Just in time for Signal Mountain Middle-High School's class of 2013, UTC administrators will begin offering college credit for rigorous International Baccalaureate courses this fall.
This year's ninth-graders at Signal Mountain likely will be the first class in Hamilton County to graduate with the rigorous IB Diploma Programme. Along with other incoming freshman at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, they'll even get credit for it.
"In looking at the landscape of high schoolers within our recruiting area, (IB) is growing feverishly," said Yancy Freeman, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment services at UTC. "We have a school right here in our own backyard that will have the IB curriculum, and it's at lots of schools in Middle Tennessee."
The IB Diploma Programme, which is for 11th- and 12th-graders, is one of several ways high school students can take more challenging courses and earn college credits. UTC already offers general education credits for Advanced Placement courses and dual-enrollment, in which students are enrolled in high school and college at the same time.
ADVANCED PLACEMENT VERSUS INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE
Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses both are high-level academic programs in which high school students can earn college credit. AP courses are honors-type courses in individual subjects, while IB's Diploma Program is designed to work together. Students must take exams and individual colleges decide how high they must score in order to receive credit for AP and IB.
Signal Mountain has gone through the two-year application process for the middle school to be an authorized IB Middle Years Programme, and is about one year behind on the high school version. The Diploma Programme should be up and running by the 2011-12 school year, officials said.
"Teachers are implementing the IB program now, but there's a bigger lag time there (with the Diploma Programme). It's almost as if you're offering a college program," said Janet Brodsky, IB coordinator for the middle-high school.
Brown Academy was Hamilton County's first IB school in 2008 and Tennessee's first authorized Primary Years Programme.
As UTC joins the University of Tennessee in offering credit for IB coursework, a bill also is making its way through the state Legislature that would require all public colleges and universities to grant at least 24 hours of credit to any student who completes the Diploma Programme.
"There are other states that do this already and some of our graduates were going out of state because the (other states) recognized their IB diplomas," said Amanda Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.
When Signal Mountain's Middle Years Programme is official - administrators are hoping by next fall - all students must participate. By contrast, high schoolers can choose whether to enroll in the full Diploma Programme, pick and choose to take the exams in certain courses, or not take part in IB at all.
To graduate with an IB diploma, students take six two-year courses and, at the end, they take for an IB exam.
In order to offer students as many options as possible, Signal Mountain will continue offering AP classes along with the IB program, since some colleges offer credit for one, but not the other.
When comparing AP courses verses IB, conventional wisdom says if you're prepared for the IB exam, you'll be fine for the AP exam, Ms. Brodsky said.
"AP classes are rigorous, tough classes, but in current educational thinking, IB maybe has a little more prestige," Ms. Brodsky said. "If they come out with an IB diploma, colleges really know what a student has been through."
The international component of the IB curriculum also will be useful for any German students who may enroll at Signal Mountain. If German students graduate from a non-IB high school, they must take two years of pre-college before attending a German university, Ms. Brodsky said.
Signal Mountain junior Chellie Crane is considering attending UTC when she graduates. Although she won't be able to participate in Signal Mountain's IB program, she is enrolled in AP classes.
"It just shows colleges that you're willing to challenge yourself," she said.
If she'd been able to graduate with an IB diploma, she said UTC's new plan to offer credit for the courses would have swayed her toward sticking close to home to attend the university.
Follow Kelli Gauthier on Twitter at twitter.com/gauthierkelli.