Coalition of Essential Schools is calling attention to National Exhibition Month. They see exhibitions as an alternative to standardized tests. I’m all for exhibitions and “capstones,” they add a richness and authenticity for kids that is great. The school I’m a trustee of uses them. But, I think they are romanticized far too much as a generalized reform or substitute for some sort of standardized assessments.

For starters, very few outside experts are really willing to call it like they see it with kids. There are exceptions, sure, but the bias of your average “expert” is not toward being a rigorous grader. So, to be frank, there is a built in downward bias on rigor.

In addition, there is very little reliability in a system like this. Even with benchmarks and a scoring matrix it ends up being all over the place. That’s not an insurmountable obstacle, for instance standardized assessments could still be used in some sort of audit function, but it’s a real issue at scale. And it means that the data generated is not as useful as the more promising directions things are going today.

Finally, this is really expensive at scale. Standardized tests may be far from perfect, but they’re very cost-effective and even with some common-sense quality enhancements would continue to be. Truth is, most industries would love to be able to quality control/performance feedback for the percent of overall investment that we can do it for in education.

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