Editor’s Note: As everyone who teaches International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge classes knows, it’s getting time to upload TOK essays and oral presentation documents, along with teacher comments. My talented colleague John Perryman offers what I think is some great advice in this guest post.

John Perryman has taught honors and pre-honors material to low income inner city students in Sacramento for the past 30 years in course content ranging from the physical sciences to economics, from game theory to design tech. Both he and the students love the Theory of Knowledge course content.

For most of our many years of IB moderation, our essay scores were affirmed on average with very few essays varying by more than 1 pt from the instructor’s estimate.   In the last few years, our scores have been reduced by about 1 pt on the 10 pt scale on average, with occasional wild swings (Top scoring essays to middle mark band, 0 (essay on another topic) upscored to  3 /minimally passing).    It is possible that merely affirming or denying the student comments is no longer perceived as adequate.   I am going to try this tactic this year on the teacher comment section to see if affects our score affirmation rate.

These five statements are mostly from the TOK Essay Rubric:

The student had a (sustained A*, some C ,  very limited F) focus on knowledge issues connected to the prescribed title

<I am very tempted to list knowledge issues that the student addressed here>

The student (explored multiple perspectives or counterclaims B, identified counterclaims C, ignored D counterclaims)

The arguments were (always clear B, sometimes clear C, unclear D, not supported F)

Supporting examples were (real life and relevant B, sometimes real life and relevant C, hypothetical or ineffective D, not present F)

*A = top mark band 9-10, B= 7-8, C=5-6, D = 3-4, F = 0-2,

Holistic Descriptors from the rubric (this is not a complete list, but these are the words I would most likely use):

A:  accomplished, lucid, compelling,

B:  relevant, thoughtful, organized, coherent

C: typical, acceptable, adequate, competent

D:  basic, limited

E:  descriptive with no analysis, incoherent, ineffective


Given the wildly inappropriate process used by IB for TOK  oral moderation, I don’t really have high hopes.   Given the general lack of guidance from IB, on these now all important forms, we are forced to use “guess and check” to try to figure out what IB wants.   It saddens me that IB has decided to score forms rather than basing scores on comparisons of the student’s work to the published rubric.