Skip to main content

Abigail Schindler, Stephanie Flores-Koulish, Ph.D.

The Restructuring of a Spanish curriculum: Mercy High School Baltimore

View the poster >>

The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) (2014) has a comprehensive, research-based support of the mission and vision of its curriculum:“Research suggests that there are many benefits to choosing the Diploma Programme (DP). The programme aims to develop students who have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge – students who flourish physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically.”  Schools wishing to implement the program are required to undergo a rigorous approval process that lasts more than two years. The IBO is confident that its programme provides a rigorous, globally conscious curriculum and produces students that will be better citizens of the world as a result of their studies.

Tulross and Tarver (2011) sought to investigate if the IBO’s assertions that “...students become situated culturally, geographically, historically and personally within the context of being a global citizen” (p. 233) proved legitimate when in practice. They researched student and teacher reactions to the International Baccalaureate (IB) in a high-performing high school in its first years of implementation. They sought qualitative data to provide feedback on its academic and personal impacts on students and teachers.

The first group interviewed were the students in the program. About one-third of the junior class was in the IB programme (Tulross and Tarver, 2011, p. 233), and the students were interviewed at the end of their first year in the programme. The questions in the interviews for the study focused on the students’ perceptions of the academic and social impact of their enrollment in the IB programme, including the impact that their participation had in the college admissions process. The results indicated that the students felt the IB gave them a boost in the college admissions process, and also offered a deeper and broader preparation for higher level academic work (p. 234). They shared that their writing and study skills improved, despite feeling overwhelmed at times by the coursework and that their teachers needed more training to effectively teach the content and skills required of the IB DP (p. 234). Overall, the students felt that the IB DP was beneficial to their academic and intellectual growth and enhanced their likelihood of gaining admission in an elite college or university.

Tulross and Tarver (2011) interviewed the teachers in the program at the beginning of the second year of implementation about their perceptions of the IB curriculum. The teachers were “...highly educated, highly experienced” (p. 235). Their reactions to the program were that it encouraged higher-level thinking and more meaningful application of learning in a “...broader spectrum of topics” (p. 235). Nevertheless, some teachers in the programme felt under-prepared for the expectation for instruction and felt as through the students were not prepared as fully as would have been beneficial (p. 235). Teachers in the study did, however, align success or failure in the program with the work ethic of the students, as opposed to the work of the teachers in the classroom. This finding indicates that the teachers in this program might not have participated in sufficient self-reflection and professional development in the IB in order to better understand their impact on teaching and learning in the IB DP.

Overall, the study by Tulross and Tarver (2011) showed positive reactions to the IB DP, and the results demonstrated that the assertions of the IBO regarding the mission and vision of the DP were valid. The school in which the study occurred had resources to support the implementation of a program that demands a significant financial investment, asks that teachers and administrators invest considerable time in preparing and teaching students, and requires a level of compliance to the IBO that must be undertaken with fidelity on a daily basis.

In their study Unequal Access to Rigorous High School Curricula: An Exploration of the Opportunity to Benefit From the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) Perna, et al. (2013) sought to evaluate “...whether students from low-income families and racial/ethnic minority groups have the opportunity to benefit from” (p. 402) the rigorous, high-caliber IB DP. They delved first into the demographics of the schools offering the DP and then into the demographics, successes, and challenges of students within the DP programs at the many types of schools offering the IB DP.

The findings of the study indicated that the demographics of the schools successfully implementing the IB DP were perpetuating the achievement gap for black, hispanic, and low-income students. Perna et al. states “...IBDP is failing to provide the opportunity to improve the academic readiness of populations in the United States that have averaged lower levels of college readiness” (p. 419). The researchers suggest that this is due either to a lack of access to the IB DP because it is not offered at most schools that serve low-income or predominantly black or hispanic students, or that within schools that do offer the IB DP students who are low-income, black, or hispanic are not supported in ways that might encourage their acceptance into the program. A third obstacle facing low-income, black, or hispanic students is the poor implementation of the IB DP in their schools due to lack of resources, and lack of appropriate personnel, particularly as it relates to supporting IB DP students with college readiness and the college application process (Perna, et al., 2013, p. 420). Two statistics highlight the disparity, particularly socioeconomically, of access that surfaced in the study: 25% of students in schools that had the IB DP qualified for free and reduced lunch, and only 17% of students that were students in an IB DP qualified for free and reduced lunch (p. 419).

The information provided in both studies helps frame the approach that Mercy High School will take in implementing the IB DP. Students come to Mercy with a diverse set of academic and life experiences. Their intellectual capabilities present themselves in many different ways, and therefore evaluation of academic capacities must be differentiated. Perna et al.’s study was a stark reminder that programs such as the IB DP can maintain inequity in access to opportunities for all students due to the tendency for admissions criteria to be standardized as opposed to differentiated in a way that opens up access to more students. Therefore, at Mercy the preparation for and the admission into the IB DP must allow for students with a variety of learning styles, perspectives, and methods of demonstrating academic capacities to have equitable access. It is a unique opportunity to work to contradict the findings in Perna et al.’s study as the IB DP is implemented at Mercy High School.

One of the main goals of the IB programme is to situate teaching and learning in a global context. For that reason, second language acquisition is central in the curriculum:

“Learning to communicate in a variety of ways in more than one language is fundamental to the development of intercultural understanding in the IB. IB programmes, therefore, support complex, rich, dynamic learning across a range of language domains. All IB programmes aim for students to learn at least two languages” (International Baccalaureate Organization, 2015, p. 11) .

As a result, the development of a strong Spanish Language B curriculum at Mercy is imperative. Proper alignment of the themes, units, content, and learning experiences with the expectations of the IB will assure this expectation be met. The curriculum planning project that has been undertaken in this capstone project is meant as a first step in the feasibility study that will occurat Mercy High School in the 2019-2020 school year. The feasibility study will evaluate the current curricular framework at Mercy and what areas will need adjustment and attention as the school goes through the extensive application process. The curriculum plan will frame the work done by various teacher leaders as they take on curriculum planning.

Implementing the IB DP at Mercy High School will be based on careful planning and a unique approach to admission and academic support. The first place in which the planning will begin is in the curriculum.




Blanco, J. A. and Tocaimaza-Hatch, C. C. (2015). Imagina: español sin barreras. Instructors Annotated Edition. Boston, MA: Vista Higher Learning, Inc.

Culross, R. and Tarver, E. (2011). A summary of research on the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme: Perspectives of students, teachers, and university admissions offices in the USA. Journal of Research in International Education, 10(3) 231–243. DOI: 10.1177/1475240911422139

Diploma Programme: From principles to practice. (2015). International Baccalaureate Organization. Retrieved from: 1504_1_e.pdf

IB Program Frequently Asked Questions. Sacramento, CA. Luther Burbank High School. Retrieved from

International Baccalaureate Organization. (2014). Curriculum. Retrieved from

Perna, L., May, H., Yee, A., Ransom, T., Rodriguez, A., & Fester, R., (2013). Unequal Access to Rigorous High School Curricula: An Exploration of the Opportunity to Benefit From the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). Educational Policy, 29(2) 402–425. DOI: 10.1177/0895904813492383

Prospective student timeline. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Language B guide. (2018). International Baccalaureate Organization. Retrieved from: 162-46910/?c=c54c4bb8&pdf=d_2_ablan_gui_1802_1_e.pdf

Oakmont High School. (n.d.). Welcome to the Oakmont International Baccalaureate (IB) website. Retrieved from

Thacker, M. and Bianchi, S. (2018). Spanish B. London: Hodder Education.

Quick Details

Thanks for attending!

Photos are now posted in our Photo Gallery

Digital versions of the poster presentations coming this summer