As academic standards shift throughout the country, including Colorado, Summit schools are learning to adapt their already highly regulated program — IB.
All Summit School District schools offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which consists of the Primary Years Program (PYP) in elementary school, the Middle Years Program (MYP) in middle and high school and the Diploma Program (DP) in high school. IB is an international education system that is concept driven, with an inquiry-based curriculum framework.
As an all-IB district, Summit schools have been put in the position of balancing requirements of the IB, with its own tests and specific projects, with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS).
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a U.S. education initiative, which established a single set of academic standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English/language arts and math that states can choose to adopt. Colorado adopted the standards in 2010, and began full implementation this school year.
District spokesperson Julie McCluskie said Colorado’s version of the Common Core is more inclusive of other subject areas, and not much in the district IB program has had to change.
“The standards are really what the students need to know, and IB is the how,” she said. “How district teach the standards, it’s up to local control, to the teachers and buildings.”
The IB released two studies about connecting IB to the Common Core, one for math and one for English. The research looks at the standards of both programs through all three levels, and offers resources to inform curriculum alignment.
The study reports that “IB recognizes that the implementation of the ... CCSS will have a significant impact on public schools in the U.S. and in IB World Schools around the globe that follow a U.S. curriculum.”
The Common Core has received criticism from educators, teachers and parents worried about layoffs, inequality and test-based teacher evaluation.
“For us to have IB district-wide, it really means we are embracing the methodology of IB and what that means for student learning,” McCluskie said. “Here’s what I have to learn, but IB can put a frame on it for me, to look at something through an international lens, or think about it in a broader perspective.”
The already-established IB standards were selected as one of five international benchmarks against which to compare the CCSS in a study conducted by the Educational Policy Improvement Center.
Drew Deutsch, director of IB Americas, said in the introduction to the IB and Common Core studies that the IB and CCSS share many goals, mainly mutual emphasis on career and college readiness.
“An IB education not only holds students to the highest academic standards but also incorporates an understanding and appreciation of other cultures and points of view, and world language competency — precisely the soft skills in demand by the global economy,” he wrote.
Nanci Morse, MYP and DP coordinator for Summit School District, said in IB, especially in the PYP and MYP, the approach to learning is critical, and so by using an IB lens to approach the Common Core, she believes students will still be able to have a creative, worthwhile education experience.
“IB is set up to create a system of excellence in education in schools around the world,” she said. “The whole system has to be flexible enough so everyone can get in their local standards.”
For example, the CCSS define what students in mathematics should understand and be able to do by the end of each grade. The PYP and MYP provide curriculum frameworks that are designed to meet the developmental needs of students. According to IB, these curriculum frameworks and the DP mathematics courses offer schools the flexibility to accommodate the demands of national or local requirements.
Morse said some changes will have to be made, especially regarding what is taught in a particular grade, since the Common Core outlines specific things to learn for each grade.
“In the Diploma Program, that may mean students are already beyond those designated 11th or 12th grade standards,” she said. “It’s a rigorous program.”
McCluskie said the standards can help ensure every student has all of the right skills and knowledge no matter where they come from in the state.
“We have such a transient community, so if a student comes from somewhere else in Colorado and has also been learning the Common Core, they move here and are right in sync,” she said. “Maybe they learned it in a different way, but we know they got the material and there’s not a big gap in learning.”
As the first year of the Common Core continues, Morse said the district will continue to evaluate knowledge and growth while maintaining the necessary IB standards as well.
“It’s not like we had to revamp everything in the district,” she said. “We were already teaching those things. Maybe not using the same vocabulary, but IB is also under constant change and review. We’re still learning too.”