Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Education Debate and the IA

I've been reading a lot of blog posts about education.  I get the ASCD digest in my email every day.  I follow twitter.  There is so much stuff out there that it can be overwhelming.  The trend I see is NCLB waivers, Common Core, test scores, grade inflation/deflation, bad schools, bad teachers, bad assignments, schools closing libraries and 21st century technology skills.  (Ironic that librarians are the experts in information literacy and educational technology...yet, the first to go during budget cuts) Clearly, there is a lot more on the internets...but this is what I see.

So, a colleague forwarded me a link to Grant Wiggins blog.  I read this: and then I read this which led me to this student blog .  Amen to all of them!  I like what they have to say and I agree with most of it.

Then after mulling things around a bit, I got upset.  I feel like we (teachers in our building) are working in this void that no one notices.  Why doesn't anyone (bloggers, ASCD, Washington, education experts) notice what we do and what we accomplish?  I'm not looking for plaques and certificates.  I think I just want to be included in conversations about US schools that work!

As a staff, we sometimes joke that we are in the cult of IB.  During lesson planning and PD planning, our world revolves around "IB-ology".  Yes, we are an IB school.  Yes, we follow the IB curriculum.  But there is so much more to IB than people realize and I am fortunate enough to work with a staff that truly believes in the IB philosophy.  We are a public school in the Detroit area, jam packed into a former elementary school, where every single student who chooses to attend here takes on the full IB Diploma Programme.  We have our supporters and we have our critics.  Such is life.

The debate over standardized testing rages on in schools and in politics (!).  We have conversations about formative and summative assessments.  We talk about norm-referenced and criterion-referenced.  Of course our students have to take the MMEs and the ACT and then there is the Common Core.  Because of the IB Curriculum and their high standards and expectations, we do not have to devote any classroom time to the above testing.  Our students do fine and we don't have to obsess about it.  The IB curriculum exceeds state standards.  Interestingly enough, some of the Common Core language mirrors the IB language.  I also noticed that NCA AdvancEd language (starting in 2013) also mirrors IB language.   I'm not saying that anyone is copying anyone.  Best practice is best practice.  But the IBO was established in 1968.  I'm just sayin'.

The IB assessment policy states:

"Assessment of the DP is high-stakes, criterion-related performance assessment. It is based on the following aims, which are elaborated in the remainder of this section.
  1. DP assessment should support the curricular and philosophical goals of the programme, through the encouragement of good classroom practice and appropriate student learning.
  2. The published results of DP assessment (that is, subject grades) must have a sufficiently high level of reliability, appropriate to a high-stakes university entrance qualification.
  3. DP assessment must reflect the international-mindedness of the programme wherever possible, must avoid cultural bias, and must make appropriate allowance for students working in their second language.
  4. DP assessment must pay appropriate attention to the higher-order cognitive skills (synthesis, reflection, evaluation, critical thinking) as well as the more fundamental cognitive skills (knowledge, understanding and application).
  5. Assessment for each subject must include a suitable range of tasks and instruments/ components that ensure all objectives for the subject are assessed.
  6. The principal means of assessing student achievement and determining subject grades should be the professional judgment of experienced senior examiners, supported by statistical information" (IBO Principles to Practice). 

We have rubrics, criteria and examples of student work from all over the world.  We can move past multiple choice, T/F, and focus on educating our students :)  The above assessment policy is applied to all subject areas.  At the core of our curriculum is the Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge and the CAS program (Creativity, Action, Service).  This program embodies what the educational community is always talking about.  But it's never a focus of our national conversation.

Grant Wiggins posted about the French Philosopy Bac.  Some of the questions were:

  • Can we prove a scientific hypothesis?
  • Is it our duty to seek out the truth?
  • Would we have more freedom without the state?
  • What does one gain from working?
  • Is every belief contrary to reason?
  • Are there questions that no science answers?

The IB Theory of Knowledge class asks similar questions that change every year.  For 2011 some of the prescribed essay titles were:
  1. Knowledge is generated through the interaction of critical and creative thinking. Evaluate this statement in two areas of knowledge.
  2. Compare and contrast knowledge which can be expressed in words/symbols with knowledge that cannot be expressed in this way. Consider CAS and one or more areas of knowledge.
  3. Using history and at least one other area of knowledge, examine the claim that it is possible to attain knowledge despite problems of bias and selection.
  4. When should we discard explanations that are intuitively appealing?
  5. What is it about theories in the human sciences and natural sciences that makes them convincing? 
So, I guess to sum up my thoughts....
  • It bothers me that the United States/Michigan/Oakland County doesn't seem to realize that the International Academy is one of the top 5 largest IB schools in the world.
  • It bothers me that our students' IB Diploma acquisition rate is 93% for 2012 and the WORLD average is 78% and no one but our staff and students seem to notice this point of pride.
  • Student work that is internally assessed, is then externally moderated by IBO examiners.  There is no chance of grade inflation or deflation.  Worldwide standards are tough to live up to.
  • IB students sit through hours and hours of examinations before the end of their Senior year.
  • Our students are amazing for having made it through the IB DP, CAS, EE and TOK.  What an accomplishment!!!  They have taken ownership of their learning and are ready for college and life long learning.
  • I love being a librarian and a teacher at the IA :)

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