May Will Bloom with Exhibitions around the Nation

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner - April 2008

This May will bring a blossoming of presentations produced by students and schools participating in National Exhibition Month (NEM). Exhibitions are public demonstrations of learning by students to community members. Exhibition Month is an effort by the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) to promote and celebrate a better way to assess students than standardized tests.

This is the third year of the campaign, which involves hundreds of schools, both public and private, in half the fifty states. These schools welcome parents and community members to see for themselves the power and relevance of student exhibitions.

The CES web site features a video clip of a senior exhibition done by students at Quest High School in Humble, Texas, demonstrating the disparities between U.S. consumption of natural resources and that of the rest of the world. A group of students stands before a large audience with a polished and sophisticated presentation supported by illustrations of their topic. Afterward, audience members question the students. A teacher says the exhibition process gives the students the message that “they’re worth doing something hard and something big.” A student says one of the main lessons she learned was how to work effectively with other people.

Last year, in West Los Angeles, one student presented a PowerPoint on stock option trading to an audience including his teachers, advisors, parents, grandparents and friends. The student, Joshua Koenig, said he credits the exhibition experience with improving his speaking and debating skills.

The CES web site offers a wealth of information and other examples of exhibitions, showing the rich range of possibilities for students to show their work and learning, including the higher order skills that state tests ignore. The kinds of work exemplified here have been noted by colleges and employers as more useful than test scores.

Exhibitions are conceived in the tradition of the doctoral dissertation defense. Exhibition Month has taken on added significance in the wake of federal No Child Left Behind requirements and efforts to reform the law to include performance-based assessments. CES hopes that Exhibition Month will provoke a productive public discussion about what is the best way to assess and promote high-quality learning.

To find out more about Exhibition Month, see the video and learn how you can participate, go to