To Test or Not to Test

A Faculty Member’s Perspective


Heath Weaver, Faculty Contributor

This year has been a difficult year for parents, teachers, and especially students who may be called upon to take high stakes tests. Due to the pandemic, The IB Organization is making decisions about assessments this year. I learned this past week that IB stated they will not attempt to conduct online exams similar to AP due to worldwide technology differences between schools. Our IB Coordinator, Mrs. Hernandez, then informed us that IB  sent out a survey to coordinators asking if they could guarantee we could test in May. She also agreed IB is going to do one of two things: 

  1. Cancel testing worldwide and use the system they used last May (IMPORTANT explanation below); or
  2. Leave it to individual schools to decide whether to take the exams or use the system from last May.   

Mrs. Hernandez has created a survey, which was disseminated to teachers and asked to be shared with students. She also stated this survey would be sent to parents. The survey asks whether we SHOULD or SHOULD NOT host exams. In making that decision, she cites two factors: 

  1. A single IA or piece of work is not the best measure of a student’s abilities in a subject matter. The exams are a necessity to accurately understand the depth of knowledge of the student.
  2. Instruction and learning have been so interrupted this year between eLearning, hybrid, and anxiety surrounding the pandemic that it does not make sense to measure our students’ success in an exam against that of students whose schools did not close. The exams would be unfair.

Below you will find a discussion of the ramifications of the two factors, However, which decision to make should be informed by how the IA only model works and our school’s statistics.  

May 2020 Assessment Model Simplified

The assessment model from last May consisted of awarding scores based on internal assessments (then graded externally by assessors outside of our school) and grade predictions from teachers. Those grade predictions were then compared to prior year’s grade predictions and combined with the now externally assessed IAs to award a score.  Thus, in general, if a student submitted an IA and it was assessed as a 6 and the predicted grade was a 7 (IB scores tests 1-7), IB would then look at the teacher’s performance in predicting grades in previous years. If a teacher predicted scores that were normally lower than the actual scores, it was almost a certainty the above example would score a 7. In fact, if the student scored a 6 and the teacher predicted a 6, there was a good chance the student could still score a 7 if the teacher’s previous year’s predicted scores were lower than the actual scores. 


This leads to the inference that using only IAs and predicted scores will lead to higher overall scores. In fact, the leader of my recent IB workshop, stated they doubled the number of IB Diplomas awarded in May 2020 as compared to previous years. So what do the statistics for John Adams performance show us from last year’s IA Only May 2020 model? 

  1. Of the subjects assessed last year that had previous year data (20), 15 scored higher than the previous year.  
  2. Of all subjects tested (24), 15 scored the highest average score in the history of the class. 
  3. Of all subjects tested (24) and not receiving its highest score ever, 1 scored the highest in the last 7 years, 1 scored the highest in the last 4 years, and 1 scored the highest in the last 12 years.
  4. Thus, of all subjects assessed 18/24 scored the highest ever average score or the highest within the last 4 years or more. 
  5. Adams had an astounding increase in students receiving 7s over previous years. 33 of our students earned 7s last year, May 2020. In May of 2019 and 2018,  our students earned 12 and 6 total 7s respectively. At almost all universities and colleges, a 7 in an HL class will result in college credit. There are many schools who will award college credit for SLs as well. 

Clearly, the data indicates students will score higher than average if we are either forced to use the IA only model or choose to use the IA only model. 

Competitive Disadvantage

Notwithstanding the above statistical analysis, some may believe students should still take the exams as they are more indicative of what students have learned. Normally, I would be in that camp. However, if Adams is allowed to administer tests and we choose to do so, one of two things will occur: 

  1. John Adams students will be compared to schools and other students who chose the IA only model and, based on the above statistics, will likely score lower than those IA only model schools.
  2. IB will compare test taking schools to only other test taking schools. 

#2 would appear to level the playing field, but that is not the case. As Mrs. Hernandez correctly points out in option B above, some schools in both this country and others have been at full in person learning this entire academic year. Thus, they are learning in an environment that is far more conducive to learning than our on again, off again, hybrid model.  Being compared to them would put our students at a disadvantage in scoring. 

So What?

So what does this mean for our students at John Adams? We must remember that students can gain college credit for score levels in most of the universities they will attend. Therefore, if a student scores lower due to the nature of the learning environment, they can lose out on credits, which equals time and money for the student and parents. They could also lose out on obtaining the IB Diploma which is a tool that can get them in the door for future internships and jobs. 

And, Finally, Mental Health

This last point is extremely important and may be the most important deciding factor. Many of our students are suffering at some level with their mental health. Choosing to take IB exams at the end of a year like no other is simply not justified. Sure, IB exams are always stressful, but this year IS NOT a normal year by any stretch of logic. Even the best students will tell you they are not learning at the pace of previous years. If it is decided to make them take tests, it could be devastating to their self confidence and future education goals. 


Finally, students know all the above information and we should expect a negative reaction from them if they are made to take the exams in May. They will ask why as parents, teachers, and administrators, we chose the choice that has mainly negative outcomes and not the one that is in their best interests academically, puts them on a fair playing field, and preserves their mental health.


Should IB students be exempted from the examinations this year?


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