Every spring around 200,000 students in International Baccalaureate (IB) high school programs worldwide study for and take subject exams, culminating in their final grades and graduation diplomas or certificates. This year, for the first time in history, the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) has decided that the IB exams are cancelled for 2020. For those students and families affected, this additional unknown adds to the stress that many had already been experiencing.
IB exams crucially connect to graduation in a way that AP and SAT/ACT exams are not. Until they take their exams, IB students only have predicted final scores. These exams are what cement their scores and become a permanent part of their educational record.
In many countries around the world, IB students receive conditional offers of acceptance to colleges and universities based on their predicted scores. Without IB exams, students and their families now worry not only about graduation, but also about university acceptances. They worry about how universities will perceive their academic achievement without the standardized measurement of their IB scores.
While we must be patient to see how it unfolds over the coming months, here is what we know so far:
- Students will still receive either a diploma or a course certificate based on their standard of work to date.
- In the absence of exams, IBO will evaluate using students’ coursework and assessments over time in combination with historical data from schools and subject data.
- The 15,000 examiners who ordinarily review IB exams will participate in this new process. Exactly what this means is still unclear. But for the remainder of the year, IBO examiners will evaluate all internal student assessments (normally teachers evaluate the internal assessments, while external examiners evaluate only the final exams).
- The goal is to still have final scores by July 5.
- IBO is communicating directly with universities through an established working group. It will give universities information on previous assessments and the process used to determine final grades for this year.
How universities are reacting to the cancelled IB exams:
- The consensus is that students will be offered places based on a combination of predicted grades, internal assessments, and recommendations. This year final scores will be calculated differently.
- Given the pandemic, the cancellations did not surprise university administrators in the US. They are now in the process of evaluating how they will flexibly approach their decisions. Colleges worry most about their own survival, so we predict that they will adapt to present realities. Many have already shown this with SAT and ACT testing changes.
- In the UK, the Department of Education has put the admissions process on a two-week moratorium starting March 23. This is to work out admission arrangements with universities to stem the pandemic panic in the wake of cancelled exams. It is in everyone’s interest that students enroll in university this fall.
- Moreover, in the UK universities accept students conditionally based on their final score results, a student who accepts an unconditional offer is free now to accept another offer. In the period known as ‘clearing,’ which starts on July 6, students will have a chance to change their minds.
- Other countries and universities are in the process of responding to the cancelled IB exams. While many details are not yet available, we predict there will be much greater flexibility this year due to these unprecedented circumstances.
So while there are no clear answers yet in sight, the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) weighed the pros and cons of conducting IB testing online. In the end, IBO decided that the online format carried too many risks. So IBO cancelled the exams entirely. On balance, this outcome seems to be fair. It will disrupt students’ lives the least, and remove the greater anxiety of access to and performance on these extremely important exams.