Measuring Creativity In Massachusetts

12/03/2010 08:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • John M. Eger Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University (SDSU)

Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick called last summer for the formation of a "creativity index" to measure creativity in public schools statewide.

Although many states and the Federal government have talked about the importance of creativity in our schools to better prepare our kids for the creative age, few have actually tried to figure out how to teach creativity or how to measure it.

Massachusetts is the first state to try to do so.

Last April U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, "The arts can no longer be treated as a frill ... Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical for young Americans competing in a global economy."

Duncan also said that the Education Department is conducting the first large-scale survey of school principals, music teachers, and visual arts specialists in 10 years. But clearly more needs to be done, and the Mass. legislation is an important first step for Mass. and for all our states.

State Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, who introduced the bill, said, "Employers are increasingly saying that they don't just need people with basic job skills, but people who are creative [and] who can generate new ideas and new ways of solving problems."

According to, which first reported on the legation, writes that it "calls for the formation of a 15-member commission of experts representing various interest groups from all corners of the state. Seven members will be appointed by the governor; one will be a representative of the of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts; one from Advocates for the Arts Sciences and Humanities; one will be a representative of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable; three members will be appointed by the president of the Senate; and three will be appointed by the speaker of the House of Representatives."

The timetable for producing the "index" is not clear. A staff needs to be put in place first, and experts assembled, before any consensus is forthcoming, although a first report is called for by the end of next year.

Their task will not be easy. Defining creativity and measuring it has been the work of scholars for decades.

Barbra Kerr and Camea Gagliardi of Arizona State in a report entitled "Measuring Creativity and Practice" point out that over 40 year ago, researchers Treffinger, Renzulli and Feldhusen (1971) argued that as a result of the lack of a unified, widely-accepted theory of creativity, researchers and educators "have been confronted with several difficulties: establishing a useful operational definition, understanding the implications of differences among tests and test administration procedures, and understanding the relationship of creativity to other human abilities."

We are still seeking answers to those questions -- and hopefully getting closer. Paul Torrance, a University of Georgia professor emeritus of educational psychology (recently deceased), known as the "Father of Creativity," came closest to developing tests to measure creativity.

There are many scholars who have serious doubts about the Torrance tests or any test of individual creativity for that matter. More to the point, there does seem agreement that it may be easier -- not that the Torrance test should be abandoned -- to concentrate on what is being called the "climate for creativity."

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg of the World Bank, formerly with the European Training Institute, believes "schools do have a great potential to enhance human ecology by removing barriers and utilizing the potentials for more creative learning environments (including competition, standardization and test-based accountability) commonly prevent schools focusing more on developing students' creative knowledge, skills and habits of mind."

He believes collaboration, risk-taking and learning are general conditions of change. And further energy and resources needs to be invested to remove the barriers and to make the best out of the available opportunities.

Europe is clearly a half step ahead of the United States.

During the "European Year of Creativity and Innovation" in 2009, the European Union concluded that creativity can probably be measured "only indirectly" by looking at various indicators assumed to relate to creativity such as art and music in schools, broadband penetration, number of households with computers and video game consoles, total output of creative products and services, expenditures for art and culture and other incentives such as tax breaks for artists.

Maybe measuring creativity is difficult, but it is worth the effort.