Assessing Creativity is Essential . . . and Possible


In today’s data-driven world, we value what we assess. If it’s not on the rubric, it’s not important . . . at least, that’s the subtext.  The problem is, some things are much easier to measure than others, and too often, what’s easiest to measure is what’s on the rubric.  If you can count it, or at least point to it, then it’s much easier to come up with a standard and fair measurement for it.

But what about creativity?

Outside of the academic world, employers are crying out that they need workers who can solve problems. In a world that is constantly changing, the most valuable employees are not those who have a defined skill set, but those who are capable of coming up with creative solutions without being handed a rubric—or even an instruction manual.

Clearly, we need to teach, or at least allow students to practice, creativity.  And it is not always easy to find ways to fit creativity into an existing curriculum, but I would argue that most teachers are up for the challenge.

What is much, much harder is to assess creativity.

You can make a good argument that creativity either can’t, or shouldn’t, be assessed.  You can make an excellent argument that there’s far too much assessment of any kind going on in schools. Those arguments, however, won’t get you very far if you’re trying to promote creativity in your classroom or library TODAY, when you have a system that you must work within.  If it makes you feel any better, I believe there are real benefits to assessing creativity—namely, that we can learn more about the creative process, and, ideally, help our students become even more creative.

So how do you assess creativity?  Obviously not with a multiple-choice test. Possibly with a rubric. I have long had a love/hate relationship with rubrics, both as a teacher and a student.  We all know the feeling, as a student, of being confused about exactly what it is that the teacher “wants.”  It’s comforting to have it spelled out, so as to be able to clearly provide it. With a rubric, you can read what’s in the box; ensure you’ve completed all the requirements inside it; and then, as long as you’ve interpreted your teacher’s words correctly, you’ll get the grade you’ve bargained for. From the teacher’s standpoint, rubrics provide a fair, systematic, and easy-to-follow grading system.

But sometimes, rubrics backfire. There are always cases when a student gets a perfect score on the rubric, but only because he or she has an impressive talent for minimalistic interpretations of the requirements. Other times, a truly outstanding project earns a poor score, because the student left out or messed up on a few things that suddenly seem insignificant compared to the overall value of what was accomplished.

Rubrics are literally made up of boxes, so it should not be shocking that they do not often encourage “outside-the-box” thinking. How do you create a rubric when the teacher doesn’t necessarily know what she “wants” from a student?  What if a teacher hopes to be surprised by something new and innovative ?

This is the question I’ve been wrestling with lately, and I certainly don’t have all the answers—nor do I think there is necessarily a single answer.  And I easily concede that adding or changing the boxes on a traditional rubric might work, because, after all, the “box” thing is a just a metaphor, albeit often an apt one. Turning your rubric into a different shape, like a triangle, to provide visual evidence that certain aspects of an assignment are less important than others is another possibility. Assessing students by observing them throughout the entire creative process would be ideal, but may not be feasible when you have a class of 35.  Portfolios are also an option, if you have students creating multiple works over an extended period of time.  Interviewing students could also work.  I am sure there are—erm—other creative solutions.

But in any case, one thing that is definitely helpful is breaking down exactly what creativity is. The components of creativity are easier to measure (easier, not easy) than the general concept of creativity itself.

For me, a recent study from the University of Kent has proven extraordinarily useful in providing language to use when assessing creativity. Anna Jordanous and her colleagues used computers to analyze a large body of academic papers featuring information about creativity, and then pulled out fourteen key aspects that provide “a model of how creative behavior emerges,” illustrated below.  (If you are interested in a detailed accounting of the methodology Jordanous used, read the entire article here.)


It is important to note that for Jordanous, these concepts are not synonyms for creativity; rather, they are the components, or the “building blocks,” of creativity.  Not all of them have to be present in any one particular creative endeavor, and, furthermore, some creative domains tend to emphasize certain aspects more than others.

There’s a lot to take in here.  Some of these components, most notably “general intellect,” I would not want to use in any measure of creativity in the classroom. Most of the others, though, offer possibilities. For instance, have you ever wanted to give a student the proverbial “A for effort,” even when the final product didn’t turn out quite the way he or she envisioned? Well, here is your evidenced-based reason to do so.  It’s called “active involvement and persistence.”  Teachers have been right all along:  Students who are actively involved in what they are doing, and persistent in their efforts, deserve credit for learning, even if the immediate results don’t bear it out.

And check out “progression & development.” Did your student try something, revise it, try again, tinker with it, rework it, and come up with something better, if not perfect?  Just ask any writer:  they’ll tell you to give that student ALL THE POINTS.

What about those kids who have trouble completing something in a short time frame, because they have so many different ideas they want to try out? I’m talking about the student who is excited about the assignment, but then, in the end, turns in something half-baked, because he or she spent a lot of time experimenting.  Maybe “variety, divergence, & experimentation” is worth more than most teachers give students credit for.

“Value” is interesting.  Maybe the student wasn’t so good at following all of the teacher’s detailed directions, but in the end, made or did something that was actually pretty awesome.  Think about it:  who does an employer value more; the one who does exactly what he’s told, or the one who comes up with something the company can really use?

“Dealing with uncertainty” is one of my favorites, although I can see this as being particularly difficult to measure.  At the very least, it’s a concept that students and teachers alike need to view as part of the creative process. Without uncertainty, there can be no creativity.

The idea of assessing creativity is not new, and other educators have tied elements of creativity to Bloom’s Taxonomy and the common core. For more information and inspiration in teaching and assessing creativity, check out this article from Catapult Learning, this one from Edutopia, and this blog post by Grant Wiggins.

Creativity is important.  We all know it.  But if we want administrators and policy makers to value its place in education, and students to learn and practice it, then we must ensure it has a prominent place not only in the curriculum, but in our assessments.


One thought on “Assessing Creativity is Essential . . . and Possible

  1. Thanks for sharing – agree that we need to include creativity in our classroom but a way of quantifying creativity has always been the struggle (which would make sense – you must be creative to define creativity!)


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