The IB Results ‘Scandal’ of 2020

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Originally published July 19th 2020. Updated July 23rd and July 26th 2020.

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Skip to the end of this article to see links to external news sources and blogs on this topic (updated 26th July)

IMPORTANT DOCUMENT: IBSCA Letter to Universities (This is a letter that could be used to support an IB student’s application to university or college. It is from Richard Markham: CEO of the IB Schools and Colleges Association and spells out clearly the nature of the inconsistencies in this year’s IB grades.). This letter was e- mailed to every UK university on 20th July 2020 by IBSCA. 

It’s the story of the decade that’s had students, parents and schools up-in-arms – and it’s at danger of fading away if we don’t keep shedding light on it. 

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So, what exactly happened?

Paula Wilcock, IB’s Chief Assessment Officer, answered that question in a blog post published immediately after the IB Results were released. After telling students to “focus on your two-year IB journey” and not worry about their grades too much, Paula finally describes how this year’s students were assessed:

In order to award a diploma or course certificate, following the cancellation of all external written components of our examinations for the May 2020 session, we asked students to complete their internal assessment (IA) coursework as usual, which were submitted to us by IB World Schools.

Following the submission of IAs, we used historical assessment data to ensure that we followed a rigorous process of due diligence in what was, and still is, truly an unprecedented situation. We undertook significant data analysis from previous examination sessions, individual schools and subject data.

International Baccalaureate (IB) students who were due to sit terminal examinations in April and May of this year were denied the chance to sit their exams due to the COVID19 pandemic. Instead, schools had to submit each student’s coursework (known as Internal Assessments or ‘IAs’), submit a predicted grade and, crucially, submit historical assessment data.

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Just to add a bit of context – the IB Diploma is an important pre-university qualification, and is a non-traditional (and popular) alternative to ‘A’-Levels that is widely respected the world-over.

The IB’s request for historical assessment data has probably been the issue that has caused the most contention in the wake of this story. Upon first glance, outsiders like parents and students may have thought that this meant that assessment data for each student over the course of the two years of their studies was submitted for analysis. However, what the IB actually asked for was the past five years of each school’s predicted grades and actual grades, in order to determine how accurate each school is at making predictions. 

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I personally think that this was an illogical step to take. Here’s why:

  • Teachers get better at predicting grades as time goes by
  • Teachers change year after year
  • Schools have to be accredited to run the IB anyway (so, why not trust the schools to do their jobs properly?)
  • Some schools have only been teaching the IB for a few years (less than five)
  • The accuracy of predictions a school made five years ago has no relevance to the accuracy of predictions made today

On top of all this, it doesn’t even seem as though the IB used a fair and consistent algorithm when assigning grades:

  • IAs (coursework) were graded down for many students, after having been assessed by experienced teachers in many cases (teachers who’ve been assessing coursework for years with no issues)
  • Students in the same school seem to have been marked differently – getting the same predicted grades and IA grades, but different overall grades

To boil it all down to one sentence: The IB seem to have assessed this year’s students inconsistently. In fact, the inconsistencies as so massive, that the UK’s exam watchdog, Ofqual, has started an investigation into the IB’s assessment methods for this year’s cohort and has asked for the assessement algorithm to be disclosed.

In a massive show of defiance and anger, over 20,000 IB students have signed a petition calling for ‘justice’. If one wants to get an idea of how deeply this resentment runs, then go to the IB’s Instagram page and look at the comments under the ‘Congratulations Class of 2020’ photo – scores of students telling their personal stories, and describing how they feel that their trust in the IB Organization was misplaced. 

Update (26th July 2020)

The playlist below is well-worth a watch. In a short series of interviews, a selection of IB students from around the world describe how they have been affected (emotionally, financially and mentally) by this year’s grading system (Courtesy of The International Student Podcast YouTube channel). 

Update (23rd July 2020)

There have been a number of interesting developments this week (but more still needs to be done to bring more attention this story):

  • The Norwegian Data Protection Authority (NO DPA) sent an official letter to the IBO requesting information regarding exactly how students were assessed. The authority has requested clarification on 7 key points of confusion (see the images below)
  • The IB Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA) – a support network of IB Schools – published a letter designed to be used to support any student’s application to university. The letter spells out what has happened this year, and makes it clear that many students (especially at the higher end of the achievement spectrum) have been marked down by the IB’s algorithms. You can download the letter as a pdf here: IBSCA Letter to Universities

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Norwegian 2

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Norwegian 4

References and further reading

[IB Blog] – Advice from IB’s Paula Wilcock: Focus on your two-year IB journey [6th July 2020] : https://blogs.ibo.org/blog/2020/07/06/advice-from-ibs-paula-wilcock-focus-on-your-two-year-ib-journey/

[Times Educational Supplement] – Exclusive: IB grading being investigated by watchdog [9th July 2020] : https://www.tes.com/news/exclusive-coronavirus-ib-grading-being-investigated-watchdog

[Telegraph] – Ofqual steps in as thousands of students miss out on expected IB Diploma grades [12th July 2020]: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/07/12/ofqual-steps-thousands-students-miss-expected-ib-diploma-grades/

[Beijing Kids Blog] – Lower Than Predicted IB 2020 Results Spark Outrage [18th July 2020]: https://www.beijing-kids.com/blog/2020/07/18/ib-2020-results-sparks-outrage/

[South China Morning Post] – Hong Kong schools seek review of students’ poorer-than-expected results as International Baccalaureate grading sparks dismay, global petition: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/education/article/3094692/hong-kong-schools-seek-review-students-poorer-expected [26th July 2020]

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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