3:37pm

Wed April 17, 2013
Education

More Than 50 Years Of Putting Kids' Creativity To The Test

Originally published on Thu April 18, 2013 3:30 pm

This is the second in a three-part series about the intersection of education and the arts.

Let's start with a question from a standardized test: "How would the world be different if we all had a third eye in the back of our heads?"

It's not a typical standardized question, but as part of the Next Generation Creativity Survey, it's used to help measure creativity a bit like an IQ test measures intelligence. And it's not the only creativity test out there.

So why bother measuring creativity? James Catterall, a psychologist and director of the Centers for Research on Creativity in Los Angeles, says the simple answer is that if society, business and education demands it, then we need to know when it's happening; otherwise, we're just guessing when it's there.

He says, "Measuring is an important aspect of knowing where our investments pay off."

Troublemaker Or Misunderstood Creative Genius?

In the late 1950s, a man named E. Paul Torrance was similarly interested in children's creativity. Torrance was a Georgia farm boy-turned-psychologist, and one of his first jobs was working with boys at a military academy. It was there that he began to see creativity as something that was misunderstood. Bonnie Cramond, director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development at the University of Georgia, says a lot of the boys Torrance worked with were thought to be troublemakers.

"They were high-energy kids with ideas," she says, "and those don't always fit into a very structured school situation. And so [Torrance] did a lot of research in how, for example, teachers much prefer highly intelligent kids and often don't like highly creative kids because they are harder to control and they're misunderstood."

Torrance set out to change that, or at least to prove that creativity was as important as intelligence, not just in the arts, but in every field. As part of that mission, he devised a number of ways to test for creativity. Today, the system he created is called the Torrance Test.

Rewarding The 'More Elaborate Route'

Janet Stanford is the artistic director of Imagination Stage, a professional children's theater company and arts center in Bethesda, Md. She says when she first heard about the Torrance Test, she was skeptical. "Initially I thought, as many people do, 'Well, creativity is not something you can measure. It's this sort of wonderful gift and let's not question it too carefully.' "

But Stanford was curious, so she ordered the test packet anyway, and she also got to see some of the results. In the "figural" section of the test, there's a page with a large, black egg shape in the middle. Test-takers are asked to make a picture out of it that "no one else will think of."

"One little boy created a cave out of it," Stanford remembers. "He put a cliff around it, and so there was a ladder going up to this hole as if it was a great cave. And then there was a Martian or some kind of alien spaceship in the air, and this little boy who was hiding from the aliens. I mean, the world that he created was complete."

Stanford was intrigued enough that she asked her entire staff to take the test. There was some resistance at first, but then a few members like Lauren Williams learned to grade the test. Williams says that for a test about creativity, it has a lot of unexpected details. Take, for example, the test's "resistance to premature closure" section, where test-takers are asked to turn lines on the page into a picture somehow. "They look for people who choose not to take the quickest way and to choose a longer, more elaborate route instead," she says. "And you get points for that."

Shining Light On A Hidden Problem

The Torrance Test has been translated into several languages and is mostly used for admission to gifted and talented programs. But other creativity tests are also in the works — James Catterall and his team at the Centers for Research on Creativity are still tweaking theirs.

Catterall says they made an interesting discovery while they were testing out their survey: Elementary school kids scored better on it than high school kids did. "I think the expression that many people use is that the schools have a tendency to suck the creativity out of kids over time," he says.

And that's a problem — a problem that will require enormous creativity to solve.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

I'm Melissa Block.

And, Robert, I have a question for you. It's from a standardized test. You ready?

SIEGEL: OK.

BLOCK: How would the world be different if we all had a third eye in the back of our heads? That's the question.

SIEGEL: I think the only conceivable answer to that question is all of the above.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: What kind of test has a question like that on it?

BLOCK: That was not the right answer. It's a very deep test. It's called the Next Generation Creativity Survey. It measures creativity, a little like the way an IQ test measures intelligence. And they use it in schools, sometimes. Well, NPR's Elizabeth Blair is reporting this week on the intersection of arts and education. And she says there's actually more than one creativity test out there right now.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: First, why would you want to measure creativity?

JAMES CATTERALL: The simplest answer is that if we demand it or want it, as a society or as a business community or as an educational community, we need to know when it's happening.

BLAIR: James Catterall is a psychologist and director of the Centers for Research on Creativity in Los Angeles. He says if we're not measuring creativity, then we're just guessing when it's happening.

CATTERALL: And measuring is an important aspect of knowing where our investments pay off.

BLAIR: Back in the late 1950s, E. Paul Torrance thought investing in children's creativity was important. Torrance was a Georgia farm boy-turned-psychologist. One of his first jobs was working with boys at a military academy. And this is where he began to believe that creativity is misunderstood.

Bonnie Cramond, director of the Torrance Center for Creativity at the University of Georgia, says a lot of the boys he worked with were thought to be troublemakers.

BONNIE CRAMOND: They were high-energy kids with ideas, and those don't always fit into a very structured school situation. So he did a lot of research in how, for example, teachers much prefer highly intelligent kids and often don't like highly creative kids because they are harder to control and they're misunderstood.

BLAIR: So Torrance set out to change that or at least to prove that creativity was as important as intelligence, not just in the arts but in every field. So he devised a number of ways to test it.

JANET STANFORD: So the test is in three parts, and this one is going to test your originality.

BLAIR: Janet Stanford is artistic director of Imagination Stage, a professional children's theater company and arts center in Bethesda, Maryland. She says when she first heard about the Torrance test, she was skeptical.

STANFORD: Initially, I thought, as many people do, well, creativity is not something you can measure. It's this sort of wonderful gift, and let's not question it too carefully.

BLAIR: But she was curious and ordered the test packet anyway. She also got to see some of the results. In the figural section, there's a page with a large, black egg shape in the middle. You're asked to make a picture out of it that no one else will think of.

STANFORD: One little boy created a cave out of it. He put a cliff around it, and so there was a ladder going up to this hole as if it was a great cave. And then there was a Martian or some kind of alien spaceship in the air and this little boy who was hiding from the aliens. I mean, the world that he created was complete.

BLAIR: Stanford was intrigued enough that she asked her entire staff to take the test. Yes, she says, there was some resistance at first. Then a few members learned how to grade the test, like Lauren Williams, who says for a test about creativity, it has a lot of little details you might not expect.

LAUREN WILLIAMS: There's one part of the exam that's graded as resistance to premature closure.

BLAIR: Resistance to premature closure. In this part, you're asked to turn lines on the page into a picture somehow.

WILLIAMS: They look for people who choose not to take the quickest way and to choose a longer, more elaborate route instead. And you get points for that.

BLAIR: The Torrance test has been translated into several languages. Mostly, it's used for admissions to gifted and talented programs. But other creativity tests are in the works. James Catterall and his team at the Centers for Research on Creativity are still tweaking theirs. He says as they were testing out their test, they made an interesting discovery: The elementary school kids did better on it than the high school kids. Why do you think that is?

CATTERALL: Well, I think the expression that many people use is that the schools have a tendency to suck the creativity out of kids over time.

BLAIR: A problem that will require enormous creativity to solve. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.