Teachers, Students Take Sides

Monday, October 20, 2008

An IB Coordinator's View

The Post spoke with Erin McVadon Albright, previously International Baccalaureate coordinator at George Mason High School in Falls Church and now IB coordinator at Annandale High School in Fairfax County.

Q) Only 7 percent of students at George Mason are low-income, compared with 40 percent at Annandale. Does IB work differently between those environments?

A) Our students at Annandale don't necessarily come into the program with the same skills and cultural background as students had at George Mason, but our teachers have learned how to teach those skills and provide that background. For example, one student hadn't turned in his summer assignment and had not gone to the teacher to explain why. I talked to the student and learned he had moved right before summer started, lost the assignment, took the word of another student as to what he had to do. When he saw his classmates turning in something very different, he turned in nothing. He didn't talk to the teacher because he was used to regular classes where teachers said, "I don't want to hear any excuses." I explained to him that in advanced courses like this one, you talk to the teacher. Also, a lot of kids in regular courses come to assume the reason you stay after school is because you are a bad kid. But in an advanced class, the good kids are the ones that stay after school.

Q) What would you advise students and parents to consider when choosing between an IB program and an Advanced Placement program?

A) I tell parents that as an IB coordinator, I think IB is wonderful, but I don't know your kid at all. You should decide what is best for her. Individual AP and IB classes are not that different, but as a total program, IB is very different. It is supposed to be about international education. It is unapologetically idealistic. IB also requires writing in all parts of the program. Even math and science students will be expected to do a whole lot of writing and find that is very useful in college. The really important piece is the integration, the ways courses play off against each other. Kids find that very exciting. Something they ran into in history comes up in English, and they can see how the whole world fits together.

Q) What have been your most successful approaches to persuading reluctant but capable students to try IB?

A) Overall, students often have a very limited understanding of what their own capabilities are. I remember talking to a ninth-grader who was not sure she wanted to try IB but had straight A's in all her pre-IB classes. I said, "What pool do you think we are drawing students from if it is not students who get all A's in pre-IB?" Ninth-graders see what 12th-graders are doing in IB and think they will never be able to do that. So I say, "Let's think of what you were doing in fifth grade, and that you thought ninth grade would be very hard, but now you are doing it."

Concerns About IB

Robina Rich, chairman of the Clarke County School Board in Virginia, thinks AP is more cost effective than IB:

"The College Board offers 37 AP courses in a one-year program, and students may choose one or more courses for college credit. Courses offered are fairly evenly divided between math/sciences and liberal arts. The IB program offers a two-year, more complex and international program emphasizing an appreciation of other cultural perspectives with a liberal arts/language focus and a philosophical 'theory of knowledge' component. Acceptance of IB scores for college credit varies greatly at U.S. colleges and universities, many not accepting any Standard Level (SL) results. The College Board AP program has school division membership dues of only $325 annually. At the student level, the fee for each AP exam is $86, and there is no student registration fee. IBO-Geneva has an annual school fee of $9,150 and charges student testing fees for the second year of its program, with students paying a registration fee of $129 plus an additional $88 per course taken. For the full six-course diploma, this translates into a cost of $657 to be paid in the second year of the program. Depending upon what college or university students wish to attend, they should carefully verify the criteria for awarding college credit prior to choosing an AP or IB program."

Students' Views

"I think that the most distinctive quality of an IB school is the sense of community and international understanding that accompanies the curriculum. IB works hard to encourage its students to make connections between their studies and the world around them. We are taught to question and analyze, so we tend to look at issues in a more inquisitive manner than our fellow students. As a result of our education and school environment, we IB students tend to be more aware of relevant global issues, allowing us to have an objective and informed outlook on the world and encouraging us to get involved in improving our societies."

-- Leena Ramadan, senior, Washington International School, a private D.C. school

"My experience in the IB program has made me realize the importance of education, rather than the importance of the debate between IB and AP. Last year, I took the Standard Level IB Psychology course. I loved the class and scored a 6 [on a 7-point scale] on the IB exam. The colleges in which I am interested do not offer credit for the SL course so, as an experiment, I took the AP Psychology test as well. I scored a 4 [on a 5-point scale] on the AP test, which qualified me for college credit. Lesson learned? IB taught me psychology well enough to do very well on both standardized exams. Moreover, I enjoyed the class and learned a tremendous amount. For me, that is the true value of an IB education."

-- Aliya Pilchen, senior, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington County

© 2008 The Washington Post Company