To IB or not to IB, that is the question

There is this huge debate on which is better – IB or AP? I actually do not want to get in on the debate because I think the debate is unworthy of my time, but the question was raised so I have to answer. I will be the first to tell you that IB is not for everyone and that is fine. You can make that decision for yourself but do not insult those that do make the decision to participate.

First let me just state that really when you are comparing IB and AP you are comparing apples to oranges to a large degree. A lot of people do not want to admit that, but I will just call it how it is. When I was in high school 20 years ago, you had a distinct separation of your class levels. I think we have gotten to the point now that everything has gotten diluted just like our education system has.

We have forgotten about the end goal. The point is to educate. It is not to measure the success of the education process but to actually educate the students. If they learn then it was a success, if they do not it was not a success. Unfortunately, I feel that too much has gotten wrapped up in the quantitative measurement of education instead of the qualitative measurement.

I know that in the district that we reside in (as well as the district that my older sister resides in) there is a muddying of the lines between the various distinctions of class levels. I do not like to necessarily label kids one way or another but I will be honest and admit that some kids are just brighter than others and they need more work as well as can do more work than others. Maybe not more work perhaps as more challenging work. Maybe that is the point that we keep missing, that students just need more challenging work.

I think it is important that we address in the individual needs of the students the best we can and that cannot be addressed in a one size fits all classroom. So if we have this dirtying of the lines of distinction, we have a situation where everyone is being considered on an equal playing field when they are in fact not equal, nor should they be. I am not opposed to age specific classrooms per say, but I do think that kids should be placed according to their ability and allowed to work more at their ability as opposed to what their minimal “tested” level is. Unfortunately, too many of the tests measure the lowest common denominator and they have no true measure of how high many students are truly functioning. They have no idea of how smart students really are. They know how dumb students really are, but they do not know how smart the smart ones are. There is no measure for them. They always measure the basic skills and not the others.

Twenty years ago the divisions were regular, honors, GT, and AP. We did not have an IB program at the school that I attended. In the school district we reside in now, the divisions are regular, Pre-AP, GT-PreAP, and AP or IB. The IB is available at one of the high schools but not at all of them high schools.

The GT program in this school district is incredibly hard to get into. I have had all three of my boys tested at various points and none of them have qualified on their initial testing phase. Andrew was considered in elementary school (in 2nd grade I believe) but fell short of the test scores by less than 9 points. We had him tested again in 6th grade and he qualified across the board in all subjects. I had Kyle tested in 7th grade and he did not qualify. Evidently his margin was narrow and only in one area. Lance we had tested in 2nd grade and he did not qualify either. I was encouraged by his counselor to have him tested again this next year, but I am not sure what to do. I am not sure if I should or if we should just hold off until 6th grade. GT to me is just a label in the school district as many of these children in elementary school are in mainstream classes with their non-GT peers doing extra GT work because there are not enough GT qualified students to make an entire GT class. At least that has been the case in the past. In junior high school, this is where you start to separate the students that want to learn from those that just know a lot of stuff.

All of that being said, if everything is either regular or Pre-AP where is the division for those that are not average but are just above average? We have lumped all the kids into either average or smart. There is nothing in between. If you are a junior high student, your choices are Regular or Pre-AP if you are not a GT qualified student. You are either ordinary or you think you are smart. There is nothing to distinguish between those that are a little advanced. It is the whole sink or swim scenario. Not my idea of a great learning environment.

Once you get to high school, you know if you are going to pursue those advanced courses that are going to give you college credits or not. If you are not, you can then decide to take the Pre-AP courses to get more challenging courses or as many students do, boost your GPA with your weighted GPA points. At least at the high school my boys will be attending, they can choose between IB or AP.

They have actually made that choice and thus they are going to the high school where they have the choice. They are considered transfer students at the high school for statistical analysis purposes. I learned that at a school board meeting when they were discussing rezoning for the schools. They are transfer students. They are there for a “special program” and are not zoned to the school. Andrew and Kyle, however, have made the choice to take IB courses over AP courses. This is entirely their choice. I can persuade them one way or the other, I suppose. As their mother I could persuade them with my preference, but I let them choose. My preference was not about the IB or AP courses anyway, it was about the elective of choice – orchestra.

So how did they make that choice? I honestly do not know. It is when they made the decision that we had reaffirmed that we had done our jobs as parents. We had taught our children to do hard things. They were not running from the challenge, they were facing it head on. Right there in front of them was the first decision they would make for themselves about their education and what they would do with it the rest of their lives. What they chose as an 8th grader would impact the rest of their lives in some way or another. It would begin to shape how they took hard things, how they handled them, and ultimately how they overcame them.

As an IB student in a high school in the State of Texas they are still required to obtain a Texas diploma of graduation from high school. Technically, I guess they do not, but this is what they use to prove that they did in fact graduate with state requirements when it matters most. Some of the IB courses do not match up with the “minimum required” Texas graduation requirements. With the new requirements, it is even less so. In fact, when they chose to do IB they agreed to make sure that they would meet all those requirements even if they did not fit nicely into their high school schedule.

There is a rigid IB course schedule based on the various courses they choose to take high level or standard level. They will complete 5-6 years of math in 4 years of high school depending on if they are doing a high level math study or a standard level math study. It is pretty intense. The state requirements only require something like 2 years now. They will complete a Theory of Knowledge course that is above and beyond anything else they take. There are courses such as Government, Economics, and Speech that do not fit nicely into the package and these students still have to fit them into their schedule. These IB students are also very involved in their school I have discovered. They are in extracurricular activities with a heavy emphasis in music programs. Half of Andrew’s orchestra is made up of IB students. A large portion of the orchestra at the school is made up of IB students. These students are taking electives and they want to. These courses are their “release” courses. Their small sanity breaks so to speak.

As we found out with Andrew as we were getting ready to do scheduling for him this past school year for the new school year, he is short 1.5 credits (Government, Economics, and Speech) that are required for his Texas Diploma. It is not a big deal per say, but it was up to us as a family to figure out how to get these completed in order for him to graduate on time – June 2015. We encountered this problem with Andrew completing some high school credits in junior high school and him completing all PE credits off-campus. As an experienced IB parent/family, we now know that Kyle will encounter the same problems. We will have him complete these over the summers as soon as he completes his freshman year of high school. We will then be able to do them at the local community college at a fraction of the cost that we are paying for Andrew’s solution due to time restraints and Texas laws and regulations. Andrew will complete one course this summer at the local community college and then complete the other two courses online through the Texas Tech high school exchange program.

These students choose to do this, however. Do not let anyone tell you any differently. They would not elect to do this if they did not want to. They know what they stakes are going into the program. They know that they will be doing so many math classes, so many science classes, so many english classes. In Andrew and Kyle’s case, they know they will have zero hour class that is an hour before school starts the last semester of their Junior year and the first semester of their Senior year. This means for them that they will do two semesters of make-up work for their LDS Early Morning Seminary class because they will be leaving seminary early for 2 semesters to make it to that required IB class on time. These IB kids do it. They do what is required of them because they CHOOSE TO DO IT!

They want the classroom interaction in the way that it is provided. They thirst for knowledge in a format that is not just rote memorization and regurgitation. They want to be able to choose a topic of interest to them and research it and learn something and share it. They want to be able to learn about something in more depth in a classroom than is allowed by any textbook they have been given before.

IB kids thirst for knowledge. Not information to hand back to you, they thirst for knowledge and are willing and excited to share it. They understand that their assignments will be mostly essay and they will probably write more than one per night some nights. They understand that sleep is something they will get to do again when they graduate. They see the things going on around them and they want more. They just want more. They thrive on the exchange of knowledge. They understand that they have something to share with others and they can teach others. They often teach their peers.

IB kids share a different mentality. They have independent thoughts that show that they have actually thought things through, but they have these thoughts quickly and they are precise.

As we have seen Kyle take his plunge into the IB world by simply applying, we have started to see more and more of these characteristics. IB students are not necessarily the smartest kids in the room, they are the most willing to learn and share what they learned. They are willing to be taught and learn what they are being taught no matter who is teaching them. They are open to discussion and have something to add to the discussion.

AP is not bad. I do not knock it. I was an AP student. I am just grateful that my children found IB. It is a thorough and in depth program that gives them the same end result yet has given them the tools to go searching for answers. I never thought I would have a child begging me for subscriptions for science and physics periodicals that I cannot realistically afford, but I do. We have to settle for the things that mom is willing to pay for, but at least it is something his little brothers pick up to read too.

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