Trying to figure things out

International Baccalaureate (IB) schools all over the world aim to build an individual’s international mindedness in order to create “good” global citizens who are responsible to and for the world around them. The goal is to use international mindedness in a local context to create globally responsible learners (IBO 2009). In order to explore the effectiveness of their program, some questions need to be addressed. Firstly, what is the role of assessment on a global, national and local level in IB schools? Secondly, who decides what these values are? Finally, is there any way assessment can aid us in the development of becoming a “good” person (either local or global)?  By exploring these questions one can see if assessment plays a role in the IB’s development of responsible global citizens.

In Making the Primary Years Program Happen (MPYPH) the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) asserts it works with local, national and international organizations to create engaging learning opportunities with rigorous assessment. Usually Primary Years Program (PYP) schools use three different levels of assessment; international standardized assessments, curriculum standards based on national frameworks (not necessarily those of the host country) and local assessments based on what students are learning based on classroom and local context (IBO 2009).

International and national standardized assessments are useful for international schools to help students prepare for different schools in different locations and ensure acceptance into international universities. International assessments can also aid in monitoring teacher effectiveness. International students are often transient and move from place to place. In order for students to find success in other schools, international standards based assessments can help students understand how their knowledge is measured on a global scale. Students need assurance that their learning will translate from one place to another, otherwise they may not be successful in other locations. For learners to be successful in their transitions, international standards need to be assessed. Moreover, students will often go to universities in countries other than those where they attend high school. Universities have to accept people based on academic readiness and success. For universities to meaningful compare students they have to have access to similar data points. (Verger, Parcerisa & Fontdevila 2019, Fischman et al, ). For international schools it is also important to evaluate and monitor teachers.  Many international schools offer yearly contracts. If a teacher has classes that consistently fail to meet desired outcomes, they may be asked to do further professional development.  For international schools, and their stakeholders, international standardized assessments can be a beneficial tool. For IB schools in particular, positive results can effectively advertise the benefits of a PYP education (Kushner et al 2016). By excelling at international standardized exams and providing a values based education the IBO can show that their method of teaching and learning is effective and enable students to succeed in a knowledge-based economy. 

The IBO requires PYP schools to assess the knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action that arise through the units of inquiry (IBO 2009). Many schools choose to create their own curriculum based on national standards from a variety of countries. When creating this curriculum, school administrators may refer to the knowledge and content being assessed on the international standardized assessments. By using what schools’ perceive to be the most important knowledge they can create a curriculum framework that suits the learner’s perceived needs.

Paying attention to the local aspects of learning is integral in the PYP. One of the essential elements of the PYP is taking action (IBO 2009). Action is intended to make a difference in the local (or near local) community.  Throughout the IB program action is a required part of learning. This is the IB program’s use of values to create responsible global citizens. This action, although part of the curriculum and should be assessed is difficult to measure quantitatively. While the focus of action is on local improvement and on creating global citizens, most of the assessment is feedback oriented (IBO 2009).  This is similar to place based education (Sobel ) where feedback comes not only from the teachers, but also from the community. Success in this regard impacts people and is not just a number. 

The IB claims that the PYP is creating global citizens, they empower teachers to look through various national and international standards in order to create a responsible global citizen who takes action (IBO 2009). To this end they use international standardized tests and local or classroom assessments.  One might wonder, who is creating this curriculum and who decides the standards the international assessments focus on.  IB programs focus on creating a global learner, but what is a global learner? The learner profile is an important part of the PYP but not many people who are questioning who created these values and why they are deemed important. Winchip, Milder and Stevenson (2019) remark that the privatization of education suggests the globalization of standards. Sahlberg (2016) refers to this idea as a Global Education Reform Movement or GERM. With a focus on standardization of content, a focus on core subjects and high stakes testing we lose the opportunity for individualization and local focus. Privatization of schools and their standards may be a result of corporations and businesses. Tampio (2019) urges us to look at United Nations focus on merging business and education to get a better understanding of the importance of business playing a role in education. If the United Nations focuses on mixing these two ideas, surely the majority of international schools and international standardized tests have the same mentality.  Edwards (2010) suggest that the decline in official assistance by the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations have hindered some access to education. By removing developmental assistance from schools that need funding businesses can step in to fill the monetary gap. When businesses become a part of schooling, then it is reasonable to assume they have a say in some of the directions of the school. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) even runs high stakes standardized assessments (Kuehn 2014). Whether intentionally or otherwise it seems as though in preparing students for entering into the workforce in the knowledge economy we are allowing businesses and corporation to set some education policy and standards.

The IBO understands that there are a range of external situations that school leaders are obligated to respond to, and at times those situations or pressures can be conflicting (IBO 2009). If the IBO understands such pressures, what does this organization do to address this situation and create good students. In Making the PYP Happen (2009) the IBO instructs schools to build curriculum that addresses the essential elements (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) in relation to the learner profile. The schools are asked to use this value oriented framework to gather and analyze information in order to provide feedback to parents and students that clearly states what the student knows and provides a path for improvement. The IBO embraces values based education in order to create a responsible global citizen that has the ability to create a personal set of values who recognize that other people with different values can also be right. On official reports home the learner profile, attitudes, skills, concepts, knowledge and any action should be reported to parents and other stakeholders. While students do take international standardized assessments our reports home and the majority of our interactions with parents revolves around the learner profile and orientation towards learning. By acknowledging the importance of some aspects of international standardized testing and focusing on the importance of a values based education the PYP attempts to create globally responsible citizens who can also integrate into the knowledge economy workforce.

With a focus on multiple forms of assessment from a variety of international, national and local perspectives does the IBO help in creating a “good” global citizen? If we take the IBO’s hope that all students will be “internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world” (IBO 2009, p. 4).

International standardized assessments are often accused of pursuing a neoliberal agenda that supports businesses and economies (Kuhen 2014, Rushek 2017, Sahlber 2016, Tampio 2019).  Tampio (2019) sees neoliberal scripts appearing in all aspects of learning. For instance, by focusing on education for women and girls we assert the neoliberal ideas of autonomy, choice and agency to improve an individual life. We look at how to help people be more active in a knowledge based economy and promote these values through school. By using international assessments built by organizations like OECD, we are encouraging students to follow neoliberal values, and present these ideas as rational ways of living. Agency, autonomy and choice are also core values of the PYP. We want to empower our learners as individuals. In this regard the PYP is developing internationally minded people (if the goal is we all have autonomy, choice and empowerment). However, Rushek (2017) acknowledges that not all schools are the same, neither are the students, systems or communities they serve. Regardless of these differences international standardized tests still focus on the needs of the ever-changing knowledge economy with a hope of keeping students competitive. This reinforces the neoliberal agenda looking for accountability and measurement of learning. For this reason it seems that although the IBO understands the external pressures of international standardized tests it does not create them or require them to be an IB school.

While the IBO assess action, attitudes, and the learner profile in an attempt to create a “good” person more research is needed to understand more about what this means. For instance, how can a teacher accurately provide feedback on action or the amount of curiosity someone shows? This is a qualitative activity and is difficult to validate. Another aspect that needs to be researched is who created these values and why. Throughout MPYPH it seems evident that these values are important, but there is no evidence that these are truly global or desirable skills or attitudes.

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