Graduating by Exhibition: One School’s Plan

Many Essential high schools have worked out ways to publicly demonstrate their students’ readiness for graduation-ways that reflect both their community’s own values as to what students should know and be able to do and their belief that depth and thoughtfulness, not coverage, must govern the curriculum. At Anzar High School near Monterey, California, students take junior and senior years to complete six exhibitions, scheduled during a three-day session six times yearly and presented before a jury of staff, students, and community members.

Because the school has adopted the five familiar Essential School “habits of mind” (evidence, perspective, extension, relevance, and reflection) as touchstones across its curriculum, these serve as the criteria against which these exhibitions (in their written, oral, and question-period aspects) must pass muster. (See scoring criteria below.) Students almost never present until they have shown readiness, but on rare instances a presentation is sent back for more work before it passes. The six categories of exhibition are summarized below; students may sometimes combine exhibitions where appropriate.

1. The postgraduate plan, which includes an employment or college portfolio, a physical challenge portfolio, and a self-reflection piece.

2. The history-social studies written and oral exhibition, in which students choose a complex topic of personal interest, draw conclusions and make connections about it based on research, and project patterns from it into the future.

3. The language arts written and oral exhibition, in which students draw on material they have read and written, taking and defending a position that considers many sides of a complex issue.

4. The science exhibition, in which students create, conduct, document, and defend an experiment related to a complex topic and carried out using the scientific method, including written and oral explanations and analysis.

5. The mathematics exhibition, in which students complete a pure or applied project exploring a key mathematical question or conjecture, and provide an in-depth, clear, and correct explanation using at least two different approaches.

6. The service learning exhibition, in which students present their service experiences over the course of high school, reflect on their value, describe plans for future service, and reflect on their responsibilities to society. In addition, the Spanish or world language component requires students to present orally in Spanish or another world language, and as a continuous and meaningful part, a component of at least one of the above exhibitions. And the arts component requires students to create and incorporate into at least one of the above exhibitions a wholly new work in music, dance, the visual arts, or music.

Presents biases of self, others, and the research used.
Indicates understanding of alternative points of view and experiences.
Presents sufficient evidence, including multiple choices available, clearly and convincingly.
Presents an analysis of the deeper implications, including how the student’s conclusions might affect the future, what might happen if something changed, and identification of any patterns or connections to other ideas.
Shows a deep understanding of the topic’s relevance to self and community.
Includes reflection on what the student learned and what other questions the project brought up.
If appropriate to the topic, shows empathy and explains how doing the project changed the student’s thinking.