In spring 2020, administrators of the International Baccalaureate program made the unprecedented decision to cancel all IB exams for the 2019-2020 school year. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the IB will again break with tradition in 2021, but this time by offering a “dual route” to course and program completion.
The IB’s decision follows a survey of more than 3,000 schools in 152 countries, whose results indicate that the pandemic continues to pose major setbacks for students and schools alike.
As its name suggests, the dual route extends two options to schools: They may either administer traditional written exams or, if that is deemed unsafe, use a combination of internal assessment coursework and teacher-predicted grades. If neither option appeals to a school, it may withdraw from the May 2021 session at no cost or defer to the November 2021 or May 2022 session.
School administrators in partnership with IB – not students – will ultimately select which option to pursue, and it is a choice that many are still grappling with. The IB is working with schools to help them arrive at favorable decisions for their students.
Here is what students can expect from the IB’s new dual route this May.
Option 1: IB Written Exams
As of early February, approximately 71% of schools with IB programs anticipated being able to offer written, in-person IB assessments this spring. This accounts for roughly 60% of IB students. As such, most students can and should begin preparing for a traditional testing format.
However, because social distancing requirements remain in place in many regions, and because COVID-19 cases still exist, students should verify that this option will be available at their school. You can do so by speaking with your IB teacher or your school’s IB coordinator.
Written assessments – also known as external assessments – have historically been the default mode of testing due to their “high levels of objectivity and reliability,” according to the IB. These assessments can include essays, short-response questions, case-study questions, occasional multiple-choice questions and several other question types.
Since the IB has not announced changes to its external assessments, students can assume that this spring’s exams will resemble those administered prior to 2020. Thus, they can study using past tests.
Option 2: Internal Assessment Coursework and Teacher-Predicted Grades
For schools where in-person testing is not yet feasible, there is another option for determining students’ final grades: a combination of internal assessment coursework and teacher-predicted grades.
Internal assessments are assignments normally graded by teachers and moderated by the IB. They are course-specific and may include tasks like artistic performances, field work and laboratory work. In May 2021, however, this coursework will be marked by IB examiners for all students to ensure that the marks meet global and consistent reliability standards and to enable students to move from the exam route to the nonexam route in case of school closure.
In addition to internal assessments, IB instructors will consider student performance throughout the school year to predict final grades. In the spring of 2020, an algorithm was used to calculate students’ final grades, but schools and students raised concerns about inconsistent results.
The IB responded recently in this way: “Reflecting the fact that May 2020 predicted grades were higher than in previous years, the IB will recommend generous guidelines within which teachers will be asked to submit their predictions. Where teachers feel these predicted grade distributions are not aligned with student performance, the IB is developing a process that will allow schools to request a different grade distribution and provide evidence that supports their claim.”
The methodology for calculating final grades is therefore more comprehensive this year. The IB feels certain that by allowing for more input from instructors and implementing procedures for disputes, final grades will better reflect students’ abilities.
The only way to know which IB route applies to you is by speaking directly to school administrators or teachers. Either option will allow you to earn an IB diploma this year.
And the issue of college credit? The answer will depend on the admissions policy of each college or university where you apply, though many institutions accepted 2020 results. Contact your prospective colleges directly to find out whether they will accept 2021 IB scores. Bear in mind that some institutions may not have reached a decision on the matter yet and that the IB is working with colleges to ensure a fair outcome.
In short, be patient and prepare for all possibilities along the way.