Examining for the IB


Examining for the IB and its impact on teaching and assessing at school
Many school inspectors will agree that if you get assessment right, then teaching and learning falls into place more easily.  Assessment is the end point but also, through backward planning, the starting point.  One of the biggest challenges to accurate assessment is grade inflation or the inaccurate application of marking.  While there are several reasons that grade inflation might take place in a school, the focus of this post is on the accuracy of awarding marks and grades.
The International Baccalaureate uses criterion-based assessment.  The criteria that are used to award marks for school tasks are clearly highlighted to students ahead of submitting work, and of course also considered carefully in the design of the assessment tasks. 
In the Middle Years and Diploma Programme each subject is assessed using a number of assessment criteria that are weighted and grouped around particular skill sets.  This takes away some of the subjective judgement associated with grading work based on global impressions.  Where in some systems an essay, for example, will be graded on general impressions overall, criterion-based marking dissects the piece for the different focus areas such as organization of work, of style or perhaps the general knowledge and understanding.  This allows a student to demonstrate progress on different levels that are not necessarily interdependent and can show progress on individual strands over time.
The challenge for many in marking criterion-based tasks is to ensure one is marking according to the criterion being assessed individually and not to include subjective assumptions or past performances of a student in the mix.  Teachers who work as examiners develop this skill through marking the work of anonymous students in an exam setting without the benefit of context, past student issues or personality and the prospect of disappointment.  This frees the marker from factors that might adversely affect their judgment.
The advantage then for schools with in-house examiners is that they benefit from this objectivity that examiners develop over time and regularly maintain through standardizing their own expectations against those of the IB in every exam session which they work within.  The teacher-examiner is confident and willing to challenge the gap between student impressions of the quality of work, and the standard of work that the teacher-examiner expects of students writing in the ‘live’ exam sessions.
Another benefit for the school is when the teacher-examiner works with other colleagues to assist them in aligning their expectations with those of the IB through a process known as standardization. In this process, teachers at the school sit down and look at a number of student tasks together and discuss what marks are appropriate to apply to the tasks examined.  Teachers then return to their own student tasks and apply more consistently across grade levels and across the school.  Parents can then be more confident that marks awarded are in line with international expectations and not inflated for any reason.
Being an examiner does not necessarily equate to being a good teacher and vice versa but it does indeed increase the quality of good teaching through establishing a more accurate baseline assessment from which decisions can be made about student attainment and what strategies to employ.
Martin Keon is the MYP Coordinator at SISD and an experienced examiner for the IB Diploma in Global Politics and English. The Secondary School at SISD currently employs teachers who are examiners in a number of subject areas such as German, French, English, Mathematics, Sciences, Visual Arts and Politics.  The school also standardizes assessments annually with schools in Switzerland who also employ examiners of similar and complimentary subject areas.
For interested Secondary parents, Martin will be running a workshop on criterion-based assessment in the MYP on the 31st of October at 08:30am in the Secondary building.  This will follow the release of the first student reports.