With IB Rules, the Fast Track Can End Quickly

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

I thought I'd share a few tidbits related to my daughter's International Baccalaureate experience at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County.

As she entered middle school, she qualified for an advanced math sequence, starting with algebra in seventh grade and continuing with geometry in eighth grade. Last year, her freshman year at Marshall, she took Algebra II with trigonometry as a pre-IB offering. She has done quite well in these classes, culminating with the highest possible score [600] on the Virginia Algebra II Standards of Learning exam.

Our issue is with the IB math sequence available to her at this point. Because the IB Diploma Programme requires students to take two-year Higher Level exams after senior year -- the program does not officially start until junior year -- she was advised to defer the Math HL I course for a year and take Math Standard Level I this year as a sophomore. This appears quite bizarre, because the sophomores in her Algebra II class may proceed straight to HL Math I.

This restriction seems to apply only if she pursues the IB diploma; there might be no such constraints for IB certificate candidates. If this is the case, perhaps she could continue an accelerated math curriculum, maybe taking a class such as multivariate calculus before starting college, by leaving the IB diploma path.

We're sure that she'll benefit from whatever classes she takes, but we can't help thinking that she's being held back. Although the IB Programme might need to establish rules and guidelines for consistent implementation, there's always a chance that they don't always provide for our kids' best educational opportunities.

Warren Repole


Making your daughter wait a year to take a challenging math course she is ready for now makes no sense to me. I was relieved to discover that Fairfax County advanced academic programs specialist Faye Brenner feels the same way. With more math students like your daughter being accelerated, the county has decided to let sophomores enroll in Higher Level IB Math I, then advance to HL IB Math II as juniors. For senior year, Brenner says, George Mason University is helping the county set up a course in matrix algebra and multivariable calculus. You should contact Marshall Principal Jay Pearson, who tells me that one Marshall student has already gotten on this fast track.

I hope the people at IB headquarters take another look at their rules on this one. They are moving from New York to Montgomery County soon and will see how much math instruction is accelerating here. IB should not be putting barriers in front of these hard-working students.

Dear Extra Credit:

Regarding your Aug. 21 online column ["Three Smart Rules for Home-School Regulation"], as a home-schooling parent who uses several standardized tests to assess my daughter's progress, I would not want the state or federal government to involve itself in my daughter's testing. While she often does extremely well, I do not want the state to have any say in our curriculum path or in any other aspect of my home-schooling decisions.

I use standardized testing as well as other testing means to get an idea of my daughter's strengths and weaknesses and to help me decide what exactly I need to emphasize in our curriculum for the next year. The state or local school system has no business deciding what I need to emphasize, any more than I should get involved with their curriculum choices, even in light of the fact that their test scores tend to be lower.

I would also not want the state school system involved in mandating my daughter's test choices, because they might have some inside information about what is on the test, information to which home-schooled students are not privy. My daughter has taken the Maryland School Assessment several times, but she is not permitted to take the practice tests at the neighborhood school, which for reading and math now occur over four days.

Jennifer Wolff


The column was about a book by Robert Kunzman. He spent significant time with some home-schooling families. In a couple of instances, they were not doing a good job teaching the basics, such as the multiplication tables. He thought some minimal state testing, every two or three years, would help solve the problem for parents not as conscientious as you. What would you do if you encountered that situation?

Dear Extra Credit:

Drew Model Elementary School, Arlington County's public elementary Montessori program, provides solutions to two issues you have raised.

In your Aug. 27 column you said, "I long ago despaired of public schools' being capable of doing much for students way ahead of the curve." The Montessori program serves 3-year-olds to middle school-age students who master material at their own rate.

In your Aug. 31 column, you lamented schools' dependence on a nine-month calendar. Montessori is taught in three-year blocks in a multi-age classroom.

Annie Harold


Thanks for the reminder. I should have mentioned Montessori as an exception in both cases.

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