International Baccalaureate program at Battery Creek could end; probation possible at Hilton Head High

February 4, 2011 

  • The Beaufort County School District pays thousands of dollars in annual fees to the International Baccalaureate organization.

  • $30,000: Three-year average of what the school district has paid annually in fees for the two high school diploma programs.

  • $8,000: Annual fee for each middle-years program.

  • $7,000: Annual fee for each primary-years program.

    Source: December external evaluation of the program in local schools.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Battery Creek High School would be eliminated over two years and the program at Hilton Head Island High School put on probation if the Beaufort County Board of Education adopts a recommendation it received this week.

Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief, presented the plan during Tuesday's meeting. The schools' two principals wrote letters endorsing the plan.

The plan follows a consultant's cost-benefit analysis commissioned last year by the school board that recommended the district's I.B. programs be discontinued.

The consultant said the diploma program cost the district an additional $663 per participant in 2010, including dues paid to the international organization, books, supplies and travel for teacher training. About 20 percent of current junior and seniors at the two schools participate.

Because only 10 of the district's 172 participants earned the full I.B. diploma in 2010, the cost per diploma was $11,409, according to the report.

The analyst's figures do not include costs for the primary- and middle-years I.B. programs, offered at Hilton Head I.B. Elementary School, Broad River Elementary School, Hilton Head Island Middle School and Robert Smalls Middle School. The consultants also recommended those programs be discontinued.

However, district administration has not yet made its own proposal to the board on elementary and middle schools. Alford said he expects to develop a proposal after the board takes action on the high school proposal Feb. 15.

A GLOBAL FOCUS

The I.B. program was developed by a nonprofit Swiss foundation in 1968. The curriculum is used in 3,000 schools in 140 countries, with the goal of developing the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills students need in a globalizing world, according to the I.B. website.

School-wide primary- and middle-years I.B. programs serve students in elementary school through grade 10. High school juniors and seniors can participate in the diploma program, a two-year curriculum that offers a chance to earn college credit.

The diploma program has been in public high schools in Beaufort County since 1996 and is one of three ways Beaufort County high-schoolers can earn college credit. Public high schools also offer the College Board's Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment through the Technical College of the Lowcountry.

Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan said A.P. and I.B. are not equivalent programs. Though both are rigorous and offer externally scored exams at the end of courses, they cater to different types of students, she said.

Each A.P. course stands on its own and is aligned with U.S. standards, she said.

I.B., on the other hand, expects students to take a full slate of courses in six subject areas that relate to each other and contribute to the program's goal of teaching students to think through a global lens, O'Nan said.

In the I.B. diploma program, students must complete a 4,000-word research project, complete a community service project and take a course on the theory of knowledge in addition to the end-of-year subject exams.

Matt Trusz, a senior at Hilton Head High who is pursuing an I.B. diploma and has taken A.P. classes, said his I.B. courses are less reliant on multiple-choice exams and focused more on writing and interpretation of ideas. Class discussions are rich because the program attracts students with diverse points of view, he said.

"Life isn't multiple choice," he said. "The introspective, critical thinking skills are what's so important."

In South Carolina, about 25 public high schools had students take I.B. exams in 2010. Nearly 200 state high schools had students take the more prevalent AP exams.

I.B. programs are more expensive to offer, Alford said. The district must pay annual membership dues to the I.B. organization while A.P. programs don't charge dues.

Alford added I.B.. teacher training also is more expensive. A.P. trainings are offered in-state a few times a year, while the district usually must pay for its employees to travel outside the state for the less-frequent I.B. trainings.

BATTERY CREEK

If the board approves the plan presented, Battery Creek will began phasing out its I.B. diploma program this fall. Current juniors who have started the program will be allowed to continue, but no new students would be accepted.

The school will instead begin offering a full slate of A.P. classes and continue offering dual enrollment courses.

Alford said the recommendation doesn't mean the district believes the I.B. program is without merit.

"But were we as a school district and school community getting the most for our investment?" Alford asked.

During the past five years, 50 students at Battery Creek have pursued the I.B. diploma, but only six have earned it, according to district data.

A few years ago, Beaufort High stopped offering its I.B. program, and the district allowed any student in northern Beaufort County to attend Battery Creek for the program. However, the consultant said few from outside Battery Creek's attendance zone choose that option.

Battery Creek principal Edmond Burnes said he and his staff reviewed the school's top 10 graduates over the past five years and found only a third -- 17 -- pursued the full I.B. diploma. Most opted instead for a combination of dual-enrollment courses and just a few I.B. courses.

"Why not go with the program that gives students more flexibility and is not as expensive?" asked Burnes, who believes rigor in A.P. courses is no less than that offered through I.B. courses.

HILTON HEAD

More students at Hilton Head High have pursued and achieved the I.B. diploma during the past five years: Out of 99 that pursued it, 47 earned it, according to district data.

Nonetheless, "we could be doing a whole lot more for a larger portion of our kids," Alford said.

O'Nan said the school embraces the I.B. philosophy and is dedicated to increasing participation, the percentage of students who earn the I.B. diploma and the number passing the program's exams.

During the past five years, the number of I.B. participants has increased from 59 to 100, O'Nan said. She wants to increase participation to 150 students during the two-year probation.

O'Nan said she is optimistic, in part because the school has improved its focus on the middle years I.B. program for freshmen and sophomores that will prepare them for the course work in the diploma program.

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