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IB, Cambridge cancel spring exams amid coronavirus concerns

Their grades will be based on other course factors instead.
Areeya Reneau 16, left, helps second-grader Annika Newsome with reading passages at Bailey Elementary School in Dover last year. Students from the IB program at Strawberry Crest High spend the first hour of every Tuesday morning tutoring struggling readers from Bailey. [Times (2019)]

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Hundreds of students across the Tampa Bay area won’t be taking their annual International Baccalaureate or Cambridge International exams this spring as scheduled.

The two worldwide programs have canceled the assessments because of coronavirus concerns. It’s the first time ever that IB has called off its tests, many of which students take two years to prepare for.

If you think the teens are happy about it, you’re wrong.

“For a lot of the kids in my class, it’s shocking because it’s never happened before,” said N’Dia Webb, a senior at Strawberry Crest High School in eastern Hillsborough County. “But it feels not so much a relief as you’d think it would.”

Webb said she and her classmates have studied so hard for the exams, which are the culmination of their IB coursework and help determine whether they qualify for a special diploma. They were ready to knock the tests out of the park.

What’s more, many of the assignments remaining in their classes were focused on further preparations. So the question becomes, what’s left for the remaining weeks of classes?

“We don’t know where it’s going,” Webb said. “I’m just going with the flow at this point.”

Ryan Haczynski, one of her IB teachers at Strawberry Crest, said he received emails and text messages from his students as soon as the news emerged. Many — especially seniors — were frustrated and concerned that the cancellation might mean they won’t get their diploma, which can lead to college credits at some schools.

That shouldn’t be the case, though. In a memo posted late Monday, IB officials said the decisions on official diplomas will be based on other course assignments that reflect their “standard of work” over time.

“For every IB course, students submit multiple assessments over two years of instruction,” IB director general Siva Kumari said in a blog post interview. We will be taking those scores into account, using predictive analytics tools and engaging the 15,000 examiners who ordinarily would be reviewing the exams as we pivot to a new way of reviewing an individual’s body of work."

The organization expects to reveal more details about the plan later this week.

“Really, we’re in a holding pattern while awaiting more specifics,” said Jeff Morgenstein, principal of Pasco County’s Gulf High School, which also has an IB program.

Around the bay area, four Hillsborough County district high schools offer International Baccalaureate, along with three Pinellas district schools, two Pasco district schools and one Hernando district school.

The situation is much the same for Cambridge, which is offered at three Pinellas and two Pasco high schools. It also has canceled its exams, and will use the “best available evidence” to issue course grades and certificates, according to the program’s latest memo.

“We will provide guidance to schools on how students will receive those grades,” the organization stated. “We are talking to universities worldwide, and they are factoring these unprecedented circumstances into admissions decisions, so students can continue with their education journeys as soon as possible.”

The move differs widely from the College Board’s decision to have students take Advanced Placement courses online at home.

Related: High schoolers will take their AP exams at home, College Board says

Morgenstein said that difference made sense, since AP classes don’t have other assignments and work delivered to College Board to be included in their course results. The AP test is the sole determinant of whether a student earns a score worthy of college credit.

IB director general Kumari said her organization did consider using online testing, but rejected the idea for several reasons. Those included the possibility that not all students would have access to the tools needed to take the exams, and the concern for students’ well being in this time of instability.

“It wouldn’t be fair to our students at this incredibly stressful time to add another layer of stress to their lives,” she said in the blog interview. She added parenthetically, “Indeed, taking the IB exams under these current adverse conditions would not measure the true abilities of our IB scholars and not be valid.”

Both Cambridge and IB plan to provide additional information about how their courses will be scored in the coming days.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

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