By Katia Protsenko

Scotts Valley High School (SVHS) is a cut above the rest. The school was ranked among the top fifth percentile of public high schools in a Newsweek poll of the nation’s best high schools.

The 1,200 top schools surveyed were ranked based on the ratio of advanced-level examinations taken by graduating seniors to the number of graduating seniors. SVHS, coming in at the tail end of the list, attributed its success to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program in place there.

The IB Program exists in 2100 schools in 128 countries worldwide. California, with 68 schools, is the state with the most IB Programs.

Growing by 15 percent each year, the IB Program added 80 new schools in 2006, according to Paul Campbell, head of outreach in the North American regional office of the IB Program.

Newer programs for elementary and middle schools, called the Primary and Middle Years Programs, are being introduced around the country. There are currently 845 total programs in the United States, 553 of which are the traditional high school IB Program.

To become an IB Program school, several steps are required. Letters of support from the community, teacher trainings, a school self-study, as well as evaluation by an IB Program representative are needed before the worldwide IB Program office can authorize the prospectice school.

“[We look to be] building support from top to bottom in the school community,” Campbell said. “Everybody needs to be onboard. We want a committed, strong faculty and committed students.”

Dave Crawford, IB Program Coordinator at SVHS, further explained that Advanced Placement classes, which are also considered higher level, are a collection of advanced courses, one year in length, and are exam-driven.

In contrast, the IB Program is two years in length and includes six subject areas as well as a seventh course in philosophy and epistemology designed to contextually tie together the other six courses.

IB students also perform community service, are involved in sports and the arts, and have to write a 4,000-word research essay while in the program.

“[Students] make linkages and get a deeper understanding of the context [of the program],” Principal Gregg Gunkel of SVHS said. “[They] work toward getting an IB diploma, which is accepted by universities worldwide.”

At SVHS, 65 percent of the student body takes at least one IB course. Students are now also required to take the IB exam if they participate in the program.

“We want students to make the effort,” Gunkel said.

Gunkel said the IB Program at SVHS, the only one in the tri-county area, draws students from a bigger radius.

IB classes do not reserve spaces for advanced-level students. Instead, they are open to all students, including the larger population of average-level students.

“SVHS was created as an IB school,” Crawford said. It was accredited by the worldwide IB Program, and is reevaluated every five years.

SVHS also has preparatory ninth and tenth grade courses for students. If they are interested, students and parents attend informational meetings, meet privately with Crawford to discuss participation, and enroll in the prescribed honors-level courses.

“It’s a holistic judgment and a long series of consultations,” said Crawford of the process students undergo to join the IB Program at SVHS. “We look at performance, interest and motivation [of the students].”

Since the program is so long, it gives the students involved a chance to “mature” within the program, continued Crawford.

When examination time comes near, students have less to worry about. The IB Program does not solely judge students on their exit exams. Teachers’ evaluations are also included in a student’s final grading, which compares students against an international set of peers.

Crawford described it as an “open, transparent process.”

Although the program started in primarily private, international schools, it is beginning to appear in more and more public schools across the country, including several schools in urban areas.

“[SVHS] is primarily white, Anglo-Saxon, Christian,” Crawford said. “The IB classes are reflective of the overall ethnic population.”

Although educators like Crawford are pushing to make schools like SVHS magnet schools, the reality exists that a majority of IB schools in the nation cater to a middle class population.

“IB programs are need blind,” Campbell said. “We don’t test schools on the background of their students.”

Despite the issues facing public schools with IB Programs in place, the programs are still considered superior to the Advanced Placement courses offered by many of the nation’s high schools.

“The IB is a more sophisticated program,” Gunkel concluded.