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Challenging courses, not SAT prep, will produce better outcomes

This engaging and thought-provoking article was recently written by Cindy Harcum, Principle at Baltimore City College and published by The Baltimore Sun on 8 September 2015.


Photo: Alberto G (CC BY 2.0)

Asheesh Misra—the IB’s Programme Manager for the ‘Bridging the Equity Gap’ project in the US—was compelled to share the story with the IB community as part of the E2 Excellence and Equity section of the blog. The E2 blog posts aim to encourage a dialogue among IB educators and school leaders around empowering under-represented students for success in life-long learning.

This week’s release of the nationwide 2015 SAT report, showing a third year of decreasing scores for the state of Maryland, calls for a discussion about college readiness (“Maryland SAT scores decline for third year in a row,” Sept. 3). But while some argue that more needs to be done for SAT test preparation, we believe more needs to be done to invest in access to proven rigorous curriculums for all students.

At Baltimore City College, we’ve found that by expanding access to our IB programme to all students, we prepare more students for college and close persistent opportunity gaps.

In the Class of 2015, 75 percent of our seniors participated in the IB Diploma Programme, sitting for more than 800 IB subject exams in May. For comparison, consider that only 20 percent of students nationwide get the opportunity to take one AP course at their school. And the number of students of color who are enrolled in advanced courses nationwide is even lower.

But at City, expanded access to our programme led to more students of color taking IB classes. For example, in 2015, 85 percent of participants in our IB Diploma Programme were students of color. And since 2014, in which the average success rate for earning the official IB Diploma award was 62 percent, half of those awarded were students of color.

The results of expanded access to this rigorous curriculum are impressive for both a public high school in America and one in which 48 percent of its graduates are the first in their family to attend college. With access to IB, last year’s City College seniors exceeded most state school performances earning an average SAT critical reading score of 575, a math score of 552, and a writing score of 549. Additionally, last year 98 percent of our students were accepted into college, many of them to selective universities. And since 2012, 86.7 percent of our graduates remain enrolled in college after two years, according to the National Clearing House, compared to just 80 percent of students nationwide.

We credit our remarkable results to the access to a rigorous curriculum we’ve provided our students. And our results aren’t isolated. Other school systems that have invested in rigorous curriculums have seen similar results. For example, in a study of Chicago high school graduates between 2010 and 2012, Chicago Public Schools found that 67.2 percent of students who participated in the IB Diploma Programme attended a 4-year college compared to 49.6 percent who took non-IB courses.

So while we do recognize that all schools can do a better job preparing students for college, including our own, we reject the narrative that better SAT scores will prepare students for college. Instead, we need to expand the conversation to include a discussion about how to provide more students with more access to a well-rounded curriculum.

Read the full article on The Baltimore Sun’s website.

  • andan04 .

    Another classic case of misattributed cause. “Chicago Public Schools found that 67.2 percent of students who participated in the IB Diploma Programme attended a 4-year college compared to 49.6 percent who took non-IB courses.” I’d posit that’s because students enrolling in advanced courses — IB or AP — are more likely to be on the college track already. (Likewise for Baltimore City College, a magnet high school whose selective admissions requirements include, at minimum, scoring in the 65th percentile on both math and English standardized exams.) Basically, then, you’re saying that a higher percentage of Chicago’s top students attended a four-year university, which should surprise no one. What might surprise someone, however, given that IB is hailed here as such a rigorous program, is that nearly a third of Chicago’s IB students evidently did not attend a four-year university.

  • Taxpayer1301

    Good move by those now in charge at City. CIty forever! Joe Wilson, former Principal

  • Asheesh Misra


    Thank you very much for your message. This is an incorrect assumption
    that people often bring up. Please review the outstanding University of
    Chicago research on IB in CPS here:
    You will discover that the IB students in this study were not compared to all
    students in CPS. They were compared with students in other advanced
    programs or in other words students also on a college track.

    This is why this research is in fact so compelling.

    I would also encourage to read the outstanding analysis by Dr. Anna Rosefsky
    Saavedra at RAND –

    Saavedra, A. R. (2014, April). The Academic Impact of
    Enrollment in International Baccalaureate Diploma Programs: A Case Study of
    Chicago Public Schools. Teachers College Record, 40.


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