‘Verification visits’ another step in process
By Marcy Stamper
After more than two years of teaching that looks at topics from many perspectives — for example, how the same idea applies in science, music and art — the Methow Valley School District is taking a major step in its goal to get official designation as International Baccalaureate (IB) schools.
Two teams are coming this week and next to evaluate the progress toward the IB educational program from kindergarten through 10th grade.
In the two “verification visits,” pairs of educators from the IB organization will meet with teachers, administrators and students; examine lesson plans; and tour the school, said Anne Andersen, the district’s director of teaching and learning and IB coordinator. The teams will evaluate the middle years program (seventh through 10th grade) on Thursday and Friday (Sept. 21 and 22), and the primary years program (kindergarten through sixth grade) on Sept. 28 and 29.
The district started the IB process three years ago and officially applied for candidacy in spring 2015. Since then, teachers have been developing lesson plans and integrating the IB framework into their classes. That includes identifying the central purpose of each unit and determining how they’ll know that students have learned the key concepts.
The IB teams already have copies of the units of study that teachers have developed with their grade- or subject-level counterparts. They’ll meet with the teacher teams who created those units when they come to the Methow.
“There are very specific things they want to see, and they want to see them implemented at a particular level,” said Andersen.
Teachers and administrators are selecting a group of students to meet with the IB teams, but the evaluators will also visit classrooms and talk with students informally, said Andersen. The teams will have lunch with the school board and meet with the entire staff as a group.
The evaluators will provide initial feedback to the district at the end of the verification visits, but the schools won’t learn the final decision on authorization until sometime next year, said Andersen. The teams typically visit all candidate schools in the fall and notify them all at once, she said.
“The purpose of the visit is to ensure that the educational principles, standards and practices on which the IB program is founded will be maintained and furthered. The visit is not aimed at appraising or assessing individual teachers or school administrators,” said the IB organization about the process.
Occasionally the verification teams and IB director general, who makes the final decision, require a school to continue in the candidacy phase before it qualifies for authorization. In some situations, authorization is denied completely, but a school can reapply after two years.
IB emphasizes an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning as a way of building students’ critical-thinking skills. For example, when they start a unit, kids are encouraged to put their curiosity into questions, which are posted on a “wonder wall.” “They see their questions matter and that we take them seriously,” said Andersen.
IB looks for a collaborative approach to curriculum development, where teachers work together to create lessons — and then reflect on what was successful and adapt their lessons as needed. IB wants to be sure the school allocates time for teachers to do this.
IB also promotes students’ awareness of individual, local, national and world issues. The teams will look for evidence of open communication based on understanding and respect. They want students to be involved in responsible actions within and beyond the school community.
The teams will evaluate the schools’ approach to language instruction, both in English and a foreign language, since kids in IB schools start learning a foreign language in kindergarten. In the Methow, students study Spanish from kindergarten through sixth grade, and can choose between Spanish and Chinese starting in middle school.
The IB framework
IB is not a specific curriculum, but a framework for teaching and learning. The framework helps teachers organize lesson plans around a central idea (for example, How the World Works) and show how that idea recurs in many different fields. One of the most important things about IB is making sure that the skills and themes progress from year to year without gaps or duplication, said Andersen.
Since the district first started looking into the IB program, there has been widespread support from administrators and faculty, who all attended workshops about developing lessons and integrating the overall principles of the program.
A majority of families in the district have been enthusiastic about IB, but — particularly when the district first started exploring it — many were suspicious about the international focus. Some were concerned that the emphasis on inquiry would encourage kids to challenge their parents.
But in the past school year, some who’d initially been wary of IB said that their kids’ schoolwork and activities didn’t seem to be that different after all.
Even if authorization is granted next year, as the IB organization says, “authorization is a milestone in the life of an IB World School, not the finish line.” Authorization recognizes that the school will continue to grow as it implements the program, said Andersen. There would be a follow-up visit in five years.
The fee to become a candidate school is $4,000 per program. The annual fee for the primary and middle years programs combined is $17,718, which includes professional development for staff, according to Methow Valley Superintendent Tom Venable.