IBO 'Dual Route Model' for May 2021 exams

Whilst most UK Exam Boards appear to have decided to cancel in-school examinations this summer, the International Baccalaureate Organisation has decided that schools may choose between examinations or an assessment option.
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A day after the UK's Pearson organisation announced that its Edexcel Board examinations for IGCSE and IA Levels would not go ahead in June 2021, the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) has confirmed that there will be two options available to schools for students due to take the Diploma Programme and Career-related Programme examinations in May. 

Following a survey of over 3,000 schools in over 150 countries which indicated that many schools and students continue to face significant challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IBO has decided to retain the model introduced for the November 2020 exams.

Currently, approximately 71% of schools (representing 61% of students) have indicated that they will be able to administer the exams.

However, in recognition of the differences within regions, the IBO says that it is working with schools to determine which of the two pathways is best: written examinations, where they can be administered safely, or an alternative route using a combination of internal assessment coursework and teacher-predicted grades, where the normal examination process is not possible.

The IBO statement notes "We believe that IB’s approach to the May 2021 examination session – in which schools that can sit the exams will do so – is the fairest possible solution. We also believe the non-exam route for allocating results to students who are unable to take exams is fair, clear and will allow for grades to be distributed that will reflect their achievements and abilities."  The advisory body added "This dual-route system was used in the November 2020 series which we found to be equitable and transparent", .

The announcement does not yet extend to the United Kingdom. The IBO says that it works with government regulators across the world regarding local context, restrictions and the impact of COVID-19 on students. Last week, the IB submitted a response to a United Kingdom Department for Education/Ofqual consultation. The regulator’s response to the consultation is expected to be published on 22nd February at which point the IB will write to all UK schools confirming whether IB examinations will be held. Given the decision by all UK examination Boards to cancel the Summer 2021 examinations, it will be interesting to see how the IBO’s proposal is treated.

In terms of the mechanism for marking and awarding results, the IBO stated that “during grade-awarding, appropriate grade boundaries will be set for each route, building in generosity that reflects the disruption experienced in teaching and learning around the world and considering how grades are likely to be distributed in other large-scale qualifications”.

IB grades will be distributed between schools and students to ensure each individual qualification is an accurate reflection of achievement and that they can be fairly compared with one another. They noted that “unlike some other systems, the IB's extensive use of coursework allows for this”.

With not inconsiderable concerns raised about grade inflation as a result of the assessed results awarded in May/June 2020 by both the IBO and also the UK curriculum Examination Boards, the IBO is evidently keen to ensure that the results for 2021 are felt to be fair in comparison.

Their statement notes that: “Reflecting the fact that May 2020 predicted grades were higher than in previous years, the IBO will recommend generous guidelines within which teachers will be asked to submit their predictions. Where teachers feel these predicted grade distributions are not aligned with student performance, the IB is developing a process that will allow schools to request a different grade distribution and provide evidence that supports their claim. This will form part of the predicted grade process in February and March”.

The IBO plans to update universities and colleges on their plans shortly with the aim of ensuring that the “dual route model” will be treated with equal validity as, they say, was the case with the November 2020 results.

The IBO has also said that schools can also consider deferring to the November 2021 or May 2022 sessions with no additional cost, or withdrawing completely from the May 2021 session with a full refund from the IB. 

However, how practical this will be for students due to complete their school education this year, and who are working hard to obtain the results that will open the door to the next stage of their studies and careers, is an unanswered question.

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