Saturday , April 13 2024
Creativity in America is on the decline.

Is Standardized Testing Killing Creativity Among America’s Youth?

A study by Emily Weinstein et al of University of Washington Information School and Harvard University found that over the last 20 years, the creative writing of American students has become more conventional and mundane, this in contrast to the apparent increase in creativity of visual art.

The findings of the study about decline in creativity are consistent with those of a 2011 study, which showed that creative thinking has decreased even as intelligence seems to have increased.

While there is no set of guidelines for measuring creativity, a trend toward formulaic, conventional and mundane narratives is a worrisome sign not outweighed by the apparent rise in quality of visual art.

creativesUnlike visual art, writing is a key indicator of creativity because writing requires synthesis of information, which requires understanding of the interplay of concepts and ideas from different sources and their manipulation into new configurations. Being able to write a well-told story is a far more complex intellectual and creative task than creating a piece of visual art for the simple reason that more imaginative work must be done by the writer in arranging events, developing characters and describing the world of the story.

The study parallels observations of writers and teachers about the decline in creativity.

Last month, a group of more than 100 of America’s children’s book authors wrote an open letter to President Obama calling for changes to current educational policy of standardized testing, which, in their view, is killing imagination and the love of reading for pleasure. The new learning climate in schools, fostered by the need to prepare for tests, misses the point of learning to read entirely: “It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children,” according to the study’s authors.

Teachers are also voicing their concern. In a Denver Post editorial Don Batt, a high school English teacher, writes that children no longer write to express their understanding but to satisfy an algorithm: “First, build your writing with a certain number of words, sentences, paragraphs; second, make sure your writing contains the words in the question; third, begin each part with “first, second,” and “third.”

Even if testing in schools is not a causal factor in the observed decline of creativity, it is certainly an effect of the evolution of America’s culture toward one of increased surveillance and control. The author of the 2011 study writes: “creative children are labeled as classroom behavior problems, and society in general has less a sense of humor about mischief and diminishing tolerance for unusual behavior. For example, teachers claim to value creativity in children, but in fact it is proven that they generally dislike creative behaviors and characteristics in the classroom because they are inconvenient and hard to control.”

About A. Jurek

A Jurek is a Blogcritics contributor.

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  1. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    First and foremost, children need to learn how to set boundaries so that they can complete homeworks. Next, they need language immersion utilizing learning techniques like Pimsleur or even Rosetta Stone. Music, art and creative toys are important introductions to the creative side, as are puzzles, chess and checkers.

    Children need to do independent research in libraries and on the internet in order to open up sources of knowledge. It’s important for very young children to attend readings by the local librarian. These sessions spark an interest in language and intelligent discussion.

    Standardized tests are a barometer of student learning and transfer. There are other measurements like sustained academic performance, essay writing, public
    debate skills and student research projects.

    Lastly, all students should be required to integrate a second language into the
    grammar school experience so that everyone becomes bi-lingual over time.

    • If only these suggestions were or ever had been the norm in anything that has happened over the last century. Sadly, as I was plainly told on several occasions in public school – the schools by and large teach to the lowest common denominator. Anyone that runs a little faster either runs ahead and misses the entire social point of public schooling, or becomes bored with the lack of anything interesting.

  2. Standardized testing is destroying education. What we have now is a toxic environment for students and teachers, and the best way to save their health is to stop the disease of over-testing from spreading.

    There are better ways to gauge knowledge – think of Socratic questioning. I am sure that students know more than what these tests indicate because tests are just instruments, and in most cases faulty ones.

    I hope that parents will start a revolution in education by demanding less testing and stopping the practice of teaching to the test. Tests prove nothing and only spawn more testing. In the end that’s not teaching: that’s preparing kids to do only one thing well – take a bloody test!

  3. Great article. Until I was expelled, I was bounced from gifted to mentally deficient classes – and yet passed every year on my end of the year tests. This thanks to a creative mother who said, “If my son scored as high or higher than your best performers, how can you fail him?”

    The lesson? Kids don’t need to do anything in school if they can pass a test – as Victor said – which is exactly what I did through almost my entire school experience until I was expelled for… you guessed it – not confirming.

    Should have cut my hair short and lined up a lot earlier. Life would have been so much more rewarding (haha).

  4. Dr Joseph S Maresca

    There are schools like Harvey Mudd College that emphasize project level learning and not standardized tests alone. The graduates at Harvey Mudd are at or near the top in earning power. There are other excellent colleges and universities like Carnegie Mellon and Cooper Union to name just a few.

    My own experience in teaching has shown me that setting boundaries with associates is one of the most important things a college student can do in order to have the time to study and complete projects.

    College isn’t the only place where people learn. Apprenticeship is another forum for learning which goes back to the time of Adam Smith and earlier. Millions of highly skilled tradespeople earn a decent salary even today with no or little college. Still others have made millions in franchises.