Schools Let Seniors Stand and Deliver

By Lynn Olson — June 06, 2006 1 min read

More than 100 schools across 25 states opened their doors to parents and community members last month, so that students could showcase their readiness for high school graduation.

National Exhibition Month was organized by the Coalition of Essential Schools, a nonprofit group working to create more personalized and intellectually challenging schools, to show that there’s another way to demonstrate students’ knowledge and skills beyond standardized graduation tests.

“Exhibitions are a more complete, fair, and accurate way to measure students’ readiness for college and high school completion,” argued Brett Bradshaw, the director of strategic communications for the coalition, based in Oakland, Calif.

“What we’re trying convince people is that these exhibitions are actually more informative than a very narrow paper-and-pencil test,” he added.

Exhibitions rely on the tradition of the Ph.D. defense: Students orally present and defend their work to external assessors. That work can take the form of senior projects, portfolios, and other performance-based tasks.

About 350 people attended exhibition night recently at the 425-student Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio.

In the past few years, senior projects there have ranged from rehabilitating an injured horse, to building a wooden kayak, to making quilts for the local Red Cross, said Principal George H. Wood.

“The month of exhibitions fits in with what we do here anyway,” he said in an interview, noting that all students must complete a senior project to graduate and defend it before a faculty evaluation team.

“We have high standards, but we don’t have standardization,” Mr. Wood said. “Our kids have to pass the state-mandated test, too, but I think they just look at that test as one more hurdle to get over. The project is a demonstration of their skill and their work, and that’s the difference.”

He argued that the projects are a better reflection of such real-world standards as being able to plan and carry out a task, present work orally and in writing, and work within a budget.

A version of this article appeared in the June 07, 2006 edition of Education Week