James River Elementary School has been the home of the only International Baccalaureate program in Williamsburg-James City County for more than a decade. A recent study shows the program’s affects on participating students, even long after they leave James River.
Since it was started in 2006, the IB Program at James River has been open to students of all grade levels. According to Scott Thorpe, W-JCC’s assistant superintendent who oversees the division’s elementary schools, work to establish it began in 2002.
“There was a group of staff at James River, along with some folks at the central office, who wanted to start a program to give students that extra bit of help they needed to succeed,” Thorpe said. “We went with International Baccalaureate because they’re a well-known program with a known impact on students, and after all these years, we wanted to measure that impact.”
To that aim, the division hired Hanover Research to conduct a study on students, teachers and parents to gauge the impact of the IB program on participating students, focused on the impact it has on participating students compared to their peers at other schools, and see the affects that carry over to middle school.
The findings of that study were part of an extended presentation at the last School Board meeting, given by Dr. Susan Groundwater and Mary Kate Taylor of Hanover Research.
The study found that participating students had higher attendance and higher Standards of Leaning test scores in middle school than their peers, even as late as eighth grade. There was also a narrower achievement gap and an impact on student’s behavior, according to the survey.
“Respondents stated that James River IB students perform better on many skills, including social, research and communication skills, as well as self-management, than other students,” Groundwater said. “Fifty-eight percent of respondents said there was an increase in gaining facts and vocabulary among IB students, and 36% said students used their time more effectively.”
Thorpe said the program’s impact on social skills and study habits was a major factor behind the initial selection of the IB program in 2002.
“The IB learner traits, especially from parents that responded to the survey, they were very favorable about the impact and help it’s given students,” Thorpe said. “There’s more to growth and development than what’s covered in the SOLs, and in the IB program, students go beyond the intellect, to cover social interaction and development, this is a really special aspect of the IB program.”
The study also found that participating students had higher attendance and scored higher on the SOLs in seventh- and eighth-grade than their peers, narrowing to middle school achievement gap.
“This is one of the things we wanted to see from the study, we wanted to make sure the program was having the kind of impact, not just on grades kindergarten-fifth grade, but on the middle school level and long after they’ve left the program,” Thorpe said.
From the findings, one of the key areas the study said could be improved upon was staff perception, with common complaints from teachers being that the program takes away input into lesson plans and decision-making from the teachers.
“Looking at the staff input, I wonder if other teachers have similar issues with flexibility,” said School Board member Kyra Cook. “Is this an issue with IB, and working from someone else’s lesson plans, or is it an issue in general, and either way, how can we improve upon it?”
Though the findings of the study highlight the impact the IB program has had at James River Elementary, the division says there are no current plans to explore expanding it to other schools in W-JCC.
“While we’re all big fans of the program, it has not been a priority to expand the program, either to other elementary schools or to the middle school level or high school levels at this time,” Thorpe said. “Nevertheless, it’s a priority of the division to measure the impact of programs like this have on students, and we can say for certain now that the IB program has had a measurable positive impact on James River students, and we’re quite happy for that.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email email@example.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.