A study of International Baccalaureate students in China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia and Japan suggests different middle years courses may influence senior school outcomes.
Research by ACER for the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) sheds light on why senior students undertaking the IB Diploma Program who previously completed the IB Middle Years Program have stronger outcomes than their peers who completed alternative middle years courses of study before undertaking the IB Diploma Program.
According to the research report, ‘Students who completed the Middle Years Program (MYP) were found to perform better in their final Diploma Program scores than students who participated in a state or national curriculum or other international middle years program.’
MYP students’ performance in four Diploma Program subjects – Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, and Mathematics – were higher than for non-MYP students. There were, however, no differences for Sciences or The Arts, or the Theory of Knowledge or Extended Essay core requirements of the Diploma Program.
Balancing critical analysis, content knowledge and exam skills
The study collected survey data from MYP and non-MYP students undertaking the Diploma Program as well as from Diploma Program teachers and more detailed feedback from focus groups. There was also an analysis of actual outcomes for students in the Diploma Program after taking either the MYP or the non-MYP track.
While the study found that MYP students as a group significantly outperformed non-MYP students in final Diploma Program scores, the report authors urge caution in generalising about student outcomes from the relatively small study sample. Given the wide range of contexts of students in the sample, and school-level differences, the report authors note that further research is required.
MYP students reported that they had developed strong critical-thinking skills and the ability to analyse and evaluate, and recalled engaging in higher-order thinking skills frequently in their middle years, unlike non-MYP students. Nevertheless, non-MYP students felt that the focus on exams in their middle years studies enabled them to develop their ability to summarise and memorise content, and to develop good study skills and practices for exams, in contrast to MYP students.
Both MYP and non-MYP students identified the need for a better ‘bridge’ between their middle years course of study and the IB Diploma Program, although for different reasons. MYP students reported that the lack of focus on content knowledge during their studies, and lack of preparation for the academic expectations and workload of the Diploma Program made the transition difficult, particularly for science and maths.
Non-MYP students reported that the lack of a focus on analytical and evaluative skills, a ‘passive’ approach to learning as consumption rather than the ‘active’ production of knowledge and skills, and – for some students – lack of preparation for English as the language of instruction in their middle years had made the transition to the Diploma Program difficult.
What do teachers think?
Teachers of the Diploma Program broadly agreed with the self-evaluations of both MYP and non-MYP students undertaking the Diploma Program, confirming the view that MYP students had strong critical thinking and analytical skills, and report and essay writing skills, but not adequate content knowledge or exam skills. Teachers further confirmed the view that non-MYP students had strong content knowledge and exam skills, but less developed critical thinking and analytical skills than their MYP peers.
Teachers identified the absence of external assessments in the MYP as a critical issue and welcomed the optional external assessment to be introduced by the IBO for 2016 with limited session of external assessments for selected subjects in the second quarter of 2015.
It should be noted any interpretations from the study appropriate take consideration of the relatively small number of students in the sample, and that performance differences between MYP and non-MYP students may be influenced by other factors at the school level. In order to shed further light on the effects of participation in the MYP, future studies might include higher numbers of students, particularly those who did not participate in the MYP and ideally from a more homogenous program type to minimise contextual variables. ■