Frequently Asked Questions

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What is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is an internatinoally recognized curriculum that offers 11th and 12th grade students an opportunity to earn the IB diploma.  To earn the IB diploma, students complete and test in six IB subjects; write an extended essay of independent research guided by a faculty member; complete 150 hours of creativity, action, and service activities (CAS); and participate in a critical thinking course entitled Theory of Knowledge (TOK).  This advanced, comprehensive program of study offers an integrated approach to learning across the disciplines with an emphasis on meeting the challenges of living and working in a global, technological society.

What is the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO)?

The IB Diploma Programme is governed by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and administered by the IB Curriculum an dAssessment Center in Cardiff, Wales.  The organization origniated in 1968 in Europe as a single program for internationally mobile students to prepare them for university, ensuring quality educational standards for students regardless of where they lived.  Today, the IBO continues to provide high quality education for a better world.  More information on the IBO can be found at

What are the advantages of taking an IB curriculum?

There are numerous advantages to taking the IB curriculum.  Students who complete the IB Diploma Programme are preparing for success in college and beyond.  Students gain a broad world view; follow in-depth apporaches to the academic disciplines; and develop time management, problem-solving, research, and organizational skills that will remain with them long after their IB experience is over. CAS activities provide students opportunities for involvement in the larger community beyond the walls of the school. Student work is assessed over a two-year period using internationally accepted performance standards.  Student learning is assessed in a variety of ways including externally developed and scored exams, oral language exams in both the student’s native language and a second language, and on projects such as science laboratory notebooks, art portfolios, essays, and various other projects. Students who successfully complete the IB Diploma Programme curriculum are among the most prepared for college courses, even at highly selective colleges and universities.

Why should I encourage my child to take IB courses?

Students who succeed in the IB Diploma Programme do better than many other groups of students in university level work.  Studies have been conducted that indicate IB students maintain higher grade point averages at universities and are more likely to graduate in four years than students who have not participated in the IB Diploma Programme. (Source:  IBO)  Furthermore, university admissions officials expect students to take the most challenging courses, of which they are capable, while in high school.  Also, students who take IB courses learn to see the world from a variety of perspectives to examine different points of view, and to see themselves as part of the world community.  The IB Diploma is the most prestigious high school diploma in the world.  It is the only diploma recognized internationally, and the program of choice for many selective secondary schools around the world.  More than 400 colleges and universities in the United States provide admission, scholarships, and advanced standing for IB Diploma recipients.

How do IB courses compare to other high school courses?

IB courses are more challenging than typical high school courses. IB courses are aimed at highly motivated students who seek  challenging, yet engaging and fulfilling academic opportunities. Additionally, the IB Diploma Programme is aimed at students who seek involvement in their education beyond the classroom.

What preparation does a student need in order to be successful in the IB Diploma Programme?

Because IB courses offer a high degree of challenge students should, above all, be highly motivated learners. To participate in the IB Diploma Programme, students should take the most challenging math courses they can, and begin a second language as soon as possible. To minimize the need for students to take extra courses along with their IB requirements, students should complete graduation requirements that are not offered as part of the Diploma Programme. Accelerated or advanced level courses have shown to provide students with a strong foundation for the rigors of the IB Diploma Programme. While these are not required prerequisites, it is important students have strong reading and writing skills along with good and consistent study habits.

Which high schools in Iowa offer the IB Diploma Programme?

Central Academy in Des Moines is the only school that offers the IB Diploma Programme in Iowa.

Are all IB programs/schools alike?

All certified IB Diploma Programme schools share certain features – they must provide the necessary range of subjects to allow students to complete the IB diploma; they must offer appropriately demanding coursework to prepare students adequately for IB exams and other assessments; and they must maintain a staff of trained IB teachers. These similarities among IB schools make it easier for a student to move from one state or country to another. However, there are many courses available as part of the Diploma Programme curriculum, and individual schools choose which courses to offer. Most IB schools in the United States also consider local and state graduation requirements when choosing courses so that students also earn a local diploma while attempting to earn an IB Diploma.  View information about Central Academy’s course offerings here.

What training do IB teachers receive to prepare them to teach the IB classes?

IB teachers attend training seminars offered through the IB Americas offices. Following that, they receive periodic updates and notification of curriculum changes from the IB Curriculum Centre.  As course curriclum is updated, typically every seven years, teachers attend further training approved by IB Americas.

The Online Curriculum Centre connects teachers with IB teachers and examiners from around the world. Additionally, Central Academy is an active member of the Midwest Association of IB Schools (MIBS). This regional network provides opportunities for teachers to meet and assists them in communicating with one another electronically.

When do I begin taking IB Diploma Programme courses?

The IB Diploma Programme is for students in 11th and 12th grades. The courses begin in 11th grade and are two years in length. Students take courses in the six academic areas and a course entitled Theory of Knowledge.  There are no “pre-IB” courses, though it is recommended students take challenging courses in grades 9 and 10.

Are IB students segregated from the rest of the student body?

The IB Diploma Programme is fairly small.  Students are in a cohort for many of their classes, creating a strong community of learners and new friendships. Some IB classes are mixed with AP classes, and all Central Academy students have the same lunch time each day. IB students are actively involved in their school and community.

How do I enroll in the IB Diploma Programme?

There is an application students will need to complete if they are interested in enrolling in the IB Diploma Programme.  While there is no entrance exam, students will be required to submit a writing sample as part of their application.  The IB Diploma Programme coordinator will meet with students to talk about the courses and additional requirements of the IB Programme, answer questions, and review the students academic transcript.

There are no defined criteria a student must meet to be admitted to the IB Diploma Programme.  However, students must be prepared to accept the rigors of this challenging program.

Are IB courses weighted?

In recognition of the added difficulty and work involved in IB courses, Des Moines Public Schools awards an additional grade point to the student’s GPA upon successful completion of the course. This means an A is worth 5 points, a B is worth 4 points, and so on.

What are the differences between AP and IB courses/exams?

The difficulty level of AP and IB courses does not differ significantly.  Both AP and IB curricula are academically demanding and require motivation and commitment on the part of the student. Additionally, both are considered to be high quality preparation for college and university courses.

Some notable differences between IB and AP include the following:

  • There is much interconnection between IB subjects, and teachers frequently work collaboratively.  AP courses usually stand alone.
  • Students enrolled in the IB Diploma Programme must take courses from each of the IB subject areas.  Students may elect to take as many or as few AP courses as they would like.
  • Most IB courses are two years in length, with the culminating external exam taken at the end of the student’s second year.  AP courses are one semester to one year in length, and the culminating exam is taken at the end of that time.
  • The content of some courses differs, reflecting the international nature of the IB and the US-based approach of AP.
  • IB teachers have some input into each student’s test score by means of the Internal Assessment portion of the course, usually about 20% of the final mark.  This teacher input is moderated to ensure the same standards apply worldwide.  A student’s AP score is determined by the AP exam alone, which is externally scored.
  • The interpretation of AP and IB exam scores differs in the credit policies of colleges and universities.

How and when do IB Diploma Programme students test in their subjects?

IB Diploma candidates test in three or four subjects at the Higher Level (HL) and two to three of their subjects at the Standard Level (SL). HL exams are longer and include more material than SL exams. Most exams are taken in May of a student’s senior year, their final year of the IB Diploma Programme. Central Academy offers one course, Environmental Systems and Societies, which is one year in length.  Students may sit for this exam in May of their junior year. Exams are administered by Central Academy, which is responsible for ensuring that IB standards for testing conditions are met.

How much will IB examinations cost?

Currently, the fees for the full slate of IB exams needed to earn the IB Diploma is approximately $800.00. The Des Moines Public Schools has been generous in their support of full IB Diploma candidates, paying the total costs associated with their exams. Please check with the IB Diploma Programme coordinator, Tamara Pfantz, for more information.

Can I pay to take an IB exam if I am not a student in the corresponding IB class?

No – the IBO requires that a student be enrolled in the IB class at an IB school in order to take the IB exam.

What is the difference between Higher Level (HL) and Standard Level (SL) courses?

The difference between higher level and standard level is not the difficulty of the course, but the amount of time spent in the course and the amount of material students are expected to learn.  Standard Level courses require a minimum of 150 hours of classroom instructional time.  A Higher Level course requires a minimum of 240 hours of instructional time, and includes content that goes beyond what students in the corresponding Standard Level course will be held accountable for on the culminating exam.  Enrollment in the IB Diploma Programme includes at least three Higher Level classes.

What is CAS?

CAS is the acronym for Creativity/Action/Service – the extra-curricular component of the IB Diploma Programme.  At the outset of the junior year, each IB diploma candidate will design an individual plan that includes opportunities for personal enrichment (Creativity), physical activity (Action), and reaching out to less fortunate individuals in the local community and/or around the world (Service).  As part of its commitment to life-long learning, the IBO feels these activities are important in the development of the whole person, and has included CAS as part of the diploma to ensure students challenge themselves in ways other than academic endeavors.  This is one of the core requirements of the IB Diploma.

Can I use extra-curricular activities in which I participate (sports, clubs, service activities, etc.) as CAS activities, or do I have to do additional things?

Nearly all extra-curricular activities in which you are already involved will count toward your 150 hour CAS project.  Remember, too, that many activities outside of school – such as those with your church or scouting groups – could be excellent CAS activities as well.  Students must submit a proposal to the CAS coordinator for approval prior to participating in the activity.

What is Theory of Knowledge (TOK)?

IB Diploma students take Theory of Knowledge, a two-year course that encourages students to make connections among the academic disciplines and to examine knowledge, perception, and language as they relate to those disciplines.  This is one of the core requirements of the IB Diploma.

Do American colleges and universities “favor” either the IB or AP methods of preparation?

No – post-secondary institutions recognize that students who perform well on either IB or AP exams are likely to be successful in college.  However, prior to the 1990’s the IB Diploma Programme was relatively rare in US public schools, so some colleges and universities may not be as familiar with it as they are with AP.  The issue has largely disappeared among selective colleges and universities, and continues to diminish rapidly nationwide as more and more high schools offer the IB Diploma Programme.  Most universities publish their recognition policies on their websites.  For more information, please visit the IBO website.

How do students earn the IB Diploma?

Student earn the diploma if they achieve certain scores on their IB examinations and fulfill the core requirements of CAS, TOK, and the Extended Essay.  IB exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 7, and a score of 4 is considered passing.

Do I get college credit for taking an IB subject?

Students do not earn credit automatically for taking IB courses.  Any credit or advanced standing awarded by a college or university is dependent upon a number of factors.  The first consideration is the policies of specific colleges and universities.  Other factors include the IB subjects/exams that were taken, the level of the exams, the student’s college major, etc.  For more information, please visit the website of the college or university in which the student is interested.

Is there an advantage to taking IB courses if I plan to attend college or university within the United States?  On the other hand, can I begin college abroad without the IB Diploma?

American colleges and universities look for students who have successfully completeted academically rigorous courses in high school.  Both IB and AP courses provide more challenging experiences than typical high school courses, and are necessary for consideration by highly selective colleges and universities.

In general, foreign universities do not recognize a US high school diploma alone as adequate for admission.  Often they will require students to complete an additional one to two years of academic preparation before accepting an American student.  For the most current and reliable information, please visit the website of the institution in which you are interested.