To IB or Not to IB: Contention Grows Over District’s Commitment to Administering IB Exams


Michael Puglisi

In early 2021, the global IB program, known as IBO, announced that IB exams would be administered in the spring.

James Connor, Contributor

“Our learning has not been what it usually would have been,” says Noah Rosenzweig, a senior at Northport High School. This is one of the few things on which students, teachers, and administrators actually agree in the contentious debate over IB exams in the Northport-East Northport UFSD.

The controversial subject first emerged in January, as IB students prepared for their individual orals — colloquially referred to as “IOs”. In several IB courses, these verbal examinations are used to assess a student’s ability to apply their knowledge and skills in a conversational format.

Though months away, students began to ask whether they would be required to take IB exams in May — especially since the exams were cancelled in 2020. Soon after the IOs, the global IB program, known as IBO, announced that IB exams would be administered in the spring. But there was a caveat. According to the official announcement, tests would be administered as “written examinations, where they can be administered safely, or [through] an alternative route using a combination of internal assessment coursework and teacher-predicted grades, where they can’t.” For many students, however, this is not enough.

Rosenzweig, who is enrolled in several courses in the rigorous IB program, insists that a lack of preparation has left him and his peers anxious over the approaching tests. “People have told me how stressed they are with normal tests,” he says. “They can’t even begin to imagine how they’ll feel when studying and getting ready for the IB exams.” He’s not the only one who thinks so.

A petition calling for the cancellation of Northport High School’s IB exams presents another argument. With 115 signatures at the time of publication, the petition claims that “students did not have the same class time that students during previous years had in order to prepare for the exam.” It goes on to explain that the combination of last year’s asynchronous learning and this year’s altered schedule has placed the current IB students in a position to tackle the IB exams that is worse than that of last year’s students.

But a number of students offer a different perspective. Griffin Crafa, a senior IB Diploma candidate, is among this group. “IB exams provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate that which they have learned in one to two years of an academic course,” he explains. “There’s no denying that the academic models of this year presented time and curriculum challenges. But IBO is accommodating these constraints.” He argues that an absence of IB exams would undermine the effort of himself, his classmates, and his teachers, and that IBO has made enough modifications to the actual tests to address the year’s impact on curriculum. School officials seem to agree.

The District’s stance is two-fold: firstly, with the recent return to full-time in-person instruction, holding IB testing is logistically feasible and medically safe; and secondly, many students will earn higher overall scores through the exams rather than through IBO’s alternative.

Northport High School IB Coordinator Madame Anna Kessler offered insight into the reasoning behind the District’s commitment to holding the exams.

“IBO gave the possibility to select a “non-examination route” to schools who do not have the means and logistics to safely administer the examination,” she explained. “We strongly believe that by limiting the students’ IB exam grades to the Internal Assessments, students will be deprived of the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of all of the other skills that they have been working so hard on.” She also elaborated on the format of the exams, describing how — similarly to the year’s modified curricula — IBO had adapted the tests to better reflect the scholastic challenges students are facing.

NHS Principal Mr. Daniel Danbusky referenced nearby school districts’ decisions on IB exams, and explained that of those who chose the non-examination route, a large number “did so out of logistical concerns for how the exams could be safely administered, not out of fear of the educational impact for students”. In other words, districts are basing their decisions on logistical issues — such as spacing requirements — and not educational concerns.

As the debate over IB exams continues to place some students at odds with administration and classmates alike, it remains to be seen whether students’ pleas will be met with an about-face, or if District officials will remain firm in their decision. As students begin the process of exam preparation, they watch the ever-approaching testing season with an anxious smile and a wary eye.