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Despite IB Growth, College Credit Is Elusive

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By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 25, 2008

Across the Washington area, International Baccalaureate is booming, with more than two dozen high schools offering the college-level program and more signing up all the time. College admissions officers say they love seeing IB courses on transcripts. Students say the IB writing instruction and five-hour, end-of-course exams prepare them well for higher education.

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But there's a catch: Students usually can't get college credit for one-year IB courses, even though they are similar to one-year Advanced Placement courses, which are eligible for credit. In another complication, students can get credit for passing tests after two-year IB courses, but that credit is equivalent to one year in AP.

Most university officials say they can't explain these discrepancies. In many local high schools, bewilderment and frustration are growing among students and teachers over college policies about IB that seem at odds with the colleges' oft-stated support for more challenging high school curricula.

"Imagine the consternation of these students who are getting the very best scores possible and are not seeing any recognition at most colleges," said Marilyn Leeb, IB coordinator at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington County.

"I feel like we were being cheated," said Chad King, a 2007 graduate of Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County who received no credit for one-year IB courses from Ohio Dominican University in Columbus. "IB puts a lot of stress and pressure on its students, and for us not to get credit just because it is not AP is unfair."

Older and larger, AP was created a half-century ago by the nonprofit College Board, based in New York and maker of the SAT. AP is used in about 60 percent of U.S. high schools. IB, with headquarters in Geneva, was invented by teachers in Europe 40 years ago and is in about 500 U.S. schools, but it has become popular in the Washington area. Research shows that students who do well on college-level courses in high school do better in college. But some IB teachers fear that the credit quandary will discourage some students from seeking the challenge.

Most college admissions officers know the IB program well and say they recruit IB students as eagerly as they do AP students. But those officers don't decide course credit policy. College academic departments do. Few of the professors appear to know much about IB or AP, so they typically fall back on rules instituted years before. IB spokesman Paul Campbell said most universities follow a policy suggested 30 years ago by a committee of college-credit experts that made no attempt to see how one-year IB courses compared to AP, which has only one-year courses.

Calls and e-mails to 16 higher education institutions in Maryland, Virginia and the District found only two, Trinity Washington University and George Mason University, that treat one-year IB the same as AP.

One local university official, explaining why the programs are treated differently, cited a recent report that IB does not consider its one-year courses to be college level. The International Baccalaureate Organization has denied making such a statement.

To bolster their argument for credit, IB educators in the Washington region cite a November study from the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute. After asking experts to compare AP and IB English, math, biology and history courses, the study concluded that one-year IB and AP courses were about the same in content and rigor.

Some college officials said they would review IB and AP credit policies in light of the Fordham study.

"I don't have any data," said Tom Husted, associate dean of academic affairs in American University's College of Arts and Sciences. Asked why one-year IB courses receive no credit, he said, "I don't know exactly why."


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