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Standardized Testing & Creative Thinking


An interesting piece in the Huffington Post titled The Education Reform Paradox and the Extinction of Higher Level Thinking Skills led me to another article in The Week, which included this section:

While IQ scores are indisputably on the rise, American creativity levels are bottoming out. Analysis of the results of the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking suggests that the creative abilities of American children have been spiraling downward for almost 20 years. The Torrance tests analyze young children’s ability to come up with original ideas and put them into practice. Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor at the College of William & Mary School of Education, found that scores on Torrance tests taken by children up to 6th grade between 1968 and 2008 showed a steady decline after 1990.

That’s a serious issue at a time when creative thinking is among the most desperately needed skills in the American workplace. A recent study found that 85 percent of employers concerned with hiring creative people say they can’t find the right applicants. Kim blamed America’s standards-obsessed schools for creating an environment in which creative thinking was not nurtured. “Creative students cannot breathe, they are suffocated in school,” she said. “Then they become underachievers.

That passage gave me an idea.

I went to the Google Ngram Viewer (see The Best Posts To Help Understand Google’s New “Books Ngram Viewer”) and compared “standardized tests” with “creative thinking” to see how often they had been mentioned.

Here’s what it came up with:

The Ngram Viewer is obviously not a precise scientific tool, but it is interesting to see that it seems to reflects a somewhat similar comparison over the past 25 years….

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Larry,
    Nice post as this correlates with what Yong Zhao stated in his book Catching Up or Leading the Way. The backlash of testing is also evident in the area of civics/history education as mentioned in the LA Times article featuring Sandra Day O’Connor. My hope is that with more high profile personalities realizing the futility of constant testing and research showing consistently that these tests are not accurate measurements of learning, something will change. However, based upon the recent inaction by Congress on NCLB we might be stuck for a while.

  2. I doubt the lack of creativity is totally to do with standardised testing – kids actually don’t play creatively as much as they used to. Toys and games DO everything. I doubt there are many kids who pick up a stick and make it a sword, gun, bow and arrow, pogo stick, support for a tent etc any more. They really have very little reason to use their imagination. Technology is wonderful – but our propensity to spend and then spend some more on the most realistic toy we can find might also take some of the blame here.

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