This “As I See It” by the Academy’s Dr. Jim Newman was originally published by the Patriot-News/PennLive.com on Aug. 29, 2014.
Soon Pennsylvania’s Department of Education will publish data summarizing student success on PSSA tests taken last year.
The data reported are an important indicator of the success of Pennsylvania students. They also serve as a key measurement of the accomplishments of Pennsylvania schools.
Why, however, when it is commonplace to acknowledge the pressures of globalized competitiveness in so many facets of our businesses and daily lives, do we remain satisfied with mere state standards to measure the effectiveness of our schools?
If worldwide competition long ago replaced regional and national competition, why do we continue to use state benchmarks as a satisfactory way to account for the learning outcomes of our students?
This fact remains even more curious to me because there IS a highly respected and proven way to use global standards to measure the learning outcomes of our students: the International Baccalaureate, or IB.
Educational leaders in many parts of the United States – including some parts of Pennsylvania – increasingly are turning to this worldwide learning standard for this purpose.
Developed by IB in 1968, today these are the standards of choice in nearly 4,000 “World Schools” in 147 nations, located in all six continents, for students age three to 19.
For example, schools in Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, South Korea, all nations that annually are recognized for the quality of student learning, are accredited to offer International Baccalaureate Diploma Program for high school students.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a strong advocate for higher educational standards for American students, is also a strong advocate for IB.
The group reported that the IB Diploma Program “stands out among other high school curricula available today in the US public education system because it offers a rigorous, aligned, and integrated instructional system.”
The Diploma Program is IB’s most popular program, offered for students in 11th and 12th grade. Sixty percent of all IB Diploma Programs are located in the United States, and 834 US public and private schools make the Diploma Program the core of its academic programs.
In fact, IB Program popularity has grown worldwide, and during the last 10 years, the total number of IB programs offered has more than doubled.
What is the reason for worldwide demand for the IB Diploma Program? In part, it stems from the desire of communities throughout the world to make leading international programs of education available to their students.
As stated by IB, it “works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. ”
But at the same time we recognize that standardized test are important, they are only one facet of measuring learning outcomes. There is no substitute for teaching critical thinking and analytic reasoning.
Harrisburg Academy’s experience during the last seven years with the IB Diploma Program has reinforced this mindset, proving to be everything IB promised. The Diploma Program promotes conceptual learning, or “deep learning,” among our students.
By virtue of the curriculum and the nature of the instruction, our students routinely are stretched to develop 21st century skills, such as complex communication using a global perspective, problem-solving, learning to work effectively in teams, and leading efficiently when necessary.
The learning paradigm developed by IB promotes active learning and student-centered instruction aimed at helping students “direct the direction” of their learning and develop meaning for things learned rather than just consuming information for the sake of consumption.
When state and national educational leaders developed new learning standards, the Common Core, they specifically drew on the demonstrated benefits of the IB Program.
In many ways, the Common Core strives to emulate the spirit of IB and its effort to provide students with the 21st century learning skills that they will need.
Unfortunately, adoption and implementation of Common Core learning standards have become mired in battles regarding implementation and measurement of student learning outcomes. These are critical issues, and not easy ones to resolve.
In the absence of consensus regarding standards, professors at universities and colleges, as well as business leaders, will continue to find that students are ill-prepared for higher-level learning, and certainly not ready for the rigor created by sharp worldwide competition in our business world today.
If worldwide competition has raised the bar of what is needed to succeed in worldwide competition, then we must seek out the best world standards – such as the IB Diploma program – for our students and help them to achieve the kind of results that rank them at the top.
I am proud to say that after six years of graduating students with an IB Diploma, the annual average of Harrisburg Academy’s recipients’ final program scores consistently meets or surpasses the worldwide average.
I am certain other schools can achieve the same level of student success and global preparedness by broadening their means of assessment.