For the first time in more than 50 years of operation, the Swiss-based International Baccalaureate organization canceled its final subject exams for this year’s graduating high school seniors after the coronavirus pandemic disrupted schools worldwide. Last month’s announcement answered a massive looming question on the minds of IB students everywhere, but it left many uncertain about how fair the substitute process will be.
In place of the exams, individual programs will submit a comprehensive profile of each student, and the IB committee will award a final diploma score using a calculation that includes past grades plus a predicted final course grade based on work students completed before COVID-19 disruptions.
“I’m kind of worried about that,” 17-year-old Yousif Askar of Warren, Mich., said. He attends the International Academy of Macomb, a collaborative program with 19 participating public school districts and one of the more than 1,700 IB programs offered in the United States.
Askar explained that this year’s IB calculation will include grades from as early as the first semester of his junior year: “My writing has gotten a lot better than last year.” He also said he likes math and wishes he could take the exam, but “other people will probably happily not take a math exam.”
More than 150 countries use the rigorous IB high school diploma curriculum. The programs’ globally standardized curriculum is particularly popular in international schools. Many Christian schools host IB programs because they see correlations between its structures and goals and those of classical education. The IB experience culminates in the organization’s final subject area exams every spring. The scores from those exams ultimately yield a number that becomes the student’s IB diploma score.
For some students, like Askar, the unexpected change most likely works in their favor.
“I feel confident enough in the work I’ve done over the last two years,” he said. “On the other hand, people who don’t feel like they did their best now wish they could take the IB exams.”
And while the vast majority of U.S. schools are scrambling to get homework to homebound students, Askar said that’s not the case for IB students.
“I just took my last IB-related test yesterday,” he said on Tuesday, “so now I have absolutely nothing to do.” He added that most of his teachers had finished the course content and the remainder of the school year would have been spent practicing for the exams normally held in May.
IB issued updated guidance on this year’s plan on Tuesday and will release final diploma scores by July 5. Scores range up to 45, and a score in the upper 30s is considered competitive for college admission. Students who are not satisfied with their final diploma score can appeal. Anyone not anxious to start college this fall could also opt to take their exams next year.