program participation had declined significantly since the school division’s decision to stop paying for IB test fees.
“We used to pay $106K a year for IB tests,” Murphy said. “I’m not sure about the grades but the participation rate was certainly higher then.”
School Board member Janet Alger (Russell) said that she believed that the low grades, in part, are attributable to students who aren’t completely convinced of the benefits that they will derive from IB’s rigorous course work and sometimes sign-up for the program based on parental prompting rather than personal achievement goals.
“I think that part of it is that today’s student culture doesn’t see what IB gives them long-term,” Alger said.
Alger suggested that the School Board and school staff convene two work sessions to separately consider the challenges facing both the IB and AP programs and to come up with solutions. Both Murphy and Bouffault enthusiastically embraced Alger’s proposal.
“I agree with Janet [Alger],” Bouffault said. “We need to have a brainstorming session with staff.”
“We’ll find a date and get everyone together,” Murphy agreed.
Lisa Floyd said that she has already scheduled an IB review for August 4th when school staff return from summer break, but also welcomed Alger’s proposal for an additional collaborative problem solving session.
“Asking â€˜why’ and then bringing together folks to discuss the issues and implications is paramount” Floyd said on Tuesday.
But in a climate of economic austerity the ultimate outcome for any performing program can never be assured.
“The cost element looms its ugly head,” said Bouffault. “The IB program is much more expensive than the AP program. Budgets are tight, and from every indication, will be getting worse next year. This aspect too, must be added to the questions being asked, as the FY13 budget is announcing itself as brutal.”