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Dr Robert Harrison is Education Strategy Director for ACS International Schools. He was Head of MYP Development 2013-18, during the final design and implementation of MYP: Next chapter and the inaugural sessions of MYP eAssessment.

 Twenty-five years on: Searching for rigour and relevance in the MYP

The IB began as the International Schools Examination Syndicate, and the MYP was in some respects not very different. Not long after the Diploma Programme emerged as a live option for senior secondary students, educators began to ask what should precede it.  Much like the DP, which was designed to address concerns about the educational results of English ‘A Levels’, the MYP was fashioned in response to a growing sense that ‘O Levels’ for sixteen-year-olds were not sufficiently aligned with the new IB programme’s philosophy and practice.
The search was on for a two-year ‘pre-IB’ with appropriately rigorous exams, which… fifteen years and many versions later… became the MYP. In the late 1980s, this proto-programme was busy distinguishing itself from the reforms that led to the (I)GCSE examination system. Among other things, the emergent MYP opted for a moderated system of wholly-internal (or school-based) assessment as the culmination of a five-year educational experience. Twenty years after its launch in 1994, the MYP undertook a major review (MYP: Next Chapter) that brought us back to a programme with (optional, on-screen) external examinations and a sharper focus on the two years leading up to the DP.
Part of the drive for reform was a nagging feeling among many IB educators that the MYP—while extremely relevant to the broader developmental and learning needs of younger adolescents—was not sufficiently preparing them for the academic demands of the DP. The MYP’s flexible curriculum and assessment framework had relatively few benchmarks to establish a clear progression toward the knowledge, understanding and skills required for success in pre-university study. The quest was on for a new balance between relevance and rigour.
One result was MYP eAssessment, an award-winning suite of summative assessments. Good assessment drives effective learning, and the introduction of formal external examinations has helped to shape the MYP—even for schools that don’t yet take advantage of them to validate student achievement. Structural features of the MYP help students and teachers ensure that rigorous academic expectations are always relevant to the world beyond the classroom:
  • Key and related concepts connect deep disciplinary learning with big ideas that cross boundaries through detailed and open-ended explorations.
  • Global contexts ensure that international mindedness is the final point of reference for every unit of inquiry.
  • Topic lists structure learning and identify essential content needed to prepare students for DP subjects
  • An Approaches to Learning framework helps student chart the growth of their personal and academic skills
  • Detailed learning objective/assessment criteria strands describe exactly what students must know and be able to do.
  • Assessment blueprints and partially-completed unit plans specify the kind of work and levels of difficulty required to meet the programme’s academic expectations.
  • On-screen examinations that challenge students to apply what they’ve learned to unfamiliar real-world situations through modelling, simulations and media-rich interactive assessments (using technology familiar to contemporary adolescents).
A recent independent study by NARIC (the UK’s national agency for recognising and comparing international qualifications) compared MYP eAssessment with new GCSE (higher tier) exams in English, Mathematics and Science. NARIC found the two assessment regimes to be equally demanding, with the MYP offering greater depth and greater efficiency in assessment.
Coming full circle, the ‘new’ MYP will hopefully inspire years of innovative, relevant AND rigorous learning that are fully tuned to the longstanding values of the IB and its progressive educational philosophy.