The PTA volunteers who run the Reflections contest do not judge the entries themselves. Judges are experts in their assigned arts field. For example, recent judges have included the head of a local college music department, a dance instructor with a private studio, and a professional videographer. When possible, student names are removed from the artwork and other materials the judges will see, to help ensure impartiality.
Judges assign points to each entry, based on three criteria:
- Interpretation of Theme (20 pts.)
- Creativity (10 pts.)
- Technique (10 pts.)
The 2017-18 theme is “Within Reach.” Because Interpretation of Theme is worth twice as many points as the other criteria, a well-developed concept is more important than artistic skill. Entries are evaluated on how well the student uses his or her artistic vision to portray the theme, “Within Reach.” The emphasis on theme encourages experimentation; students don’t have to be expert in the artistic medium in order to do well. This is what makes the National PTA Reflections Arts Program unique. If two entries are tied in points value, the entry with the higher score for interpretation of theme is given the edge. Judges are provided with instructions and a rubric, as well as a tally sheet for keeping track of the points assigned.
(Some judges may prefer to forego the points system and make awards based on the rubric criteria without assigning points. The contest director can choose whether to allow this. In categories with a small number of entries, it can be just as effective as using the point system. For larger categories, judges will generally find it easier to use the provided score sheets and assign points to the entries, but the school chair can decide whether to allow this.)
The National Reflections contest does not officially use the terms 1st Place, 2nd Place, and 3rd Place. At the school and city level of the contest, we often do, because they are more familiar to parents and students than the official designations. On this site, we’ll use them interchangeably with the official Reflections terms. Here are the awards offered in the Alexandria City Contest:
- Outstanding Interpretation of Theme (1st Place). Only one entry wins this award in each category and division; there are no ties. If two entries are tied in terms of points awarded by the judge, the entry with the highest number of points for Interpretation of Theme is the winner. The 1st Place winner is automatically advanced to the Northern Virginia District Contest.
- Award of Excellence (2nd Place). The entry that scores the next highest wins this award. Ties are allowed at 2nd Place.
- Award of Merit (3rd Place). The entry with the next highest score wins this award. Ties are allowed at 3rd Place.
- Honorable Mention. At the judge’s and the Contest Director’s discretion, Honorable Mentions may be awarded in any category. These are usually given when one or more entries score nearly as high as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place winners, in terms of point values assigned by judges in accordance with the rubric. Honorable Mentions are more likely in categories with a large number of entries.
- Director’s Award. This is a special award given in the Alexandria contest. It is awarded at the Contest Director’s discretion to one or more entries, to recognize excellent work that was not chosen by the judges. Often it goes to art that the judges did not select because it fell outside the contest parameters, but sometimes it’s just because there were too many outstanding entries for the judges to recognize them all. This award is not part of the national contest structure and does not enable an entry to advance to the next level. School chairs are welcome to make up their own awards to add to their school’s contest, especially in large contests in which they want to recognize more students. For instance, you could give an award for “Most Creative,” “Best Use of Color,” “Funniest,” or any other category you can come up with. You may want to do these on ad hoc basis, creating an award to honor a particular piece of art. If you create unique awards for your school, make it clear that your special awards are not part of the National contest.)
Awards are made at the discretion of the judges and Reflections team. If a judge feels no entry deserves a particular award, it will not be given. (This is rare; Reflections aims to encourage our young artists!) The actual awards may be ribbons, medals, certificates, or similar recognition items. They are presented at an awards ceremony in the spring.
The City Reflections contest does not offer cash awards, but the National Contest does! Alexandria students who win 1st Place in the City, District, and State and go on to win at the National level may be eligible for cash prizes. That may seem like a stretch, but Alexandria did have a National winner in 2016! (See photo.)