International Baccalaureate at ACSD
International Baccalaureate at ACSD
Dear ACSD Community,
This newsletter is designed to provide families with an overview of International Baccalaureate (IB) in the Addison Central School District so you can understand your child's curriculum and our teaching and learning framework.
ACSD is in the early years of being an IB world district. Staff, students, and families have diverse perceptions of what is working and what is not working. IB has brought both increased collaboration, deep curricular work, and student success and challenges, frustrations, and concerns.
Before IB, we were working to ensure that all students had equitable experiences and opportunities regardless of the teacher, class, or school that they attend. But we lacked the structure to build a curriculum to help all of our students thrive. We chose IB because it offered the best framework to build a comprehensive, intentional curriculum that also celebrated local values and experiences.
As we move forward, we will gather feedback and data from our teachers, students, and assessments to understand how IB is serving us and what needs to be better adapted for ACSD. We began this internal assessment in April 2023 by inviting MUHS staff to share anonymous feedback with the MUHS administration before a full staff discussion in May about what is and is not working in our IB implementation to date at MUHS. We are eager to expand that conversation and reflective practice to the broader ACSD community, starting with our district staff.
ACSD faces significant leadership change but maintains thoughtful, committed administrators, teachers, and staff who work to make the best decisions for our students. We hope the overview and Q+A below helps you understand our teaching and learning framework at ACSD. We look for ongoing ways to include staff, students, and families in these conversations to build a strong, vibrant curriculum for our students.
ACSD Teaching and Learning Team
IB in a nutshell
In simple terms, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a framework for teaching and learning. IB's framework supports our educators as they build a curriculum that explores and values our local history, people, and experiences. IB is based on national and international best practices in education. IB’s goal is to foster inquiring, knowledgeable, confident, and caring young people. It encourages students to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners who have the skills to make a difference and thrive in their community and the world.
Students are the center of learning. Each unit of study invites students to learn how to think, reflect, take action, and apply their learning to new studies and all areas of life. It encourages teachers to collaborate on curriculum design and assessment so that each student receives equitable access to the best instruction and evaluation.
International Baccalaureate has four programs: The Primary Years Program (PYP), the Middle Years Program (MYP) the Diploma Program (DP), and the Career Related Program (CP, a career-technical pathway). Some schools only adopt one or some of the programs. ACSD has adopted the PYP, MYP, and DP programs and we have explored the option of the CP with the Hannaford Career Center.
The Primary Years Program (PYP)
The Primary Years Program (PYP) serves grades preschool-5 and builds on a child’s natural curiosity, creativity, and ability to reflect while investigating big ideas across subject areas. Each year from preschool through 5th grade, students explore six* units of study: Who we are, Where we are in place and time, How we express ourselves, How the world works, How we organize ourselves, and Sharing the planet. (*Preschool classes choose 4 units to focus on, Kindergarten chooses 5, and 1st-5th grade explore the full 6 units.)
Students explore traditional subjects within the six units of study in their primary classroom and their arts, physical education, and Spanish classes. This means that students learn language, spelling, reading, social studies, math, arts, and science skills that emerge naturally and relate to the unit they are studying.
In the PYP, students are introduced to the IB Learner Profile which sets a common language for students to respect themselves, others, and the community around them. Starting in our preschool and kindergarten, you may hear your students refer to themselves and others as inquiring, knowledgeable, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-taking, balanced, reflective thinkers, and communicators.
The PYP culminates with an Exhibition in the 5th grade (or 4th for some combined 4/5 classes) and helps students demonstrate their inquiry, social action, and ability to present to an audience. In 2023, students chose an exciting number of actions including many GreenUp day initiatives at local rivers and trails, testifying at the Vermont legislature, advocating to our US Congresswoman, planning for a school based chicken coop, planning a clothing swap, creating petitions for gender based equality and animal rights, and collecting and donating money to local and national organizations!
The Middle Years Program
The Middle Years Program (MYP) serves grades 6-10 and draws connections between subjects while giving students the skills to apply their learning to the world around them and promote an understanding of the cultures and the experiences of those in their local and global community. Core courses include Language and Literature, Individuals and Societies, Mathematics, Sciences, Physical and Health Education, Language Acquisition, Arts, and Design.
The MYP philosophy emphasizes the significance of learning important content in relation to broad concepts that transfer over place and time. For example, instead of studying a specific conflict in history, students might analyze factors that lead to different kinds of conflict. They might use specific historical events as case studies for broader concepts related to conflict and how conflict leads to change in society. The MYP also challenges students to reflect on the process of learning and to take agency over their own progress and educational goals.
The MYP culminates with a Personal Project in 10th grade where students explore an area of personal interest over an extended period, helping them consolidate their learning and develop skills in the classroom and beyond. Examples of recent Personal Projects include creating a podcast, crafting a sword, learning to barrel race horses, studying drone photography, creating a cookbook for teens, learning about dairy cow judging, exploring natural dye techniques, creating jewelry from discarded skateboards, driving horses, improving tennis techniques, and building a chair from skis among many other creative pursuits.
The MYP model provides a consistent framework for learning and assessment for students in grades 6-10. There is a natural curricular bridge built between 8th and 9th grade. When students arrive at MUHS, they experience classes and units that have been designed by MUHS teachers in coordination with their former MUMS teachers. This is a unique structure that is not often seen between middle and high schools.
DP and Pathways to Graduation at MUHS
When students enter 11th and 12th grade they can choose the pathway to graduation that supports their interests, abilities, and post-graduation goals. Their path may include pursuing a full technical education or taking classes at the Hannaford Career Center or they may explore early college or dual enrollment options in addition to MUHS coursework. In their coursework, they can blend any number of Diploma Program (DP) classes with non-diploma program courses or pursue the full DP diploma in addition to their MUHS diploma. There are many ways to have a well balanced MUHS career and robust transcript without taking the full DP.
In the video below, five recent MUHS graduates share their diverse experiences and pathways to graduation at MUHS:
The Diploma Program (DP)
The Diploma Program aims to broaden students’ educational experience and challenge them to apply their knowledge and skills. Engaging in the DP doesn’t mean that students have to complete the full diploma. Students can be course certificate candidates in specific subject areas and complement those diploma courses while pursuing many other pathways at MUHS.
There are three core components of the DP: Theory of knowledge, where students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know, the extended essay, an independent, self-directed research paper, and Creativity, Activity, Service, (CAS), a project related to those three concepts. There are also 6 subject areas: Language and Literature, Language acquisition, Individuals and societies, Sciences, Mathematics, The Arts.
Prior to IB, we offered some AP courses. Taking an AP class is most similar to taking a DP course for a certificate. This means students can still take one (or several) DP courses for a certificate and gain similar pre-college benefits to taking an AP course (or several). The decision to complete the full DP offers an additional curricular opportunity and achievement for students beyond what the AP program offers.
For our current 2023 class, 100 students (or 76%) took at least one DP class in their junior and/or senior year. 46 students (or 35%) are earning at least one IB certificate. We don't know the final number of diploma candidates for 2023. In 2022, 20 students received the full IB diploma and 25 received IB certificates.
Q+A from the ACSD Community
The questions below focus on the foundational and frequent questions that have been asked of our principals, administrators, coordinators, to our School Board candidates, and in response to the questionnaire many of you responded to in a recent newsletter. The answers to these questions were drafted in consultation with our Teaching and Learning and administrative team.
How much does IB cost and what do we get?
The cost of the IB program pays for the structure and support for ACSD to offer a coordinated curriculum across our nine schools. The IB program itself costs ACSD just under $80,000 per year. This represents 0.1% of ACSD's total budget. The cost is split between our nine schools and covers services related to our Primary Years Program (PYP), Middle Years Program (MYP), and Diploma Program (DP).
ACSD has two full-time PYP coordinators who serve our 7 elementary schools, two part-time MYP coordinators (one based primarily at MUMS who is grant funded and one primarily at MUHS. They work closely together), and one part-time DP coordinator. Prior to IB, these coordinator positions existed as "curriculum coordinators" or similar roles, meaning although their titles and some responsibilities are new, these don't represent new costs for ACSD. The shift to IB encouraged ACSD to use our coordinators' time in a more equitable, systemic, and coordinated way across the district.
There are professional development costs with IB, but our professional development costs did not rise with IB. Some of the professional development offered through IB are trainings that we pay for. IB also offers professional development resources, services, and support to our our teachers that are covered through our annual membership. Teachers and staff also still explore professional development outside of ACSD and IB.
Could we teach in the IB style without calling it IB?
We chose IB because it offers accountability measures, annual assessments, professional development, rubrics, interdisciplinary and conceptual connections that are peer reviewed, research based, and globally recognized. We could, in theory, provide this without paying the annual IB fee, but building and maintaining the infrastructure would be nearly impossible for any school district, especially one of ACSD's size, without incurring considerable staff and programmatic costs.
One of the lesser known strengths of IB is how it aligns with the requirements that the Vermont Agency of Education requires. This includes guidelines and requirements around a coordinated curriculum, proficiency based grading, and transferrable skills. Schools across Vermont have struggled to build the structure to support these requirements. With IB, the framework is designed, reviewed, and supported for us without additional administrative costs. Additionally, IB requires schools to examine their curriculum carefully to ensure that there is alignment with local, state, or national standards.
Some teachers feel the IB framework is too rigid. As we continue to develop as an IB district, we are actively exploring how we can flex and bend IB to our local context so that it better supports and serves our students and teachers.
What do teachers really think about IB?
Teachers and staff have a diverse range of feelings and perspectives about IB. Universally, our teachers and staff are united in their desire to do what is best for all students. Some believe we should abandon IB, others believe that abandoning IB would set us back significantly without a structure to serve our students moving forward. The consensus is that we have work to do to make IB work for our district. As we talk to teachers and staff, these are the major challenges and successes they share:
Challenges and Critiques:
- Implementing IB has been a lift for everyone in our district and many feel frustrated, stressed, and tired from the effort.
- Although IB offers more opportunity for collaboration, there is a need for increased planning time, especially for some at our elementary schools who travel between schools to meet.
- IB feels rigid and not adaptable especially at the DP level which impacts the MUHS schedule.
- Some IB requirements feel unnecessary or burdensome to implement.
- It feels that IB isn't serving all students, especially those with special education needs.
- Our Primary Years Program curriculum is built! This was a significant lift and accomplishment for our preschool-5 teachers. This means students across our elementary schools are set up for a strong foundation in learning and teachers will enter a coordinated framework that values and supports their strengths and experience.
- The PYP is working with ACSD's Literacy Coordinator to weave literacy into all PYP units in a coherent, consistent way that is research backed to improve literacy skills.
- IB brings our teachers together around common language and a common curriculum approach.
- Teachers are collaborating across same grade levels to craft locally responsive curriculum together built on best practices and the strengths of their peers.
- Teachers are beginning to collaborate vertically across grade levels to ensure a continuity of learning which helps students effectively build upon skills.
- There is an increased focus on student agency and choice in units and opportunities to broaden assessments to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in many ways.
- IB offers the best chance for all ACSD students to receive equitable access to learning no matter the school or classroom they attended.
In 2021, we spoke with teachers across the district about their experience moving to IB. You can watch the video here:
Is IB serving students with special education needs?
IB alone cannot solve our special education challenges. However, IB offers a framework to meet the diverse learning needs of all students by helping them to explore content and apply it to new contexts in a meaningful way. IB assessments are designed to help students to demonstrate their learning and ideas in a range of ways, build on what they know, set achievable goals, and build student confidence and self-efficacy for learning. Our coordinators and teachers write the curriculum for our ACSD students through the 10th grade. Meeting the special education needs of our students is something we address locally within the framework of IB.
How are we responding to student stress in the DP program?
The full diploma program is a rigorous pathway to graduation at MUHS. Pursuing the full diploma is a choice, not a requirement of IB. It might be the right choice for students who are focused on a serious academic path at MUHS and beyond. The DP is respected and recognized by the world's leading universities and can benefit students as they apply to college. In some cases, they may also receive credit for DP certificates before they arrive.
However, the full DP is not a requirement for any MUHS student and we are committed to helping students realize the pathway and workload that suits their interests and goals. While the DP is designed to help students flourish physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically, our students can gain these benefits without pursuing the full diploma. All MUHS students may take one, several, or no DP classes and still graduate with an MUHS diploma. We will continue to focus on balancing the social emotional and mental health needs of our students with the stress of their academic path. The IB Organization has launched a new focus on student wellbeing and we will bring their best learning to support students at MUHS.
Have we evaluated IB? Is it working?
ACSD is still in the early years of being an IB world district. The DP was certified in 2019 and our PYP and MYP received certification in 2020. We officially became a full IB world district in 2020, the first fall of the pandemic. In the coming months we will work to identify the metrics to evaluate IB within our district.
The IB has extensive research on the impact of all of its programs. This research offers key findings on the impact of the PYP, key findings on the impact of the MYP, key findings on the impact of the DP and other studies which you can explore here that evaluate efficacy and outcomes of IB programs for students, teachers, and schools, the review and development of all program curriculum and pedagogy, trends in assessment, and a new effort to study student wellbeing.
Is IB actually helping us serve students equitably?
It is important to note that many critiques that we hear about "IB" are actually directed at the rigor of the DP. However, it is only in the 11th grade that students can opt-in to the DP. Students in preschool through 10th grade receive the benefits of the coordinated curriculum that our teachers build and assess with the support of the IB framework. Every student can receive their MUHS diploma without choosing the additional rigor of the DP.
The common curriculum that our teachers are building with IB sets us solidly ahead of many districts across the state who are working to meet the Vermont Agency of Education's requirements. In particular, the AOE requires a coordinated curriculum to support Act 173, the new Special Education statute which centers on how to support all of our student learners.
The framework that IB provides actually sets a greater diversity of students up for success. IB supports the exploration of different perspectives, cultures, and experiences and helps to build consistency and confidence for all students. This foundation provides all students an authentic opportunity to engage based on their interest and make choices that will drive future learning.
Like educators across the state and world, the IB is actively engaged in research and learning about how to include all learners in curriculum design. As ACSD pursues our Strategic Plan for Equity, it is a priority to ensure we eliminate the barriers for each student to equitably access their education.
An Ongoing Community Conversation
We hope this answered some of the questions you have about IB at ACSD. We invite you to continue to share your questions in the form below. In the near term, we will use your questions to develop a new IB Q+A section in future monthly community newsletters. We will also look for new opportunities to continue the discussion and community understanding of our curriculum at ACSD.