How To Uncover a School's 'True' IB DP Results

‘There are lies, damned lies and statistics’.  When it comes to examination results the ‘pliable’ nature of statistics is becoming an ever stronger theme.  We present Exhibit A, namely the recently published International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB DP) results.
How To Uncover a School's 'True' IB DP Results
By James Mullan
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We know that parents look at exam results as a key measurement of a school’s success but we are acutely aware that the results need to be placed in context since they are one part of the all-round education that schools seek to deliver.  

There is a reason why the numbers matter - they demonstrate transparency, offer an opportunity to reward schools that do well and to encourage improvement. They provide parents with, hopefully, objective information on which to make the vital decision of which school is best for their child. But the raw figures offer a partial view and we will conclude this article by providing an important caveat.  

The Fine Art of ‘Finessing’

Every June sends a letter to every school offering the IB DP in the UAE asking them to provide us with the key data that will enable our team to provide a full and fair analysis of the results. This is based on the standard reporting framework used by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO).

The quality of response we receive from individual schools varies considerably from those which provide all of the data requested to those which provide just one or two data points.  

We appreciate the pressure that schools, as well as individual departments and school leaders are under to be seen to be successful when it comes to these results. But we have been made aware by a number of parties here as well as in the other territories where operates of what could kindly be termed ‘finessing’  when it comes to the publication of their IB results.

Common practices include dropping results by candidates who failed, the removal of individuals from the DP programme just before exams are about to be taken and placing them on the Courses programme, excluding low individual scores by candidates, the questionable ‘rounding up’ of percentages sometimes very generously to the schools themselves.

Then there’s the ‘boundary issue’. The accepted boundaries are % of students achieving 30+, 35+ and 40+ points respectively. When you see schools posting arbitrary figures such as ’60% of our students achieved 33 points or above’, for instance, assume some massaging is being conducted.

The ‘How To’ Guide

There is a way that the results can be verified, namely if the individual schools provide us (or you the parent) with a screenshot of the results from the IBO’s system. We have requested this from every school in the UAE for a number of years but to date just one school provides us with this as routine.  

With all of the above in mind the question is ‘how can you best read the IB results that schools publish?’ Fortunately there are some pointers to follow:

- Look at the two ‘Cs’ - Cohort and Consistency:  some schools fiercely limit the number of students allowed to study the IB Diploma, ensuring that only the most academically capable are entered and they also ensure they have a small cohort size. The combination results, unsurprisingly, in a stellar school average.  A larger cohort suggest a broader diversity of talent and ability, a feature the IBO is itself keen to promote. A school that encourages students of mixed abilities to undertake the Diploma may receive a lower average grade but can still offer the right environment for students across the spectrum of ability.

The two most significant figures presented by schools are their average and their cohort size.  If a school refuses to publish the number of students who take the Diploma then a large and pointed ‘Why?’ looms over that particular school. Simply put, what do they have to hide?

Another key feature to look out for is consistency.  What is the track record the school has managed to achieve over the past five years is a good starting point. It’s particularly useful to look at what the school’s results were pre-Covid as the last two years schools have had a good deal of flexibility with self-assessment and given what we know already you can be sure that certain schools have taken maximum advantage of this flexibility. Scores from 2019 and before are likely to be a truer reflection of results reality.  

- Specialist Support: a question worth asking your potential IB school choice is whether the school has a dedicated team to support its IB cohort. Also what facilities, if any, are available to IB students (including an IB trained librarian and SENCOs).

- The 45 Club: the maximum mark that any student can achieve at IB is 45. It really is a phenomenal achievement to reach this score which less than 1 % of students this year managed to secure. If you believe that your child is a high academic achiever check to see if the school has been able to secure this for any of their students and also how often it succeeds in doing so.  A 45er last year and maybe five years ago is probably indicative of two exceptionally talented students rather than an infrastructure that is set up to enable excellence.

- In the IBO Club: how many of the teachers at the particular school are examiners for IB? Obviously they can’t mark in their own country but they could be examiners for other countries and territories. This clearly means they are plugged in to what is required and are right on the mark and up to date about marking strategies. Also are they involved in conducting workshops or have they published books or articles about specific areas of the IB DP.  

- Teacher Turnover: Lastly, the all important question of teacher turnover is worth raising as schools with a low turnover tend to be able to embed systems and develop robust IB cultures.

Conclusion - That Important Caveat  

So now you are equipped with all of the critical tools to subject any particular school’s IB results to a pretty forensic examination there is a very real reason you should park all of this and take a very different approach.  The team has been fortunate to spend IB results night with several schools over the years.

What’s immediate and striking is the individual stories of the students, the sense of camaraderie and the celebration in completing a real achievement.  We particularly note the schools where there is a diverse range of achievement from the Oxbridge and Ivy League bound 45ers to the students and their parents who are beyond delighted with a 30 or 32 point result.  

We have seen and felt the pride of the IB leaders, teachers and support staff in the broad range of success. It’s real. The IBO itself is very keen to highlight and celebrate the individual achievements of the students. And they’re right. There is a danger with any examination process that a ‘toxic topper culture’ is created where just the high achievers are recognized and celebrated. This does a huge disservice to the individual students, to the teachers, to the culture of a school and is an anathema to the culture of the IB itself.  

So, while IB averages are important in school choice and for schools themselves to benchmark themselves to assess how they can improve, on an individual level everyone deserves to be recognized very much on their own terms

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