School Creativity Indices: Measurement Folly or Overdue Response to Test-Based Accountability?

Daniel T. Hickey
A February 2 article in Education Week surveyed efforts in California, Oklahoma, and other states to gauge the opportunities for creative and innovative work. One of our main targets here at Remediating Assessment is pointing out the folly of efforts to standardize and measure “21st Century Skills.” So of course this caught our attention.
What might come of Oklahoma Gov. Mary Smith’s search for a “public measurement of the opportunities for our students to engage in innovative work” or California’s proposed Creativity and Innovative Education index?
Mercifully, they don’t appear to be pushing the inclusion of standardized measures of creativity within high stakes tests. Promisingly, proponents argue for a focus on “inputs” such as arts education, science fair, and film clubs, rather than “outputs” like test scores, and the need for voluntary frameworks instead of punitive indexes. Indeed, many of these efforts are described as a necessary response to the crush of high stakes testing. Given the looming train-wreck of “value-added” merit pay under Race to the Top, we predict that these efforts are not going to get very far. We will watch them closely and hope some good come from them. 
What is most discouraging is what the article never mentioned. The words “digital,” “network,” or “writing” don’t appear in the articles, and no consideration of the need to look at the contexts in which creativity is fostered is present. Schools continue to filter any website with user-generated content, and obstruct the pioneering educators who appreciate that digital knowledge networks are an easy and important context for creative and knowledgeably engagement. 

Most teachers continue to forbid students from using Wikipedia—why not let them learn how encyclopedic knowledge is created by teaching them how to edit entries that interest them? Debate clubs are fine for the few students they typically attract. But they present argument as a rarified performance art that the rest of the students find meaningless—why not help students learn to blog at the intersection of their values and academic topics?
Rebecca Itow has worked with Angie Cannon at Bloomington (IN) High School North to create and refine a fine high school English module on argument; it is posted at Digital Is where innovative teachers like Angie have implemented it. It is a great example of how new media tools and participatory learning can foster innovation and creativity while accomplishing conventional academic goals. But many teachers won’t be able to use it because their school system won’t let them complete the digital poster in Glogster or view the examples of argument at YouTube.
So yes, it is heartening the states are finally realizing that a decade of test driven reforms has driven creativity and innovation out of schools. But they should also realize that overblown concerns over plagiarism and privacy obstruction are leading a generation of students to assume that the most natural and easy outlet for their creative expression has nothing to do with school. And that is a shame.


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