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Education today/Steve Patchin

Is our focus on standardized testing stifling creativity?

July 31, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

In 1958, Professor E. Paul Torrance, a psychologist, created a series of tasks intended to measure the creativity the children possessed. These tests were given to nearly 400 children in the Minneapolis area, whose lifetime accomplishments ranged from earning patents for new products they created to writing books as they grew older.

Torrance found that the more creative a student was, the greater their success both personally and professionally. Torrance's efforts resulted in a creativity test, much like an intelligence test, consisting of a 90-minute series of discrete tasks. These tests have since been taken by millions of students worldwide. Professor Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William and Mary studied Torrance creativity scores for more than 300,000 American kids and adults conducted over many years. Professor Kim found that creativity scores were rising until 1990. Since then, creativity scores have been falling steadily.

Why is creativity so important? IBM recent conducted a poll of 1,500 CEOs that asked them what was the No. 1 "leadership capacity" of the future. The answer, creativity!

In 2010, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman wrote an article in Time magazine titled "The Creativity Crisis." They found creativity can be defined as the production of something original and useful. To be creative, one must combine both divergent thinking (generating new ideas) and then apply convergent thinking (combining these ideas into the best results). Creative thinking primarily takes place in the right side of your brain, while the left side focuses on facts. As a side note, women use both sides of the brain on a more frequent basis than men, making them a valuable addition to any problem solving group.

Recently, Professor Yong Zhao of the University of Oregon published an article in Education Week, "Doublethink: Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Standardized Test." Professor Zhao reviewed the countries scoring well on international assessment tests like the Program for International Student Assessment that is used to rank student achievement in each country. These tests are being used to compare which country is doing the best job educating their students in academic content.

A separate assessment has been created, titled the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which measures entrepreneurship activities, aspirations and attitudes of men and women. The GEM assessment has been conducted in more than 50 nations. Countries scoring well on the PISA tests did not necessarily coincide with high GEM scores. In plain terms, just because you are "book-smart" doesn't translate into you being a creative, confident entrepreneur. Evidence of this can be viewed with China having the highest PISA scores in three content areas in 2009, yet had only 473 successful patent filings outside of China while the U.S. had 14,399 the same year. China, whose students score high marks on standardized test measuring rote learning, account of 20 percent of the world population, 9 percent of the GDP of the world, 12 percent of the world's research and only 1 percent of the patent filings outside China.

For our economy to thrive, we will need "creative" entrepreneurs.

Studies show that creativity can't be developed in each child through traditional learning and success on standardized tests. With this in mind, we need to reevaluate our push to "teach to the test." Do we want to be known for our student's achievements on PISA tests, or for their high level of creativity that brands America as the land of innovation and prosperity?

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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