Can student creativity be assessed in a meaningful way? Should it even be evaluated? And if so, how? These are some of the questions explored in a new working paper published by the global Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"Creativity is widely accepted as being an important outcome of schooling," according to the paper, by researchers at the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester in England. "Yet there are many different viewpoints about what it is, how best it can be cultivated in young people, and whether or how it should be assessed."
The research comes at a time when U.S. political and business leaders increasingly are raising concerns about the need to better nurture creativity and innovative thinking in young people. In fact, last year I wrote about a push in several states to develop a "creativity index" for schools.
In the new paper, the researchers put forward a definition for creativity focused on five "core dispositions." They field-tested their work in a dozen schools. A creative mind, they say, is:
(wondering and questioning, exploring and investigating, challenging assumptions)
(sticking with difficulty, daring to be different, tolerating uncertainty)
(playing with possibilities, making connections, using intuition)
(sharing the product, giving and receiving feedback, cooperating appropriately)
(developing techniques, reflecting critically, crafting and improving)
Based on the field trials, the researchers reached three key conclusions:
First, they say it is possible to create an assessment instrument that teachers find useful. Second, this framework seems most useful for students ages 5 to 14. And finally, they emphasize that the "primary use of the tool is enabling teachers to become more precise and confident in their teaching of creativity and as a formative tool to enable learners to record and better develop their creativity."
Put another way, the teachers showed little appetite for developing an assessment intended to document student creativity and compare it across students or schools.
Of course, experts often argue that assessments end up being used for purposes well beyond what was initially conceived. So I can imagine some folks may get a little nervous if measuring student creativity picks up steam in this country. Policymakers may find it tempting to start judging students, teachers, and schools on creativity.
To be clear, in my recent EdWeek story on creativity indexes, I explained that the focus was not on measuring student creativity, but rather gauging the extent to which schools provide opportunities to foster creativity and innovative thinking. Advocates said the idea was to promote a better balance in the curriculum, as well as to ensure more campus offerings before and after school that foster these qualities, especially in an era of high-stakes testing in reading and math. I highlighted three statesCalifornia, Massachusetts, and Oklahomawhere the matter was being explored.
In my reporting for that story, I heard from Robert J. Sternberg, an expert in intelligence-testing from Oklahoma State University who has studied creativity extensively. He said he was encouraged by the idea of an index, but cautioned that there are risks.
"We don't want an index that trivializes creativity, such as by counting numbers of activities that, on their surface, sound creative, rather than exploring what is actually done in the activities to encourage creativity," he said. "We don't want to encourage quantity over quality of activities."
You can learn more about research on creativity in this 2011 EdWeek story.