Assessing Creativity in the Classroom: It Needs to Happen!


p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >


Driving Question: How Can We Assess Creativity in the Classroom?

Explicitly and effectively assessing creativity is one of my passions. I was lucky. My parents put me into many arts programs, music programs and the like to build my creativity. Later it would become an area of study as I practiced vocal jazz, and sung in my musicals and chorale groups. In fact, it was that work I can strongly attribute to my current creative abilities which I have been able to transfer into “non-arts” subject matter and ideas.

Indeed, we know creativity is not limited to the arts, but that also means we need to provide instructional opportunities for students to be creative in all subject areas, be assessed on creativity, and improve.

Let’s be clear, we are using the word “assess” here. Assessment does not “equal” grading. Those are two different things, although the can complement and build upon each other.

Some schools do put in a creativity grade, while others may feel uncomfortable doing so. Regardless, students need to know where they are at in terms of the creativity in order to set goals and improve. Assessment does this with or without grades.

Unpacking Creativity

The first step to assessing creativity it to know what it is. Despite popular belief, it is not a nebulous concept. Creativity, in fact, has quality indicators to it that help us to understand what it looks like and how we build our creative skills. Rubrics exist that articulate these quality indicators, such as the Buck Institute for Education’s Creativity rubrics for elementary and secondary grades.

In a rubric published in the Ed Leadership article “Assessing Creativity,” Sue Brookhart describes the category of very creative with the description “Ideas represent a startling variety of important concepts from different contexts or disciplines” as well as “Created product draws on a wide variety of sources, including different texts, media, resource persons, or personal experiences.” In BIE’s K-2 Creativity rubric, two quality indicators are “I can help pick the best idea” and “I can think of ideas for what to make or do in the project.” These are some samples of helping students understand what creativity looks like, and gives them quality indicators. We need to unpack creativity in this way because students may or may not know what it is, let alone how to get better. Simply saying, “Be creative,” will not give students the specific goals to work toward.

Creativity with Content

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Students must have some “thing” with which to be creative. For example they can be creative with World Religions content knowledge or solve linear equations in a creative way. In addition, tying creative thinking to an important concept or idea provides a great opportunity to assess more content-based standards along with creativity; giving them both equal footing in the assessment plan.

When teachers design a unit or project, they begin with the end in mind, target specific content skills and objectives that they want students to learn. From there, they consider how students can be creative with that content. What context will they give students that demands they be creative with the content? What voice and choice will theygives students in products students will create?

Consider this example. A teacher might design a unit where she wants students to learn about world religions, as well as speaking and listening skills. From there, the teacher might come up with the context about discrimination that occurs with world religions and tasks student with uncovering and solving this issue of stereotypes and discrimination. Next, the teacher might provide voice and choice to students in the products they create as well as the audience they intend to target. While the learning of content and skills is focused, the space and demand for creativity is there as well.

Formative and Summative Assessment

Teachers can assess creativity in a final product or in summative assessments. If the unit or project calls for a creative product, a criteria for evaluation might be creativity in addition to the content skills and knowledge students have to demonstrate. However, if teachers intend to summatively assess creativity, but they must formatively assess in order to scaffold appropriately and to have students build their creative thinking skills.

Paired with a good rubric, they can formatively assess one or many quality indicators of creativity. Students can set goals and reflect upon these creative goals. As the final product calls for creativity, journals, reflections and even oral individuals can be used to check for creative indictors. These formative assessments can be used as self, peer and teacher assessments to improve creative skills. It further fosters that creativity is a process. For a quality final product that shows creativity, the creative process must be valued through formative assessment.

Assessing creativity must be intentional when teachers plan instruction. If we want our students to be creative, then we must assess it. It we want creativity to be valued as much as content, then it is must be assessed just like content. The good news is that it can be done, and we have the tools to do it!

Beyond the Standardized Test: Aim Higher


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Standardized testing is one of the “lighting rod” issues in educational policy debates. Whether it’s a group of teachers boycotting a test in Seattle, districts across the United States tying teacher evaluations to test results, the new PARCC or Smarter Balanced Assessments being implemented, the ranking countries with PISA scores, or the SAT trying to revamp itself, the debate and topic of standardized testing simply will not go away. So what is an educator to do? With all these forces in play, whether at the district or federal level, it can be disheartening and daunting for an educator to create learning in the classroom. With all the changes, there is always pressure to teach to the test. But I think we can do better.

Encourage Higher Order Thinking
Standardized tests hit a huge range of depth of knowledge or cognitive levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Often a prompt may just be focusing on recall or comprehension, or inference at best. There might be some more critical thinking prompts, but those won’t necessarily dominate the standardized assessment. I believe that we, as educators, should be aiming higher, beyond what a test demands. When we aim higher, we are preparing our students for more than a test — we’re preparing them for 21st century skills paired with content.

To do this, educators need to make sure that the assessments and projects they assign their students are rigorous and focused on depth of knowledge and/or higher levels of Bloom’s. To get there, students will indeed have to do the lower levels of thinking, but we can’t just stop there. Instead, the lower level thinking should serve as scaffolding for higher order thinking. Let’s aim higher than what a standardized test might ask of our students, ensuring that they’re not only ready for the test, but more than ready for college, career and life!

Embed “Test Prep”
Instead of wasting everyone’s time prepping for the exam right before it happens, embed test prep into your daily instruction. Try to make it a meaningful assessment tool while still practicing for the test. For example, you can look at the standardized test to find the stems. Steal these stems and use them to create formative and/or summative assessments for a more engaging project or unit. These might be short-answer or multiple-choice questions, or longer essay-like questions. As a teacher, these small, low-stakes, test-like questions can help you effectively check for understanding. They also help your students become familiar with how the standardized test will look and what it will feel like. Don’t forget to be transparent — show your students how this will be like the standardized test, but also explain why you are using these questions in your instruction.

Error Analysis for Reflective Instruction
Error analysis is an excellent and intentional way to look at the student performance data for patterns and trends, and then use this data to prepare for instruction in an upcoming unit, whether that is a unit next year or next week. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, two of my favorite education authors, articulate the process in “Making Time for Feedback,” an article that appeared in Educational Leadership.

So how does this fit in with standardized tests? Standardized test items should be aligned to a standard, which means the data is disaggregated into these different performance areas. Once students have taken the standardized test, the data is given back to the teacher, and the teacher should be looking at it to make informed decisions on instruction. In this case, it is often for the next year, but the data might also inform remedial instruction. Regardless, teachers can aim beyond the standardized test as just a summative assessment, and instead use it as a tool to reflect upon instruction and meet the needs of individual students.

Instead of just viewing standardized testing as “scary beast,” we can do our best not only to make it useful through error analysis, but also to prepare students for it in meaningful ways and with instruction that’s better than just test prep. We don’t need to be focusing on test prep — we need to be focusing on our students and effective instruction!