Supporting student assessment

A crucial aspect of supervising and advising students about IB assessment is ensuring that the key aspects of assessment are fully understood by teachers and their significance communicated to students. Whether assessment is external or internal, the assessment criteria or markscheme must be the starting and ending point.

Business Management students are faced with three types of assessment: written papers, internal coursework and the extended essay. Nearly 50% of extended essays are written for group 3 subjects, so it is likely that Business Management teachers will be regularly asked to supervise several students. Business departments should have clear guidelines about the maximum number of students that should be supervised by a single teacher. Clearly, this will vary from school to school, and will be dependent on additional demands on teacher time. In general, a good guideline is between 3 and 5 students. Undertaking the role of supervisor can be very time consuming and the recent recommendation for a viva voce has increased that commitment further.

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A second imperative is training for the task. Most schools will have an extended essay co-ordinator, although that role may be undertaken by the IB co-ordinator. In the past, I have received extended essays that have been supervised by non-business teachers, and in a few extreme cases, by individuals who are not even teachers in the school. The latter situation is unacceptable. The supervisor must have a detailed knowledge of the task and its assessment before advice is given to students.

Unfortunately, it is clear that teachers do not always provide accurate information or appropriate guidance to students and that this impairs student performance.  Pages 48 to 54 of the Business and Management guide provide detailed information on the nature of the HL and SL internal assessment and it is crucial that this is read by teachers supervising the coursework and fully communicated to the student. For example, the guide lays out required formats for both the HL research proposal and the written report – which must be followed; if they are not, the student will lose marks. Vital information is also included about the nature and presentation of the supporting documents for the SLIA – in particular that the supporting documents are clearly identified, attached to the commentary and written no more than 2 years before submission. The relevant sections of the documents that relate to the commentary should be highlighted. Additional information is provided about word counts.

However, the guide is NOT the only source of important information. The Teacher Source Materials (TSM) found on the Online Curriculum Centre includes information and exemplars, some of which are not found in the guide. For example word counts related to the executive summary and research proposal and action plan are only found here. Marked student work and frequently answered questions are also included, making this document a vital part of the assessment process.

The extended essay is an externally assessed, and guidance on this is to be found in a separate document also downloadable from the OCC. The assessment criteria are generic, but after they are presented, there are subject sections which teachers must read as they advise on how assessment criteria should be applied to extended essays submitted in individual subjects. Again, these sections are vital. For example, the Economics section states that primary data must be conducted for an Economics essay, whereas the Business Management section states that the focus must be on secondary data.

It is disappointing to report that these requirements are not fully understood by a significant minority of students and by implication, their supervisors. Indeed, on the inside of the extended essay cover, teachers are asked to comment on student application, initiative etc. to support the award of a mark for the holistic criterion. It is common for teachers to comment on the failure of their students to gather primary data, which is not a requirement at all, and suggesting that more primary sources should have been consulted. In fact, a student can earn maximum marks with no primary data at all, because the extended essay is primarily intended to be a piece of academic desk research, to distinguish it from the higher level internal assessment. The fact that a significant number of extended essays contain questionnaires, interviews and surveys as their main focus (and including recommendations for action) is evidence that teachers and students are failing to read the instructions. The consequence is that many marks will be lost.

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