Students and teachers hit at International Baccalaureate grading

Students and teachers around the world have attacked the International Baccalaureate after receiving grades awarded using a system introduced because of disruption from the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools this week demanded explanations from the foundation that administers the IB, with thousands of the 170,000 students who entered saying they had received marks below their expected grades and failed to meet university entry requirements, and large numbers signing petitions calling for regrades.

Angel Newsome, a student at St Andrews International School in Bangkok, who was predicted high marks in the examinations, said: “I got my results on Monday and I was deeply, deeply shocked. I missed the result both for my preferred and back-up medical schools.”

Oksana Tejchman, a Polish student who saw a sharp fall in her grades compared with predictions, said: “The results are scandalous. A vast number of IB students have seen their grades and dreams decimated. I am one of them.”

Their complaints — widely echoed on social media, including on the Twitter hashtag #ibscandal — provide an early warning of frustrations likely to be voiced in the coming weeks as other examination systems disrupted by Covid-19 publish results, including A-levels and GCSEs in the UK and global equivalents.

Many exam boards, including the IB Organisation, cancelled final written tests this year after schools were closed to limit the spread of Covid-19 and switched to online teaching of variable quality. Marking was instead based on coursework and teacher assessments.

Coursework makes up the minority of IB points in most subjects and is normally assessed by students’ own teachers. This year, it was the only basis on which grades were awarded and was marked by the IB’s network of external examiners, who would normally judge written exams. Final grades were then adjusted using an algorithm reflecting past years’ results.

The IB said the overall pass rates and distribution of grades was in line with previous years, but many teachers said the mismatch between predicted grades and those awarded was substantial, with a notable difference in science and maths.

Stephen Jones, warden of St Edward’s School in Oxford in the UK, said: “There were some dreadful outcomes with really appalling injustices. The [IB] will have damaged themselves. We really believe in the IB as a fantastic type of education but I can see our applications plummeting. That will be a great shame. They have really shot themselves in the foot.”

He criticised the opacity of this year’s grading algorithm, the details of which have not been made public but which adjusted students’ absolute grades to ensure a similar proportion achieved each grade as in previous years.

Appealing against grades under the current system would be difficult, he said, given the nature of coursework and the high threshold demanded under the rules to change awards.

He called on the IB to revise its appeals process this year, to be more open in its methodology and to write to universities informing them that some students performed better than their awarded grades implied.

The IB said in a statement: “[We are] listening to [the] global community of IB students, teachers and IB World Schools. We hear the voices of those who are disappointed with their results and those who are elated by their accomplishment.” The foundation added that it was committed to its appeals process and would “ensure proper and prompt attention”.

The organisation said it was confident it had “awarded grades in the fairest and most robust way possible in the absence of examinations”, after “rigorous testing by educational statistical specialists to ensure our methods were robust”.

Katy Ricks, chief master at King Edward’s School in Birmingham in the UK, said: “My sense is that the IB has done its best to apply rigour and sympathy to students. We are perfectly content with the results we have been given. Universities understand that grades are different to those in normal years. Students should feel confident they will get their places.”