Measure the wrong thing, get the wrong thing

Creativity is Declining?
Hat tip to my dear friend Maggie Tsai, cofounder of Diigo for pointing me to Newsweek's article on the creativity crisis.  

For the first time in history, American creativity is declining.

The correlation to lifetime creative accomplishment was more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.”

Read the article. Share it in your groups and discuss. I haven't slogged through everything, but will say that — if success is so highly correlated with creativity, why aren't we looking at creativity? Why aren't we encouraging it?

Does your school allow invention? Creation?
I thank goodness for attending a high school (Westwood) and college (Georgia Tech) that pushed me to invent and create and try things and demonstrate. In high school, they let us on the student government pick a new color scheme for the gym, paint it, and name it after our favorite headmaster! (Graham Lowe) They let us plan as many dances as we could stand and decorate. They also let us do projects and take art!

No Creativity Allowed?
Creativity is often learned behavior if it is allowed to happen.  What do we do? Put them in uniforms. Make them look alike. Ask them to sit in rows and be quiet. 

I just have to say — what on earth are we doing?  I'd say it is a bit like memorizing the individual brush strokes on a masterpiece without ever backing up to see the big picture. Are we so involved in minutia that we've forgotten the big picture? We're not producing parts or machinery or automobiles, we are shaping the future humans that will shape this earth.

Who is to blame?
It is easy to blame educators! How about a society that has allowed test scores to determine property values and become topics of town hall meetings? How about parents who blindly look at test scores never asking what is on the test.

I'll never forget with my oldest was in K-4 and did well in everything but environment.  I was upset – how could my child be that low on environment.  When I asked to see the test, do you know what he missed?

Dumb Tests?
The two questions were asking him to identify:  a) a subway turnstile (we live in Camilla, GA), and a b)judge that had on a gray wig (Honestly, what judge wears grey wigs anyway – do we live in the U.K.?)

I could have cared less how he did on environment, the questions were biased to kids who live in the city. Plain and simple. The test was a poor measure of ANYTHING in that category.

What will make people happy?
The fact is that parents, school boards, and businesses will never be happy until 100% of the kids are in the 90th percentile!

Looking the students in the eye.
I know a teacher this past fall who was heartbroken. She knew that this child was going to drop out on his birthday. He told her.

And yet, instead of being able to teach him life skills and business and numbers, she was required to hammer down his worst subjects and spend their little time together teaching abstract algebra.  He quit and went into the world UNABLE to do Algebra and UNABLE to balance his checkbook. He sat there with a whiteknuckled grip around his pencil refusing to fill in one bubble on the standardized test they made her give him two days before he quit.

We would never dream of demanding that a doctor give a standard prescription to every patient that walked in the door. Society wouldn't stand for it and continues to demand personalized care for each person.

What about personalized education?
It is time to truly talk about personalized education! If education is personalized now then why do we just give one test? It isn't personalized at all (unless you go to the classroom of a good teacher and they are often the “renegade!)

Measuring, Rewarding, Encouraging, Leading
We can sit around and whine. We can also blame – however, if you point your finger, look! There are four fingers pointing right back at you!!!

We are ALL part of this equation.  We must realize that data and test scores are PART of the equation of how a child is doing developmentally. It can give us one measure — how well does the student memorize and test.

Measure the wrong thing, get the wrong thing.

It is time to look at what we are measuring!

How often are students collaborating with others? Inventing? Using social tools to discuss? Debating? Creating? What original ideas have they had?

In my classroom we have at least one “Invent this!” project a year per class but often 3-4. The students look at a problem and formulate their response.  They create a new way to access the Internet.  They invent ways to teach others about digital citizenship.  They deliver.  They also push back from the computer and play outside!

Measure the wrong thing, get the wrong thing.

Our students are a product of the formula of measurement we use to gauge progress.

Stop pointing fingers and start taking a hard look at the formula of measurement. This is a call to parents, school boards, politicians, grandparents, and everyone. Stop blaming the kids – they are probably the only ones in this equation not to blame.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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CJ Westerberg July 13, 2010 - 10:05 pm

Hi Vicki –
Interesting post. The Daily Riff ( posted earlier on same article – you should check it out, since we post often on the death of creativity in our schools and the hell created by increased standardized testing.

Re: your post. Sad to see parents placed in the other-worldly “bin” aligned with boards and business. Being a parent, former teacher, business person and school board member, what bin do I fall into, dare I ask? As you know, there are really bad teachers too, which ruin it for everyone. Think an increased polarization between parents and teachers will only harm students, and somehow I see this divide growing. We too, think teaching is an incredibly noble calling – as we celebrate it often and rigorously on our site, but we are not a teacher-advocate site. We are a pro-learning, pro-student.
Just discovered your site a few minutes ago and think your wiki post is amazing – would like to talk to you about it off-line sometime. Glad to discover you.
Best, C.J.

Rob_ackerman July 14, 2010 - 12:40 am

nice post. . but how can we measure creativity? DO you have some concrete ways?


Watson6815 July 14, 2010 - 4:41 am

This is so right on target! After teaching gifted for 25 years and having scores of kids come back to me as they became adults saying how valuable their creative endeavors were to them, it is clear to me that they learned far more from those projects than anything else. Time after time, former students say how the lessons they learned from figuring out “the mess” and developing solutions for that mess have served them well throughout the remainder of school and into their careers. Those creative elements – flexibility and originality in particular – gave them invaluable tools that applied to an incredible range of situations, problems, issues and to life in general! That said, we continue to talk about the importance of creativity in education, but those creative, inventive activities are often the first to go when a school faces falling test scores!

Rob_ackerman July 14, 2010 - 1:54 pm

the test mentioned is a 90 minute test administered by a school psychologist. … .we need a realistic assessment for schools. This will be a huge challenge

Brandt Schneider July 14, 2010 - 2:13 pm


Check out that MA legislature just passed a creativity index for schools.

Gerald Aungst July 14, 2010 - 3:41 pm

Vicki, I saw the same Newsweek article and blogged about it the other day (from a different angle). Now, I’m the first person to want data to analyze and determine if we’re making progress, but I wonder if we’re so hung up on measuring everything that it’s getting in the way of what’s good for kids and for education. Is it possible there are some valuable, worthwhile things that we shouldn’t bother trying to measure? If so, how do we deal with that in a culture that demands we “prove” everything with numbers and stats?

tilgunas July 14, 2010 - 3:51 pm

From the article you posted, i got this link:
As I start to plan my year (8th grade Language Arts, 8th grade Tech Exploratory), I’m thinking that one of the first homework assignments for Lang Arts may be the creativity “test” at that link. The benefit to me: I may get an early insight about my students! Then we’ll read the article and go from there. My goal: have students help weave creativity into the lovely pacing plan, targeting of standards, etc. Thank you for the post.

Jay July 17, 2010 - 4:27 am

I admire your commitment to your calling. Not everybody can do what you do.

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