Westerville News & Public Opinion

Educator grades exams from across globe

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LORRIE CECIL/THISWEEKNEWS
Phyllis Magold grades International Baccalaureate essays from other countries in her Westerville home, as those from IB students at Westerville South students are graded this spring by other educators abroad.
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Phyllis Magold spent more than 20 years teaching English in high school halls around Westerville and Columbus. Though she retired, Magold could not stop educating students about literature.

Magold simply found a way to expand her classroom borders to students around the world: become an International Baccalaureate examiner.

"I love the (International Baccalaureate) program and I love literature so it was just a perfect match for me," Magold said. "It is only a couple months out of the year. It is something for me to look forward to."

Many American high school students metaphorically float down the river with Huckleberry Finn and Jim in Mark Twain's classic novel. Students in International Baccalaureate take literature to a collegiate level by examining literary depths in worldwide classics, such as unabridged versions of Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, or Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.

Those two classics are more commonly known on the International Baccalaureate book-reading list, but the 15-page long list is full of complex novels and plays from authors around the world.

"Every year I learn something and every year I'm reading new books -- which for a retired English teacher is heaven," Magold said. "These are books I would have never read before."

Magold has been part of International Baccalaureate at Westerville South High School since its inception at the high school in 2002. Establishing the prestigious program required a rigorous review, and Magold was involved throughout.

International Baccalaureate, or better known in the schools as IB, is an international non-profit educational foundation that incorporates intercultural perspectives and ideas into an academic curriculum.

IB began in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968 for international mobile students, such as the children of military personnel and diplomats, and created a pre-university worldwide curriculum standard for students. Now, IB has evolved to encompass the spirit of international education without as much relocation.

Westerville South is one of 33 high schools in Ohio with IB classes and the only Westerville school that offers the IB Diploma Programme, which requires students to explore in depth various international perspectives in social sciences, experimental sciences, math, foreign languages and art.

To receive the diploma, students in their junior and senior year must write an extended essay from the IB book list, pass a written exam and complete an oral commentary analysis on a global topic.

"The program is just unbelievably wonderful," Magold said. "The assessments on their own are worth their weight in gold because it's not just testing: It's writing, it's speaking and presenting."

At the heart of IB's core is its universal connection. IB connects educators from around the world by requiring the final exams to be assessed by examiners in another country.

After Magold retired from teaching, she became an examiner with IB.

Every March, her mailbox is flooded with 200 literary essays that explore an author, a theme and literary techniques. She spends the next month and a half assessing them based upon IB's five-point criteria. She has received essays from students in Singapore, Switzerland and Canada to name a few.

In the five years she has been an examiner, she has only received one essay from America out of the 1,000.

She knows well that as she pores over those 200 essays, hundreds of IB tests from Westerville South students are headed abroad to be judged by others.

Magold said she is impressed how American students stand with their global competitors.

"For me, because I was a teacher of it, I mentally compare our kids to the global kids. It is always gratifying for me to see how well our kids do," Magold said. "We see these rankings all the time in the paper making the American kids look very low. But I can tell you I've judged papers from all over the place and our kids write extremely well."

IB's benefits last far past high school and into students' collegiate successes.

Jack Edgecombe-Pepperell, a former student of Magold's, graduated with an IB diploma from South in 2010. He said it was not an easy feat, but IB's global recognition helped him attend University of Worcester in Worcester, England.

"It is absolutely grueling. It is one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do," Edgecombe-Pepperell said about the program. "I went to England and it is always thought of being studious, academic and quite difficult. I don't want to say it was easy, but I found high school quite harder than college."

Magold said that is a common response she receives from former students. Though IB is a challenging program for a 16- or -17-year-old, it helps students articulate global perspectives, a challenge many students find in college courses.

"The kids that take IB, even the ones who looked as if they were suffering through it, have all come back to tell me that their first two years of college were a breeze," Magold said.

The highlight for Magold and students is the assessments' delivery worldwide. Magold said students are always curious to know where their assessments will be sent.

Though Edgecombe-Pepperell has been out of South's halls for four years, he easily remembers which of his exams were sent where: business to Hong Kong, chemistry to India, literature to England and Spanish language studies to Latin America.

"It's crazy to think that someone from a complete different culture is going to grade your paper," he said. "I think it is cool that if you can get a good grade from them, you are on the right path."

From March until mid-April, Magold enjoys her role as an examiner and comparing her perspective with that of the students through literature.

"The fun part is grading the papers and seeing what kids from all over ... are reading," Magold said. "It is very interesting seeing what different parts of the world focus on."

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