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Advice from IB’s Paula Wilcock: Focus on your two-year IB journey

As IB Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (CP) students receive their results without sitting examinations for the first time in history, we spoke to the IB’s Chief Assessment Officer, Paula Wilcock, on why these students deserve the same recognition as their peers in previous years, if not more.

“What those scores represent―two years of hard work and commitment―is exactly the same for these students as it has been for every previous and future cohort.”

Why do you think the 2020 DP and CP cohorts should be celebrated?

I’d like to start by sharing my sincere thanks and gratitude for the hard work and resilience of the IB learning community. The commitment shared by heads of schools, IB coordinators, administrators and, of course, students has enabled us to get to this point, where over 174,000 students around the world will receive results for their DP and CP. It has been truly inspiring to see.

All of the graduates should rest assured that despite the difficult circumstances of this year, they are not defined by the examinations they do or do not sit but rather by so much more than that.

No one was prepared for what was going to change the world, and difficult decisions, including having to cancel the May 2020 examinations, had to be made based on the safety and well-being of our students. This is a landmark year. Not only have students been dealing with the pressures of their final year of studies, before they take their next step into their future, but they have also been forced to adapt to a totally different world at the same time.

In many cases, the 2020 student cohort went through this formative stage of their young lives, while enduring isolation from their school community, lockdown and remote learning, and in some cases, loss and grief. I think that is why this year’s May 2020 cohort deserve to be celebrated just as much, if not more, than previous years.

Paula Wilcock, Chief Assessment Officer of the International Baccalaureate (IB)

Do you think that the attributes that the IB learner profile develops in students have helped them overcome the challenges of the last three months? If so, how?

Never before has the IB learner profile been truly driven into action on a global scale. It has been deeply moving to see the multitude of ways that students have dealt with this pandemic by truly embodying the spirit of the IB learner profile. Across the world they have shown how resilient, open-minded and caring they are, while continuing to take intelligent risks, communicate and reflect on the current situation. I am sure that with hindsight (a wonderful thing!) our May 2020 IB graduates will see that too.

Why is it important for students to focus on their two-year IB journey rather than focusing solely on examination results?

The students’ disappointment of not being able to sit their examinations is understandable, but when looking back and reflecting on their experiences as an IB scholar, students need to also remember to look at the full extent of their progress. Where they started, in DP 1 or CP 1, is a vastly different place to where they find themselves now having achieved so much in those two years represents hundreds of hours of grit, determination, growth and achievement.

“The only way to thrive is by building and nurturing in ourselves a resilience to change and a creative approach to facing challenges.”

They are graduating into a global community of learners, which they will belong to forever, and the journey they have all undertaken together is not solely defined by the results.

Are the results that students receive this year just as valid as previous years? Why?

Although this is the first time the final results have been determined in this manner, what those scores represent―two years of hard work and commitment―is exactly the same for these students as it has been for every previous and future cohort.

Throughout their journey with the DP or the CP, students are always travelling towards the completion of their programme, and the architecture of the programmes is designed to take that experience into account in its entirety. The May 2020 students have all undertaken the same work that students in previous years have and their outcomes are equally valid.

What processes has the IB put in place to ensure fair and reliable grading?

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.

Every item of coursework was fully marked and moderated by trained and experienced examiners. This was a change we made to ensure fairness―in previous years, only a sample of subject marks from an individual school have been moderated.

We also relied on the built-in quality controls of our well-established processes, which ensure that examiners and moderators work to the same standards across our global community.

How do you think the last few months will change assessment practices for IB programmes moving forward?

The impact of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has been keenly felt across all sectors, but education has been one of the most significantly impacted. Not only have schools all over the world had to find new ways to continue teaching, but with examinations cancelled, students’ future steps have been at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The IB recently celebrated 50 years of education and, as we look to the next 50 years, we have been thinking about the role of examinations in education. COVID-19 has affirmed that these considerations are valuable and has provided us with an opportunity to open out these conversations further.

Why is it important to use a mix of assessment methods?

IB assessments aim to measure not only knowledge recall but also the application of skills. The IB’s assessment strategy for May 2020 has the objective of recognizing and rewarding these skills.

A large portion of a student’s grade comes from the work completed in IB classrooms over the course of a student’s two-year IB journey. This means that some of the work completed is marked internally by teachers and then moderated by the IB to make sure that the criteria are properly applied and ensures that the grades are based on so much more than performance on a single high-stakes final examination.

“All that [students] have achieved, all the growth, change, knowledge and experience they have gained over the last two years will be theirs forever”

Students’ skills are also examined through the programme, “core”, elements: the extended essay, theory of knowledge and creativity, activity and service (for the DP) and the reflective project, service learning, and personal, professional and language skills (for the CP). This gives students the opportunity to not only showcase more than just knowledge recall in an examination but also to apply and practice theory, research and critical thinking skills.

If you could offer one piece of advice for students receiving their results, what would it be?

Simply, to remember how far they have come and to give themselves every credit due for their journey. All that they have achieved, all the growth, change, knowledge and experience they have gained over the last two years will be theirs forever, and we cannot wait to see what they achieve in the future.

What is the most important life lesson you hope students are taking with them into their futures?

Living in these uncertain times, it has been made clearer than ever to us all that we never know what the future holds. The only way to thrive is by building and nurturing in ourselves a resilience to change and a creative approach to facing challenges.

As they go into the future, IB students take with them an education designed to empower them to be the thinkers, creatives and engineers of tomorrow, ready to solve society’s most pressing challenges and build a better, more sustainable world for all.

We wish all Diploma Programme (DP) and Career-related Programme (CP) students the best of luck with the release of their results

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