Savannah College of Art and Design

How do you assess artistic creativity?  That was the theme of a three-day conference at the Savannah College of Art and Design last week, where I was one of the keynote speakers.  One hundred and thirty arts educators, from all over the U.S.  (and several other countries as well), were there to learn how they could assess the creativity of their students, and also the success of their programs.

I had to work hard at my presentation…because the problem is, there isn’t really a good assessment of creativity, creative thinking, or creative potential.  Of course I mentioned the Torrance Tests, because Paul Torrance spent most of his career up the road at the University of Georgia.  But I have a problem with any test that claims to measure general creative potential, because there’s so much research showing that creativity is always specific to one or another area.  The creative painters aren’t the same people as the creative writers.

As a result, I chose to focus on what learning scientists know about the kinds of knowledge that support creative, adaptive behavior.  This research has practical implications for teachers because it gives them advice about how to teach and how to assess, if they want their students to be prepared to use what they learn creatively.  A few key points:

  • Teacher deeper concepts, not memorization of superficial facts
  • Teach integrated knowledge–show how each concept is connected to other concepts
  • Teach in a way that builds on prior knowledge and directly confronts deeply held misconceptions

The implications for assessment are complex and not immediately obvious, but one thing is clear: tests that simply assess how much you’ve memorized are not going to tell you anything about creative potential.  Tests that assess whether you know a specific isolated piece of knowledge won’t tell you whether a student understands the connections to other important and related knowledge.  And researchers have known for years that students can get very high scores on tests, even when they retain very deep-rooted misconceptions that ultimately detract from their real-world performance.

While preparing for the event, I learned that my colleague Mark Runco (editor of the Creativity Research Journal) has left his long-time home at Cal State Fullerton, to become the E. Paul Torrance Chair at the University of Georgia, and Director of the Torrance Center.  Congratulations, Mark!

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