A look at the Exam Process and its Weight on Future Success.
Dumbfounded is one of those words we all come across as readers but don’t have the chance to use too often. There is really no other word that can describe how I and thousands of others around the world felt that morning last March as we scanned through the official announcement from the International Baccalaureate explaining that the Diploma Programme (DP) and Career Programme examinations had been canceled. Canceled? Yes, canceled. Not delayed, not replaced with anything digital in nature… they would not take place in May 2020, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Diplomas and course certificates would be issued based on the student’s existing coursework, and that was that.
Every Spring since 1970, Diploma candidates have filed into rooms full of carefully arranged desks, ready to follow the well-orchestrated regulations that the IB has created to protect the integrity of the exam process. Once seated, the candidates wait for the signal to put pen to paper and pour two years of schooling into meticulously worded essays and “just what the examiner is looking for” calculations and answers. For students who have documentation to prove that accommodations are in order, the IB is very responsive. For those who struggle to express themselves well under time pressure with a pen as their only weapon, good luck, and Godspeed! The results of those exams make up the bulk of a Diploma recipient’s points. Age, weight, and income are all numbers that we teach our young learners not to obsess over if they want to lead a satisfying life. The number of DP points earned seems to follow the flip side of that narrative. But not this year…
In 2007, I had an epic garage sale, bought an airline-approved carrier for my cat, and boarded a plane to begin my adventure as a Middle Years Programme and Diploma Programme Learning Support Coordinator at an international school in Germany. What began as a chance to take weekend jaunts to Prague and save for a down payment on a home when I “got back” quickly turned into a relationship that would change the trajectory of my life and is still going strong to this day. Did I marry a wonderful German man and start a family? A few years later, yes! But the relationship I am referring to is with the International Baccalaureate.
When I first arrived, I reveled in the city’s beauty that I now call home and the generosity of my new colleagues. Soon, though, the “teacher gears” that make so many parts of my brain and my heart move in sync got a massive jolt. Suddenly, standardized testing and No Child Left Behind was replaced with a criterion-referenced curriculum that was designed to help create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect (“International Baccalaureate Mission”). As I tried to wrap my brain around the utopian word choice, my unlearning made way for more lightbulb moments and a few red flags. All of the IB’s guidelines, frameworks, and learning opportunities were carefully crafted so that students would have the chance to explore their own strengths and interests. Hmmm… and to top it all off, all of this learning would happen through guided inquiry! It was no surprise when I discovered that the educational architects of the Middle Years Programme (Grades 6-10) designed it for all learners; inclusive arms wide open and ready to welcome every student. Why I wondered, did that not apply to all IB programs?
Today, as I am sitting in front of my computer, zigzagging from my students to my little ones, and catching a few TikTok videos for a much-needed laugh, my daydreams keep meandering towards teaching and learning once this is all over. As a “dig in my heels and smile” advocate of Universal Design for Learning and a dedicated IB educator, I am letting my imagination take a maiden voyage into what-if territory. What if the phrase inclusive assessment arrangements lost a little heft and became inclusive assessments? What if Universal Design for Learning leaped out of the Recommended Approaches List and straight into the Table of Contents in all IB Guides? What if the IB promised opportunities for multiple forms of engagement, representation, and expression to every global citizen in every classroom? What if UDL became our shared path to social justice starting right inside our schools? What if I kept learning and writing and applied to earn a Doctorate in Education and dedicated my career to turning these daydreams into a reality? In the past, I would have tamped down my imagination by zeroing in on the amount of shape-shifting that would have to happen for these kinds of changes to take root. In past years, my daydreams would have seemed, well, pointless… But not this year.
IB educator, writer, Co-Chairperson of the UDL-IRN Implementation SIG, and future Ed.D. candidate at the University of Mass. Lowell.
IB Organization. “Mission.” International Baccalaureate®, www.ibo.org/about-the-ib/mission/.