As high school students race to achieve and to get into college, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement courses vie for enrollment. What are these programs, commonly known as IB and AP? What do teachers and students think about their experience?
For students choosing a high school or planning ahead for their college career, Minnesota schools offer options for accelerated learning that not only look good on a college application, but also can earn college credit. In this series, we looked at two dual credit options — Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. (Post Secondary Enrollment Options or PSEO and College in the Schools are two other options.) The articles in this series compare the AP and IB on the basis of cost, rigor, requirements, and student experiences. For all the articles, see Starting college in high school.
Ellen Alquist, whose children went through the IB program and who herself was instrumental in developing the IB Middle Years Program, currently acts as an IB consultant in Washington State.
According to Alquist, the IB’s Diploma program — like the primary grades and middle years programs — uses inquiry-based learning. Unlike AP, IB “is a total program,” Alquist said. “It wants to guarantee that you will be well educated. I think it’s more complete.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s description of IB:
“The Diploma Program (DP) is a comprehensive two-year international curriculum available in English, French and Spanish. The DP offers 157 exams in 51 disciplines that generally allow students to fulfill the requirements of their national or state education systems. Students who participate in the full Diploma Program are required to study and examine in six different academic subjects. At least three of the six subjects are taken at the higher level where students study the subject area in depth for two academic years totaling 240 hours. Challenging, standard level IB courses span one academic year and total a minimum of 150 hours. Students who are not diploma candidates can choose to take individual IB courses and subsequent exams to earn IB certificates.”
The program came to be in the late 1960s, according to Alquist, when foreign nationals living in the United States were frustrated that U.S. schools offered no exam that universities in other countries required.
The IB program requires teachers to be trained in IB, according to Alquist, as well as trained in their discipline. The training “informs them about the breadth and scope of the discipline,” she said.
The training is three days, and includes three categories of courses. Every three years, teachers must take a course from IB, and online courses are offered as well, according to Alquist.
Then, “IB comes to the school and checks to make sure they are following the standards and practices.”
Though Alquist is a consultant, when she goes into the schools to do training, it doesn’t “count” because IB has their own practitioners that do training.
In addition to the course work, IB students take a theory of knowledge course, which is about ways of knowing, perform 200 hours of community service, and write a 4,000 word essay.
In the diploma program, teachers are given a syllabus for each class. They are also given access to previous exams, and are given a lot of rubrics and guidance, Alquist said.
Still, there are a “few degrees of freedom for teachers,” she said. The IB tests are all written — there are no bubble tests. For music and art, students create a portfolio, and for geography, students have to create something.
According to Alquist, not everyone gets the IB diploma. Some students take only some IB classes without pursuing the diploma, which requires not just doing well on tests but completing an extensive essay and community service hours. “People in America think it is an elite test, that only the best and the brightest can do it,” she said. “If you have a lazy student, they are not going got get the diploma. They have to work hard. It’s not for the faint hearted.”
CORRECTION 3/23/2014: The IB essay is 4,000 words, not 5,000 as originally written.