Fury at two-track plan for International Baccalaureate assessment

Students say it is unfair to award some students their grades through exams, while others will be awarded through teacher assessment

February 8, 2021
exams university
Source: istock

Students taking the International Baccalaureate have reacted with anger to the announcement that some will be graded through exams, while others will have their grades awarded through teacher assessment.

Last week, the IB announced that it will offer a “dual route” for its May 2021 diploma programme and career-related programme examination session in light of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  

This means that students in some countries will sit written examinations “where they can be administered safely”, while in other countries a combination of internal assessment coursework and teacher-predicted grades will be used.

The IB said that it had surveyed 3,000 schools across 152 countries and found that 71 per cent of schools, accounting for 61 per cent of students, said that they would be able to administer the exams. The IB said that it had taken these steps to provide “the best possible assessments for all students in these incredibly difficult circumstances”.

However, students expressed outrage at the plans. “It is completely impossible to equally grade people who have written exams to people who haven’t,” one IB student told Times Higher Education.

Others agreed. “Not only will there be a divide in those who do and do not sit the examinations, it also means that there will be no difference whether students had online learning for only a few months or for a year: if a region can host the exams, then they will be administered; the difference in the impact of Covid-19 on mental health and learning loss is simply ignored,” one said.

Another added that “if there are to be no exams for some areas, there should be no exams for all areas. If there are to be no exams, then we request a transparent algorithm and for the criteria for grading to be published…Now that most international examinations have been cancelled, we feel our campaign for international cancellation is further justified. I urge the IB to consider the human impacts of Covid on a group of teenagers, which are far more wide-reaching than the physical illness, online school, and government lockdowns.”

Other students who contacted THE pointed out that, even if there were regions that felt they could deliver exams safely, bringing students together in this way could still lead to outbreaks of Covid and endanger students’ health.

In its statement, the IB said that further details would be published soon and said schools could defer to the November 2021 or May 2022 exam sessions with no additional cost or withdraw completely with a full refund. 

The statement said that appropriate grade boundaries would be set for both routes recognising the disruption experienced in teaching and learning around the world and would “recommend generous guidelines within which teachers will be asked to submit their predictions” to prevent over-predictions.

According to the IB, the qualification’s extensive use of coursework will allow it to make sure grades accurately reflect students’ achievement.

Last year the IB cancelled its exams, instead using an algorithm based on predicted grades, school data and coursework. However, many students were angry when they received their final exam scores and found that their final grades were nowhere near their predicted grades.

This year many other high-stakes exams have been cancelled around the world.

In the UK, where A-level exams have already been cancelled, the IB said that it was waiting for the outcome of the Department for Education and exam regulator Ofqual’s consultation on how to award grades this year, due to be published on 22 February. Following this, the IB will confirm whether examinations will be held in the UK.

“We believe that IB’s approach to the May 2021 examination session – in which schools that can sit the exams will do so – is the fairest possible solution.  We also believe the non-exam route for allocating results to students who are unable to take exams is fair, clear and will allow for grades to be distributed that will reflect their achievements and abilities,” the IB Heads Council said in a statement. 


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (2)

I am an IB student who was forced into distance due to quarantine since last march. We spent basically half of our 2 year programme with like this, and the quality of the education and the progress we could make during this time is significantly worse than just "suboptimal". Incidentally, my country plans to lift quarantine restrictions for students for the April-May period for everyone to be able to take their exams. But all these decisionmakers apparently spent their time thinking too much about whether they could, instead of whether they should. Any student who spent over half a year in quarantine, especially during their last year, is *not* suited to take the exams, simply due to circumstances outside their control, and it is unfair for them to be punished for this with the dual assessment.
For many international boarding students, travelling to their school is essentially impossible nowadays. We have had 2 positive COVID cases in our family and for the last 3 months their PCR tests repeatedly turned out positive (!) - no chance to ever escape a quarantine in the UK! Especially the UK has imposed drastic fines for e.g. providing inaccurate information about your recent travel history. Simple mistakes such as typos in the complicated forms which are mandatory to fill out can get you in jail for 10 years (!). In such circumstances, the result of any exams would be based purely on coincidence and factors such as "were you affected by a lock-down", "are you able to travel", "in which country is your school located", "how long did you have to quarantine for", "how well has the student been able to cope with the massive uncertainty". All of these factors have nothing to do with learning ability and academic performance. In other words: Cancelling the M21 exams is the ONLY sensible option. We have no idea what the IBO and Ofqual need to think about, and why they keep especially UK IB students in uncertainty over months.


Featured jobs