To IB or not to IB? That is a question…

Having headed up the recruitment and enrolment mission at one of Canada’s best International Baccalaureate (IB) schools for three and a half years, where all students have no choice but to take the IB Diploma Programme (DP), I know the challenge faced in recruiting boarding students in particular. The worst thing you want to do as an Admission Director is place a student in a position where they are not successful. As often as I was encouraging a family to apply for the IB, I was discouraging another when a student did not fit the experience of the school in delivering the Programme. Likewise, I would meet students so suited to the IB that simply were far too happy and successful where they were to undertake it (and good for them for knowing their best fit.)

The IB DP is growing in popularity and the number of schools offering the Programme increases every year, yet it is often misunderstood. This past weekend in Romania for example an older brother who moves from year to year with work, was looking for IB schools for his younger brother, so that he could easily switch schools. The lesson for him was that the standard of the IB is the standard. You make it or you don’t, the curriculum is the same around the world. What is commonly understood is that you can start the IB Diploma Programme (DP) and then switch schools easily in between the first and second year of the DP. This is not the case. It can be done, but as teachers and schools are allowed to determine the order and pace of how they deliver the DP, switching schools invariably means significant catch up or repeating on the part of a student changing schools. At the IB school where I was, most students were encouraged to repeat the first year of the IB DP and were happy for it.

The IB has a consistent standard around the world, different schools however have a different ability to deliver the Programme. My spouse’s former high school instituted the IB Diploma Programme with seventeen students in their first IB class. Five of them achieved the Diploma. The pass rate got better in the second year as teachers began to appreciate the programme requirements. The main problem for them was their school size. For ‘small’ IBs (read number of students in the programme) often students are forced into taking a Higher Level Science or subject that is not a strength. A question most families should be asking is what courses does the school offer at the Standard and Higher Levels and what is the ideal selection of 3 HL and 3 SL courses for their student? Furthermore, in assessing an individual programme, ask:

  • What percentage of students achieve the Diploma? (You can still graduate without successfully achieving the DP requirements – albeit without the IB Diploma.)
  • What is the average IB score of all students taking the Diploma? (You can compare to national averages).
  • What is the highest individual score? Achieving the Diploma is an accomplishment, very rarely do students come along who can achieve perfect scores, but when they do, it is also likely a mark of a school that has mastered the delivery of the DP curriculum.

As the IB continues its growth, and more schools jump on the train as a means to overhaul their academic program or to distinguish themselves from the school down the road, parents may want to ask what percentage of students are not Diploma Candidates? This is especially for the parents who want the IB for their child because they have heard it is the ‘best’. If a school is offering an “IB option” it often means that many of its students are not suitable IB candidates. Be sure that your child fits the IB mould or choose the ‘other’ option at the school if it produces university qualifications. Some schools start students attracted by the IB in the DP and let them “fall back” if the student does not perform to standard (this is often not a healthy option for the student.) Others at the school will have been identified ahead of time as not being IB candidates, which does not necessarily mean they are not university capable or university bound. My personal recommendation to any family would be to move to an IB DP school at least one full year before the school starts the IB DP in order that teachers can help the student decide if the IB is right for them. Starting the DP fresh at a new school leaves little margin for error.

Most independent school high school programs like LCS’ deliver almost all of the benefits of the IB program already without the rigidity. Our history, membership in Round Square, success in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Program, not to mention our outdoor education prowess, the “LCS difference” and our university placement record offers it all, in a flexible menu of opportunities and experiences. Many parents are choosing the IB for their children with the impression that it is going to help their child’s university chances. The reality is that the more selective universities want a student to take the most rigorous curriculum offered by the school. Students with Ontario Grade 12, APs and the IB Diploma are accepted to Ivy schools every year. Three curriculums, three approaches, for at least three different types of students to choose from. Explore with your child and a choose the best fit curriculum for them.