The International Baccalaureate/CCSS/ELL Connection

In the recent article titled "Educators Tout IB's Links to Common Core," Education Week described the intersection between the standards used in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and the Common Core.

In case you're not familiar with IB, the program has been established in more than 3500 schools in 144 countries around the world. There are nearly 1400 IB schools in the United States alone.  In terms of the IB/CCSS connection, the IB standards were selected as one of five sets of standards against which education experts measured the CCSS to determine the CCSS' success in meeting its goals. The IB website has also published information on how its program interfaces with the CCSS.

While the EdWeek article describes how IB may prepare students to meet the CCSS, it seems the reverse may not necessarily be true, as the two frameworks emphasize different aspects of learning. IB's standards are structured into a more holistic approach featuring interdisciplinary and multigrade lines of inquiry, and integrate social and emotional learning into its academic standards. Students' progress towards meeting the IB standards is gauged through performance-based portfolio assessments such as projects and presentations. On the other hand, the CCSS assessments being developed will not share these IB elements. One specialist quoted for the EdWeek article states, "The common core seems to be uniquely American, very results-oriented, and the IB seems to be very concerned with the person as a whole and the results of knowledge."

Leveraging ELLs' Culture and Language in Teaching to IB and CCSS Standards

One feature of IB programs is their international focus, which encourages "international mindedness" in students. The IB philosophy underscores the belief that students must first develop an understanding of their own cultural and national identity in order to become world citizens.  This level of cultural understanding might come more easily to ELLs who often learn to successfully navigate the cultures of home and school, which is no small feat.

This IB philosophy leads me to wonder how educators not working in a US-based IB program can leverage ELLs' multicultural strengths using the CCSS as a vehicle. The international mindedness aspect of the IB standards also dovetails with one of Understanding Language's new Six Key Principles for ELL Instruction to guide educators as they develop CCSS-aligned instruction for ELLs. The second Understanding Language principle is "instruction leverages ELLs' home language(s), cultural assets, and prior knowledge." While the CCSS don't prescribe how to incorporate ELLs' rich background experiences or home languages into instruction, ESL teachers usually possess considerable expertise in these areas. I believe we should focus more on how ESL teachers can collaborate with content area and general education educators to help them learn about and build CCSS-based instruction upon ELLs' languages and cultures.

My Secondhand Experience with IB

As a side note, a couple of summers ago I taught a language assessment course for FAST TRAIN, a program based at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA which leads to US ESL certification and is geared toward teachers working in international contexts. Many of the teacher licensure candidates I taught were working in IB schools abroad and related that their P-12 students had often either lived in the US or were planning to move to the US. These students, many of whom would be classified as ELLs if they moved to the US, would already have experience with IB programs and would need to transition to a CCSS framework. If I could teach that assessment course again, I'd want to know:

  • How the IB programs were developing these students' cultural identities and leveraging their multilingual skills
  • How these cultural identities would compare with those of "typical" ELL students living in the US who do not attend IB schools
  • What non-IB schools could learn from IB schools so that we could tap our ELLs' linguistic and cultural resources and build upon them in CCSS-based instruction

While working on this post, I contacted the International Baccalaureate Global Centre to inquire about the number of ELLs enrolled in its IB programs, and they shared that they do not currently track ELL student enrollment data. It would be interesting to get a handle on how many ELLs are impacted by IB programs both in the US and abroad, especially as ELLs move in and out of international contexts. As a result of my contact with the IB Centre, I was invited to attend future CCSS/IB events to give some perspective on the ELL experience. I'll keep you posted!

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