The International Academy of Macomb: What it was like going to one of the nation’s best high schools

Edit: This article is an opinion article based on the author’s experiences. This is in no way meant to defame any person or academic facility. If anything, the goal of this article was to raise awareness about a broken system. 


College Readiness Index: 100%.

Mathematics Proficiency: 97%.

English Proficiency: 98%.

Ranked No. 2 in the state of Michigan, and No. 12 in the nation, according to a recent U.S. News article

The same article says that the International Academy of Macomb has a 100% IB pass score (which indicates “the percentage of exam takers who passed at least one exam”), which I have to be honest, I laughed out loud at. I personally know friends who only got their IB Certificate, not their IB Diploma. 

What does all of this jargon mean? Well, I’ll try and break it down for you, and tell you why this top-tier school may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

IB, or “International Baccalaureate,” is a program that was founded in 1968. It offers “highly respected programs,” according to the program’s website. Despite being labeled as an “international” program, almost 70% of IB Schools are in the Americas.

And it’s labeled as a non-profit, which sounds nice. However, according to their website, the main sources of IB income are:

  • authorization and evaluation fees
  • workshops and conferences
  • publications
  • annual school fee
  • examination fees
  • other fees, including donations.

See the second-to-last bullet? Examination fees. They don’t tell you that when you go to this “public” school that you have to shell out almost $1,000 in examination fees come your senior year. My mom and I were given about a four-month notice.

Luckily we’re so broke we qualified for a grant to cover it. But if you’re debating sending a child to this school, make sure you can pull from their college fund to cover their exams.

Also, this program isn’t so “highly respected.” Let’s look at the amount of credits Oakland University gives to IB students.

OU’s Office of the Registrars’ credits page shows that the number of credits grants depends on whether you got your IB certificate or your IB diploma.

Now, this is strange. Both of those categories mean you passed the IB programme. But the diploma is the end-all, be-all according to many universities. Meaning that, in a way, if you aren’t perfect enough to get a good score on your Extended Essay (EE); do your 150 hours of community service in two years for your Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS); complete your Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay; score above a 4 on all of your Higher Level (HL) courses and above a 3 on all your Standard Level courses (SL); you’re SOL.

(See how many acronyms are in that paragraph above? This list doesn’t even include the hundreds of acronyms that are attached to every single course you have to take to pass IB.)

There can’t be so much of a difference between credits given to certificate students and diploma students, right? Wrong. Forty-two categories of classes are counted for credit if you get a certificate and 73 are counted if you get a diploma. Seventy-four if you got above a “B” on your EE, because you won’t need to take WRT 160.

Even more unfair: For the majority of categories, if you don’t get above a 5 on your IB test, you won’t get any credit. Now, for those of you who took AP tests, this might seem fair, because (at OU) you usually need a 3 or better on an AP test to receive credit, so that means two scores away from the top, right?

Well, IB is different. You only need a 3 out of 7 to pass IB, while you need a 3 out of 5 to pass AP. Meaning that IB test-takers should be able to get college credit for a 3, right?

Well, just to make things harder on IB students, you only get credit if you score a 5 (in most categories; others require at least a 4 or a 6) or better. That’s like telling an AP student they only get credit if they get a perfect score.

You might say that doesn’t make sense, except for the fact that all IB grades are subjective, meaning that the program can randomly moderate your whole school’s scores down. For example, I was projected to get a 7 in Theatre, and came out with a low 6 because my classmates did poorly.

So basically, IB credit is judged on such a subjective scale that it’s very rare to see students with grades above a 5. Which is all right, because you only need 3s and 4s to get the diploma.

But the next biggest reason why the IB may not be worth it is because people don’t know enough about the program to judge accurately what these courses are worth. I would jump at the chance to be on a committee to help other IB students get what they deserve when they come into college. But people on these committees usually just don’t know enough about the programme to fairly judge what the course payout should be.

I’m not saying IB should automatically mean you get your first year of college done with. But what I am saying is that if I had gone to a traditional high school, I could have dual-enrolled and already be almost done with college. Instead, I had to have faith I’d do well enough on my IB exams to score me some gen eds.

In the end, it worked out for me. I got 24 credits coming into OU from the IB programme.

Did it get me ready for college, though? That’s the big question. In a way, I suppose. It taught me how to put up with things I really didn’t care about, threw horrendous deadlines at me like it was no problem and made me the queen of BS-ing a paper in a night.

(We used to say at my school, “IB, therefore I BS.”)

And I think it did teach me how to get used to making my own schedule and choosing classes that interested me. This isn’t so much a problem with IB in general, more of an issue with my school, the International Academy of Macomb (IAM).

See, the IAM pretty much only had the core classes, and a few “section six” (elective) classes. We were stuck choosing music, art, or theatre, while IB students around the world had options like world religion and dance.

In that U.S. News article mentioned before, it said there are only three full-time teachers at the IAM, which may help explain how few class offerings there are. Because the school has students enrolled in eight classes each semester, they do block scheduling, forcing teachers into part-time positions. No wonder we couldn’t keep a theatre teacher.

In addition to the lack of full-time teachers, the lack of communication in that school was a nightmare. The most notable example being when they changed the entire theme of our IB exam just months before the test.

This might not seem big, but oh buddy let me tell you. They decided halfway through my senior year that our IB exam topic would change from 1900s Europe to the Arab-Israeli conflict, meaning that the past three semesters of studying 1900s Europe was only applicable to two-thirds of the IB exam. I was expected to learn the entire history of the Arab-Israeli conflict in about three months.

Another downfall of the IAM is its location. It’s located inside of the Chippewa Valley High School 9th Grade Center, meaning that IAM students are surrounded by students who don’t go to school with us and look at us like we’re exhibits in a zoo. Worse, we had to share classrooms with the other school. If you forgot a painting in the art room and Chippewa had the classroom at that time, tough luck. They also got out earlier than we did, meaning the last 30 or so minutes of our school day was filled with the loud noises that come with ninth graders in a traditional public high school.

It also came with strict security guards. When I’m a senior, I want to be able to walk to the library in peace. I don’t need to check in at a desk and tell them where I’m going, but the ladies who ruthlessly monitored every Chippewa Valley ninth grader had it out for us “smart kids.”

Another great thing this school taught me: Collaboration. Or cheating, I guess. We were assigned hundreds and hundreds of important words and phrases to memorize every single week. So we teamed up and made Google docs and put our definitions in the doc to hand write and turn-in the next day. It was the most unethical thing I had ever done. But on top of eight classes of homework, our extended essay, internal assessments, finishing our CAS and trying to prepare enough for the IB exams to get some gen eds done, it was the only option we had.

I still regret not telling my teachers how much it stressed me out. But there was always this air of shame in the school. If you dropped out or got kicked out, people laughed at you behind your back. They ridiculed you because you didn’t make it.

None of us realized throughout our laughing that some of us wouldn’t even get our IB Diplomas. Who was the clown then?

This school made you into a token “smart kid.” You were expected to ace every paper, expected to never flunk an exam. And that sort of stress is near impossible to deal with in addition to puberty. It was hard, harder than high school should ever be. We were so stressed about school all the time, there was hardly any room for traditional high school drama.

We didn’t have sports teams, so there wasn’t much school pride. We didn’t have a mascot, so our school clothes were limited to clean text with our school’s name. We didn’t even have our own building. It felt almost like we did all of this hard work only to exist in some sort of shadow.

Now, there are some redeeming features about the IAM that I don’t want to overshadow. For one, it’s great at integrating technology into the classroom. Each student is given a laptop to use, and is expected to type assignments and use web-based programs in class. I learned APA and MLA style in ninth grade, meaning I was far ahead of many college students in terms of basics when writing a paper.

The Extended Essay gave me a lot of experience with writing a thesis-like paper, which was extremely helpful when I started putting together my Honors College thesis at OU. I wasn’t worried or scared, as I had gone through the process once before. And the strict deadlines helped me break my horrible procrastination tendencies.

Another more controversial thing I loved about the IAM and the IB in general was that it forced you to take four years of a foreign language. I took my required classes for the Honors College in German, and didn’t really learn anything new in my GRM-214 and -215 classes. Most of it was review for me, since I already had high proficiency from the IB.

But I can’t forget the negatives that come with this school as well. The school might be fantastic on paper. It might be one of the most amazing high schools in the state, and yeah, it did prepare me for college and I came out kicking. But I think what I’m trying to get at is it may not be worth it for everyone. The amount of obstacles in the way of a typical IB student trying to get college credits of the program is hardly feasible.

The amount of sleepless nights I had at the IAM, thanks to the IB program, were not worth the 24 credits I got from OU.