U-VA Cheats IB Students


The Washington Post, February 7, 2010


The Class Struggle
By Jay Mathews

Some days when Alexis Robertson was in the heavy-duty International Baccalaureate program at South Lakes High School in Fairfax County, she arrived at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until 8 p.m. The 4,000-word IB paper she wrote was longer and more detailed than anything she has had so far as freshman at the University of Virginia. She passed six college-level IB exams, did 150 hours of community service and received the IB Diploma, one of the highest honors bestowed by American high schools.

Yet U-Va. gave her only nine college credits. She said a friend who had a similar load of Advanced Placement courses (a similar but older college-level program for high schoolers) received 39 credits, and already started taking classes in her major.

That means AP is a better than IB, right? No.

I have written books about both programs. Although IB and AP both add electrifying challenges to our usually limp high school course catalogues, IB is somewhat better because of its writing requirement and deeper exams, with no multiple choice questions. Yet students at U-Va. and elsewhere are finding that our finest colleges are dumb and deceptive about IB. They openly discriminate against students like Robertson, with no data supporting their rules and no interest in changing them.

This is my fifth year investigating IB credit policies in more than a dozen universities and colleges in this region, and several others elsewhere. When I ask their spokespersons why they give more credit for good scores on AP tests than good scores on similar IB tests, they say they don’t know. The few times I have been able to reach the professors who make these rules, the usual answer is: “Well, some committee made those decisions many years ago. I don’t know when we will have a chance to review them.”

The IB credit rules at U-Va. are among the worst in the country. As a result, it is one of the first universities to have IB students organizing to overturn the old system. U-Va. has many former IB students because Northern Virginia has one of the highest concentration of IB high schools, including a third of the schools in Fairfax County.

Lauren Carman, a third year student who graduated from Edison High School in Fairfax County, said the IB protesters “are rather outraged.” Matthew Allen, a second year student, recalled spending more than $80 to take an AP calculus test his senior year at Robert E. Lee High School, also in Fairfax County, because his high grade on a similar IB test earned no credit. Julia Hardcastle, a second year student who earned an IB diploma at George Marshall High School in Fairfax County, said “I was horrified at my U-Va. orientation to find that I would be receiving ZERO credit for all my hard work.”

Most colleges give some credit for good scores on IB Higher Level exams given after two-year courses. But they rarely give credit for good scores on IB Standard Level (SL) exams, given after one-year courses, unless the student has earned the IB diploma. (The IB diploma, which requires at least six IB courses and tests, is awarded in addition to the usual high school diploma.) U-Va. gives credit for good scores on exams after one-year AP courses, but none for good scores on exams after IB SL courses, even though a 2007 Thomas B. Fordham Institute study found AP and IB-SL nearly identical in rigor and content.

U-Va. spokeswoman Carol Wood said “college faculty make informed decisions about the credit to be awarded, regularly verifying their judgments by feedback provided from student performance.” That is a standard college line. I have heard it many times, but I do not think it is true. Like other schools that discriminate against IB, U-Va.'s spokeswoman was unable to provide any data to verify what she said.

Now that the College Board is deepening its AP courses and tests to look more like IB, it might be a good time for U-Va. and schools like it to put their credit rules in touch with reality, and for U-Va. to confess its IB student rebellion is its fault.

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