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Comparing Catlin Gabel to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Programs

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Q&A with Lark Palma, head of school

Edited from a longer piece published in the December 2008 All-School News newsletter.

Students and parents frequently ask me about the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and how they compare with each other and with Catlin Gabel. Prospective students and their parents ask Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83 and Marsha Trump in the admission office about these programs, too. To help explain to our readers, Karen Katz ’74, communications director, interviewed me about the programs.

What is the history of the AP and IB programs?

In the 1950s educators identified a widening gap between student achievement in high school and college expectations. The AP program was developed to offer college-level curricula and assessment to students in high school. The International Baccalaureate Programme was created in the 1960s at the International School of Geneva to develop consistent curricula at schools in different countries for students whose families moved around the world.

Can you describe the AP and IB programs?

The programs are quite different from each other. One commonality, however, is that both programs establish a point of comparison for students in different schools. AP and IB are offered in a mix of small and large private, public, and international schools.

Advanced Placement is a registered program sponsored by the College Board, which also administers SATs. The AP classes are promoted as college level courses, and some colleges give college credit to students who do well on AP exams. You don’t have to take AP classes to take the AP exams. In fact, we do not offer AP classes, but many Catlin Gabel students take the AP exams and routinely score 4s and 5s (the range is 1 to 5). Paradoxically, we were recently identified by the College Board as having one of the best student success rates in AP math, science, and technology in Oregon and were nominated for the Siemens AP High School Award. However, it turns out we cannot receive the award because Catlin Gabel does not offer AP classes.

The International Baccalaureate Programme offers programs at three age levels: a primary program for students ages 3 to 12, a middle years program for students ages 11 to 16, and a two-year “Diploma Programme” for students aged 16 to 19. In the Portland area only the Beaverton International School offers the middle program. No local schools offer the primary program, although a couple of schools are applying for certification. I will focus on the Diploma Programme, which is offered to juniors and seniors in the United States.

Let’s get back to AP and college credits. How does that work?

Individual colleges decide whether or not they recognize AP credits; some do and some do not. There are ways to advance in college without taking AP tests. Colleges offer their own placement exams, particularly for languages and math. The downside of AP is that you can test out of freshman and sophomore classes that are beneficial building blocks for future academic work. I am a good example of this because I tested into junior English when I entered college. But I feel like I missed the boat by not taking freshman and sophomore classes. I had to learn the hard way about critical writing and constructing a solid research paper. When I entered graduate school I had some catching up to do.

Are Catlin Gabel students at a disadvantage because we don’t offer AP classes?

No. We offer college level courses that allow students to enter higher-level classes in college if they choose. If you are wondering if our students are at a disadvantage in terms of college admission, they are not. College admission offices look at high school profiles to ascertain graduation requirements, grade distributions, college acceptance records, and most relevantly for this conversation, what classes and extras are available to students. If the high school offers an AP program then naturally the colleges seek applicants who have stepped up to the challenge. But if you don’t offer AP classes—and many of the finest schools in the nation do not—then the students are not in jeopardy.

How does the core curriculum for AP differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?

That’s an important question because that’s how Catlin Gabel really distinguishes itself from AP. Students in AP classes are evaluated based on their test scores, pure and simple, so the curriculum is geared toward the test. AP classes emphasize absorbing knowledge and memorizing facts that will appear on the tests. At Catlin Gabel we emphasize depth of understanding, constructing knowledge, and making discoveries. The facts are put into context. In truth, and I am not embarrassed to say this, our students do not do as well on the AP history exams as they do on the math, science, and technology exams because the history test questions are so fact oriented. Our students are accustomed to writing, questioning, discussing, reasoning, and putting history into context — not just memorizing what the teacher or textbook tells them happened on such and such a date.

How does the core curriculum for IB differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?

IB is more akin to what we do at Catlin Gabel. The program is progressive in its approach to learning with an emphasis on critical thinking and providing a liberal arts foundation.

Sounds like you are pretty impressed with IB. Convince me that Catlin Gabel is a better choice.

First of all, I congratulate schools that raise expectations for student achievement. That is vital to turning around education in this country. During rough economic times, I applaud public schools that have figured out how to challenge their brightest students through either the AP or IB programs.

To answer your question, the IB program is impressive, but there are several shortcomings compared to our program. The IB diploma requirements are standardized, and students are, for the most part, locked into a prescribed set of courses. At Catlin Gabel we offer a more individualized approach. For example, a student who is passionate about a subject area can take classes beyond the requirements. Remember, the Diploma Programme is only a two-year program for juniors and seniors. Many students in the IB track are not accepted into the Diploma Programme or fail to meet the criteria for earning the IB diploma, which can be a mark against them in applying to colleges.

One of the capstones of the IB diploma is an extended essay the students write at the end of their senior year. Our students write extended essays in ninth grade and even earlier if they attend our lower grades. IB classes cannot go into as much depth as we can because they have to follow a rigid curriculum. They have set scoring on their tests and projects so their teaching is more standardized. To earn the IB degree, students submit exams and papers to graders in a country other than their own. That means feedback on work is delayed, which is a real detriment to learning. Our students receive feedback quickly through post-test reviews, one-on-one conferences with teachers, and peer edits. Swift reinforcement and critiquing is so important. The IB program and how it is implemented varies tremendously from school to school based on the caliber of the students and the teachers. The local school board, parents, and students have no input into the IB curriculum. To put it in business terms, Catlin Gabel is much more accountable to our clientele

Who is admitted into AP and IB programs in public schools?

The AP and IB programs develop their own selection criteria that differ from school to school. It’s not uncommon for the programs to skim for the highest achieving students, which is fine for those kids, but what about everyone else? At Catlin Gabel we provide equal opportunity for every student to rise to his or her highest ability. One thing I love about Catlin Gabel is that students who excel or struggle in different areas are not segregated from each other. Students who are motivated to take advanced chemistry and biology as seniors hang out with students who finish the three-year science requirement and turn their focus to English and creative writing. We stay connected as a community and students value each other for whatever talents and interests they have.

How is teaching different at Catlin Gabel compared with AP and IB?

Our teachers can shape the curriculum to meet the interests of the students. They can shift the content of a lesson to make it meaningful and relevant to students by letting the students lead the conversation, try the experiment a different way, or present findings unconventionally. Of course, we have an end goal of what we want the students to learn, but getting there can take twists and turns that engage and excite. We allow our teachers the autonomy to teach what they are passionate about. That is the key to inspiring students. We depend on highly skilled, excellent teachers because they create the curriculum and are expected to teach to each student’s learning style and ability. Our teachers’ educations, our mission, small class sizes, student-teacher relationships, and the intellectual risk-taking we encourage generate the learning bonanza that makes Catlin Gabel exceptional.

 

Tuition on the Track 2014 photo gallery

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April 18, 2014

Thank you to co-chairs Will Rosenfeld '14 and Katie Zechnich '14 for their commitment to financial aid fundraising and community spirit. Special thanks to Mother Nature for the great weather!

Seniors talk about their Catlin Gabel experience

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Six seniors answered questions from parents in a Q&A format.

Thank you to the PFA for organizing this favorite parent community meeting of the year. Standing room only! Thanks also to the senior panelists: Katie Fournier, Theo Knights, Liban Sheikh, Alexis Shoemaker, Lewis Holland, and Erin Wynne. College counselor Kate Grant did a great job of setting the stage and moderating. Here are a few highlights.

What advice do you have for students coming into the Upper School?

  • The preseason sport team practices start in August, so joining a team is a great way to get to know other upper classmen and ease the transition.
  • Try something you have never done before or are afraid to do!
  • There are many opportunities so it is easy to overbook yourself. Choose one or two things that you really want to focus on.

What do you see as the strengths of the Upper School?

  • There are so many connections you make with your teachers both inside and outside of the classroom. "My teachers are some of the best grown-ups I have ever met!"
  • Since many faculty members are involved in extracurricular activities themselves, they understand if you need an extension because of a mock trial competition or a late soccer game.
  • The new schedule has allowed students to get some work done during the school day. Getting credit for working on the school newspaper has also helped balance the workload.

What are some of the weaknesses of the Upper School?

  • Communication and coordination between teachers regarding major assignment deadlines could be improved, particularly in humanities.
  • The homework policy is not followed by many teachers and not enforced even though this issue is brought up every year.
  • "The homework is challenging but that's good."
  • Catlin Gabel students should show gratitude for all the opportunities that are given to them. It’s important to find ways to learn resilience and fight for something you care about in an environment where everything is available to you.
  • We need more interaction with the outside world.

What are your senior internship projects?

  • Projects range from fixing typewriters to working with a photojournalist with the Oregonian to helping a fashion designer with her first show.

What were your best moments at Catlin Gabel?

  • Interacting with the teachers.
  • Getting positive feedback and learning what you are good at.
  • The last day of junior year and the “I did it!” feeling.
  • Getting the college acceptance letter.
  • Working with other students to achieve something together, for example designing all of the costumes in a production.

What about some of your worst moments?

  • Failing at something: but that’s a learning experience.
  • Freshman English.
  • Arriving as a new freshman and not knowing anyone.
  • Being slammed with schoolwork.

Tell us about your global trips.

  • Taking trips during sophomore year works well. There is a trip for everyone.
  • Nepal was amazing. It was a very different trip from the France trip, which was designed around learning the language. In France, we had homestays and went to school with the French students.
  • This summer, one panelist is walking 500 miles from Geneva to Rome. The group is doing training hikes together now.
  • “After every trip, I come back with a new best friend.”

How did you spend your summers?

  • Answers ranged from getting a job or internship to taking a college class to traveling with family to chilling out and having a good time.

How would you rank the degree of difficulty of the four years in the US?
The consensus from easiest to most difficult seemed to be: (1) sophomore year– because we have figured out the workload, (2) junior year, (3) first semester of senior year because of the added pressure of college applications, (4) freshman year.

What advice do you have for parents?

  • Let your child fail on his or her own and learn from mistakes. Trust that they will mature as they move through the US.
  • Let your child do what they want to do when it comes to extracurricular activities and don’t interfere. Let them figure out their passions.
  • Continue to support your child if his or her interests change.
  • Don’t panic if your child does not do well. Be supportive. Your child will come around.
  • Do encourage your child to communicate with his or her teacher.
  • Don’t hound your child about homework unless it’s a huge issue. If they want to take the night off, then it is his or her decision.
  • Let them grow up and figure it out on their own. Give them space.

Robotics team heading to world championships

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Bravo!

The Flaming Chickens won the Chairman's Award at the Pacific Northwest District Championships, just as they had done at the Oregon State District competition. They will compete in St. Louis against the best teams in the world. Only three other teams from Oregon qualified for the world championships. The Chairman's Award recognizes the team that has done the most to increase the appreciation and expansion of STEM education in their communities. The Chairman's Award team of sophomores Iris Ellenberg and Jacob Bendicksen, and freshman Robin Attey did a fabulous job of presenting.

Freshman Daniel Chiu qualifies for USA Jr Math Olympiad exam

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Way to go, Daniel!

Daniel is one of three Oregonians and one of fewer that 200 students nationwide to make it to this level of competition. He placed in the 98th percentile—worldwide—of 9th grade students who took the qualifying test. All the best on your next set of exams, Daniel.


Robotics team wins prestigious Chairman’s Award, advances to district championship

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Catlin’s robotics team, the Flaming Chickens, won the Chairman’s Award at the Oregon State University district competition. This most prestigious honor is given to the team that "best represents a model for other teams to emulate and best embodies the purpose and goals of FIRST,” the nonprofit that organizes the competitions.

Teams that win the Chairman’s Award run the best engineering outreach programs in the world, and the Flaming Chickens are no different. They run three offseason competitions each year in the Catlin Gabel gym, demo their robots at events around Portland, and give back to the community through projects like ScumBot, which is funded by the Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams grant. They also contribute to the community – high school members coach Middle School LEGO robotics teams, and they’ll be showcasing their program at Spring Festival on May 4.

Pacific Northwest District Championship 

Thursday, April 10 — Saturday, April 12
8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Memorial Coliseum

Admission is free

Come cheer on the Flaming Chickens as they compete against 64 teams for a spot at the World Championships in St. Louis. The prime time to come is Saturday at 1:15 p.m. for the final rounds. If you come, be sure to check out the pit area in the basement where teams feverishly repair their robots between matches.

See schedules and live streaming links at http://oregonfirst.org/events/pnw-frc-championship/

Game animation video (sorry about the advertising at the start -- it's worth the wait)

Community code event wows the crowd

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The PFA’s Catlin Community Coding event was a great success, with more than 220 participants learning basic programming and processing skills. After an overview of what coding is all about and a shared meal, students from Honeybees to teens and their parents gathered around iPads and laptops to engage in a variety of online coding challenges. It was a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together to explore the creative and inspiring world of programming through applications such as Lightbot, Scratch, App Inventor, and Flappy Bird.

Parent instructor Suresh Srinivas noted the tremendous energy in the room as children and adults engaged fully in grasping the concepts. A 1st grader got to the final level of LightBot. An adult exclaimed, "Yes, I got it!" Participants reflected on the evening with words like awesome, great, educational, and humbling.

The evening's agenda, which provides some great resources for learning about coding, is posted below.

The PFA extends a special thank you to the volunteer instructors and presenters: parents Suresh Srinivas, Matthew Galaher, Drew Bernard, Maggie Kean, Tim Rayle, and Adrienne Hill; faculty-staff members Robert Medley, Andrew Thomas, Johny Nguyen, José Ruiz, Meredith Goddard, and Rob van Nood; and students Aidan Bernard, Nate Sale, Soha Ahmed, Andrew Hill, Anaga Srinivas, Lukas Stracovsky, Roy Stracovsky, and Iman Wahle. We were thrilled to support an event that included families from all four divisions, food, and exploratory experiential learning. Thank you all for a fun evening.

Watch this cool video about the importance of learning to code. Two great handouts from the evening are posted below the video and below that is a photo gallery of images provided by Adrienne Hill. 

Freshman Nikhil Murthy advances to International Science and Engineering Fair

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Six CG students presented their science research at the invitation-only Northwest Science Expo at PSU: seniors Nick Petty and Kristin Qian; junior Valerie Ding; sophomores Nic Bergen and Anirudh Jain; and freshman Nikhil Murthy,

Nikhil placed 1st in chemistry and received the Outstanding Chemistry Project Award from the American Chemical Society. Nikhil's project was chosen to advance to the International Science and Engineering Fair. 

Valerie placed 1st in physics and astronomy, won Best of Fair, and these awards: Outstanding Geoscience Award from the Association of Women Geoscientists; Outstanding Applied Chemistry Project Award from the American Chemical Society; Outstanding Chemistry Project Award from Iota Sigma Pi; the National Honor Society for Women in Chemistry; the Sustainable Development Award from the Ricoh Corporation, and an OSU Engineering College scholarship. She qualified for the International Science and Engineering Fair at an earlier competition.

Anirudh placed 2nd in chemistry and received the Naval Excellence in Science and Engineering Award from the Office of Naval Research, US Navy and Marine Corps

Middle School Science Olympiad team places 2nd at state, Upper School team places 3rd

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The Upper School Science Olympiad team took home four gold, one silver, and five bronze medals! Congratulations to seniors Katie Zechnich, Dina Zaslovsky, Erin Wynne, Jonathan Yau, Lewis Fitzgerald-Holland juniors Valerie Ding, Forrest Kwong, Brendan Edelson, Eric Wang; sophomore Iman Wahle; and freshmen Maria Chang and Adolfo Apolloni.

The Middle School team earned four gold, six silver, and four bronze medals in 23 events. Congratulations to 6th grader Jimmy Maslen; 7th graders Alexander Yu, Andrei Stoica, Arman Asgharzadeh, Avi Gupta, Harry Popowich, Matt Leungpathomaram, Nicholas Springer, Noor Wahle, Robbie McMonies, Spencer Shoemaker, Sydney Nagy, Tyler Nguyen; and 8th graders Sarah Daniels and Roy Stracovsky.


Junior Eric Wang and freshman Nikhil Murthy heading to robotics world championships

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Eric and Nikhil are members of 11-person Bethany team Batteries in Black, which won top honors at the FTC West Super-Regional Championships in California. Eric is team co-captain. They will fly to St. Louis for the world championships April 23–26. The team is a Washington County 4-H team composed of students from five high schools. Last year, they placed second at the World Championships. Best of luck to Batteries in Black!

Upper School team places 3rd in statewide computer programming contest

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 A team of four Upper School students took 3rd place out of 20 teams in the 28th annual statewide computer programming contest sponsored by the Technology Association of Oregon Foundation and hosted by Willamette University. Bravo to sophomores Evë Maquelin and Gregor Peach, and juniors Kellie Takahashi and Y Yen Gallup. Working together, they successfully wrote eight challenging programs during the five-hour contest. This year's problems involved such topics as detecting possible collusion among Olympic judges and planning for an asteroid rover based on tomographic sensor data.