Tag Archives: ib

Mastery vs IB Assessment

Exams make me depressed.

Every December and June (for grade 11) and December and March (for grade 12) I spend a lot of time creating an assessment that follows the objectives of my course and meaningfully assesses student proficiency in the required skills, and knowledge of the required information.

And every December and June, and December and March, the results are disappointing. It doesn’t seem to matter how much we review. I think the Modeling approach is helping with comprehension of ideas, but it isn’t translating into perfect test scores.

I’m clearly not alone in this. For IB science and math courses, the “excellent” grade of 7 is awarded to students who get more than ~70% of the questions correct on their exam (adjusted yearly, there is also the IA, etc). The passing grade (a 4) is ~40%. And according to the IB Statistical Bulletin, only 8% of students will get that elusive 7. And 39% of students won’t even get the 4.

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The problem, I think, is an impedance mismatch between the IB grading system and my own mastery-oriented expectations.

The IB system is designed to assign a rank to students, for the purpose of university applications, mainly.  A 7 student needs to be clever, clever, clever. The average student, who can satisfy most of the curricular learning goals, is distinguished from the 7 student through trick questions, overly-specific grading rubrics, demanding that students memorize definitions, and even a few unsuitably-hard questions. Such a system is fine — we expect the SAT and IELTS to deliver such a ranking, for example.

My expectations as a teacher, however, and my sentiments as someone close to the learner, are a bit different. We see the examination as an opportunity to demonstrate the students’ mastery of the curricular content — not as a test to put the student in his/her place. For us, it is heartbreaking when students get less than 7 — and when the 7 they get is 70% instead of 95%.

I’m not an excellent teacher, but I’m getting better. Hopefully, soon, my students will go into an exam with full and deep understanding of everything they need to know. I hope that they achieve the scores they deserve, when they undertake that examination.

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IB Learner Profile

The final of the IBO’s “Position Papers”, this one on the Learner Profile, is a bit of an eye-opener — and something we should all reflect on. Here’s what I got out of it:

1. International Mindedness (“…the motivation and ability to study issues from different national and cultural perspectives.”) is the one thing that makes the IB special.

2. The Learner Profile therefore exists to further International Mindedness, although it should also promote the “development of a confident and critical learner.”

3. So far, the Learner Profile has been applied flexibly to meet new demands (like service learning).

4. The Learner Profile is inescapably an Enlightenment document, and is therefore unavoidably rooted in Western liberal culture.

5. The definition of International Mindedness in (1) is, itself, a manifestation of a sort of empathy. As I like to think of it (mathematically, of course),

international mindedness = empathy + human geography

Therefore, the deepest question we face is, how do we enable children to develop empathy for others?