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November 2, 2011

Understanding the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program

by Anne Paddock
The International Baccalaureate program is overseen by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) – an educational foundation – based out of Geneva, Switzerland. Established in 1968 by a group of teachers at the International School of Geneva, the program has grown to become a worldwide alternative to the high school diploma. Nearly 3,300 schools in 141 countries now offer the IB diploma..

In the United States, there are 1,298 IB schools that offer 1,438 IB programs:
  • Primary Years (3-12 years old) Program: 296
  • Middle Years Program (11-16 years old): 444
  • IB Diploma Program (16-19 years old): 743
The United States has the most IB schools of any country in the world with nearly 40% of the total schools.  A very distant second is Canada with 310 schools.  The three programs listed above are described in detail on the IBO website ( and are summarized as follows:

The Primary Years Programme
The Primary Years Programme is for children 3-12 years old (typically pre-school through 5th grade) that uses six themes:
  1. Who we are
  2. Where we are in place and time
  3. How we explain ourselves
  4. How the world works
  5. How we organizes ourselves
  6. Sharing the planet
in studying six structured subjects:
  1. Language
  2. Social Studies
  3. Mathematics
  4. Arts
  5. Science
  6. Personal, Social and Physical Education
with five underlying basic elements:
  1. Concepts
  2. Knowledge
  3. Skills
  4. Attitudes
  5. Action
There are 296 schools in the US that offer the Primary Years Programme with 217 schools or 73% concentrated in ten states:
    1. Colorado 34
    2. Texas 33
    3. California 28
    4. Florida 24
    5. Georgia 23
    6. Minnesota 17
    7. Michigan 16
    8. New York 15
    9. South Carolina 14
    10. North Carolina 13
As illustrated above, there is a concentration of Primary Years Programme schools in the south and southwest states. Initially established in 1997, the Primary Years Programme seeks to prepare children for the Middle School Years Programme and ultimately the IB Diploma program.

The Middle Years Programme
The Middle Schools years is designed for children 11-16 years old (typically 6th through 10th grade) that covers eight subject areas:
  1. Language (mother tongue)
  2. Language (second)
  3. Humanities
  4. Sciences
  5. Mathematics
  6. Arts
  7. Physical Education
  8. Technology
In addition, there is a personal project each student does in the final year of the program. The Middle Schools Programme was started in 1994 and designed to better prepare students for the IB Diploma program.  There are 444 schools in the US that offer the Middle School Programme with 307 or nearly 70% concentrated in ten states:

  1. Florida 50
  2. Colorado 42
  3. Virginia 38
  4. Texas 38
  5. California 29
  6. Illinois 24
  7. Georgia 23
  8. North Carolina 22
  9. South Carolina 21
  10. Michigan 20
As illustrated above, there is a concentration in the south and southwestern states.

The IB Diploma Program
743 schools in the US offer the IB Diploma program with 425, or nearly 60% of the schools located in ten states and again,with a concentration in the south and southwest:

  1. California 82
  2. Florida 72
  3. Texas 51
  4. New York 49
  5. Virginia 35
  6. Colorado 31
  7. North Carolina 28
  8. South Carolina 26
  9. Maryland 26
  10. Georgia 25
The two-year IB program is designed to provide a balanced education in today’s global world. Students start in 11th grade and study six (6) courses: three subjects at a standard level and three subjects at a high level.  There are 6 groups of courses:

  1. Language and Literature (primary language and literature)
  2. Language (a second language)
  3. Individuals and Societies (Business, Economics, History, Geography, etc)
  4. Experimental Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Design Technology, etc)
  5. Mathematics and Computer Science
  6. Arts (Music, Theatre, Visual Arts, Film, Dance)
Students choose 1 course from groups 1- 5 and either a 6th course from Group 6 or another course from Group 1- 5.  In addition, the IB has three core requirements:
  1. Extended Essay – 4,000 plus words
  2. CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) – 150 hours of Community Service
  3. Theory of Knowledge Course – a course on types of knowledge (scientific, math, artistic, historical) and the perception, emotion, reasoning, and language of knowledge.
Exams in each of the six subject courses are given with scores from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest). An IB diploma is awarded to students who earn 24 points or higher; however at least 12 points must be earned from higher level tests and 9 points from standard level tests. An additional 3 points can be earned with the combined results of the extended essay and in the Theory of Knowledge course that all candidates are required to take.

The maximum score is a 45, of which fewer than 1% achieve.  Therefore, there is a wide range of scores for the IB diploma:  24 – 45:   this is very important to know because just as colleges and universities pay attention to SAT, ACT, and AP scores, they also pay attention to IB scores. So, although anyone who has earned the IB Diploma has earned a widely respected degree, the diplomas with the higher scores are more attractive to admission offices.

Typically, IB candidates take their higher level exams in May of the year of graduation with results reported by July.  Most college admission officers do not have the IB candidate’s score at the time a decision is made but those knowledgable in the area extrapolate based on the standard level scores already known, course grades, SAT, ACT, AP, National Exam, and SAT subject test scores.
Many students are given college credit for any subject tests in which a score of 4 or higher is earned, especially at the higher level which means many IB diploma and certificate (students that don’t do the complete diploma program but do some subject tests) students start college with up to a years worth of credits.

Some interesting statistics (from 2010 unless noted) obtained from the IBO website:

Worldwide Mean Score of IB Diploma: 30.7
N. America Mean Score of IB Diploma: 27.5  (2008)
Worldwide Pass Rate: 80%
United States Pass Rate: 70% (2008)
% of IB Diploma Students that score a 45: 1%
% of IB Diploma Students that score a 42 or higher: 5%
% of IB Diploma Students that score a 40 or higher: 10%
% of IB Diploma Students that score a 38 or higher: 15%
% of IB Diploma Students that score a 36 or higher: 21%
% of IB Diploma Students that score a 34 or higher: 30%

For detailed information or copies of statistical reports, go to
International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO)
Route des Morillons, 15
Grand Saconnex, Geneve
1218 – CH
00 41 22 791 7740

International Baccalaureate Americas (IB Americas)
7501 Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 200 West
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

International Baccalaureate North America (IBNA)
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 240
New York, NY 10115

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