It is that time of the year again, when some students celebrate and others worry about their International Baccalaureate diploma results. But this year, the picture is a bit more complicated.
Classes in Hong Kong schools were suspended from early February due to Covid-19 and the IB body decided in March to cancel May’s written exams.
The unprecedented move forced drastic changes to the evaluation of grades and marks had to be awarded based on internal assessments and registered coursework.
Usually, these components only make up a small portion of the final grade in most subjects and is assessed by students’ own teachers.
But this year, as they became the only basis for the final grades, the assignments were marked by the IB’s external examiners and the final grades were adjusted using an algorithm reflecting past years’ results.
Some teachers criticized the lack of transparency in the grading algorithm – details have not been made public though it is believed the absolute grades were adjusted to ensure a similar proportion of candidates achieved each grade as in previous years.
But according to the IB office, among 174,355 students who received their IB results on July 6, the number of candidates scoring full marks of 45 points decreased sharply to 141 from last year’s 275.
Some students complained that the mismatch between their predicted grades and those awarded was substantial.
More than 20,000 people have signed an online petition demanding “justice” for this year’s candidates, while another calling for the remarking of grades has also been initiated.
The former petition, started by Ali Zagmout on Change.org, reads: “So far, what we’ve seen is a great deal of injustice; many students around the world got significantly lower final grades than what they were predicted.
“This is the first time in the history of IB that we see such substantial differences between the predicted grades and the final grades, on a large scale, considering that the IB examiners had no real grounds to evaluate and assign us our grades other than marking our coursework.”
In a statement on July 15, IB director-general Siva Kumari said: “We hear the anxiety around the May 2020 results.
“The emotional well-being of our students and our community is paramount in our decision making and remains the highest priority.”
The organization is willing to work with schools to review “extraordinary cases” for appeals, she added.
It has identified three priority areas for review: discrepancies for individual candidates, subject departments and a whole cohort.
“We are working to develop a process which will enable us to have a conversation with each school regarding their concerns at the cohort and individual school levels.”
However, despite the turbulent school year first involving social unrest then a pandemic, Hong Kong pupils have still achieved impressive results – and may fare even better after the cases are reviewed.
The number of local students bagging perfect scores dropped by nearly a third to 23 this year, but still accounted for 16 percent of top scorers worldwide, a similar proportion to last year.
In fact, 641 candidates received 40 points or above, up from last year’s 585.
According to the IB office, Hong Kong’s average score this year was 36.31, with a 97.9 percent pass rate – higher than the global average score of 29.9, and the city’s pass rate of 96.9 percent last year.
Twelve of the 23 local students earning perfect scores came from the English Schools Foundation, Hong Kong’s biggest international school operator.
ESF’s chief executive Belinda Greer described its students’ achievements as “extraordinary.”
She added: “Students had to work even harder to get perfect scores because they were not able to rely on just performing well in the exam. They had to have the highest level throughout the year, so it had to be really consistent.”
Meanwhile, IB’s Kumari believes the difficulties were part of the education journey.
“An IB education has always been about more than results. This year, students have had to deal with a level of global disruption that has never been experienced before,” she said.
“We know that the IB has prepared them to be better learners for life – to be better, more critical thinkers, better at formulating excellent questions and finding the answers, and better suited to adapting to our ever-changing world.”
(This article was published at The Standard on July 21, 2020: Education: HK pupils shine in pandemic )