Grade with creativity taken into account

The practice of making standardized testing the measuring stick by which we judge our children’s learning was, and is, a mistake.
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July 24, 2012 - PRLog -- Dear Dr. Fournier:

I recently read this L.A. Times article discussing some of the ideas you have talked about in past articles:  creativity development, rote memorization, and rebuilding the way we approach education as a country.  However, I am left to wonder how we should encourage creativity without separating it from the test taking we already have in place.  Do you have any thoughts on this?

Dana V.
Knoxville, TN

Dear Dana:


The practice of making standardized testing the measuring stick by which we judge our children’s learning was, and is, a mistake.  Let me clarify by saying that testing of this kind can be a useful tool to determine missing basic skills in a child’s learning, but as is mentioned in the article you sent and as I have written to parents before, it is a one dimensional tool that can give the wrong idea.

In order to expand the way we assess our children to include creativity, educators must be willing to throw away the idea that the book answer is the only correct answer.  Of course it is correct for the paradigm in which it exists, but when students come up with creative solutions to questions, or answer outside of the box, these answers should not be disregarded.  Here are a few internet classics that have circulated:

Note that I am not arguing that all answers need to be marked ‘correct.’  If a child goes through life championing the “outside of the box” thought that he can drop an elephant in the path (see the last picture) every time he must solve this sort of problem, the creative answer will give way to the fact that he or she simply does not know how to solve (or create) the necessary equation.

However, notice that there is no middle ground.  Assuming that these examples are legitimate, look at what happens when the teacher is confronted with an outside of the box answer.  Even when the alternate method of solving is acknowledged, it is predictably marked incorrect and is not given a second thought.  

In the first example, the child writes that the opposite of “pro” is a “noob.”  This was marked wrong.  Why?  The object of the exercise was to demonstrate mastery of the concept of opposites, and as an assessor of a child’s learning, I am not interested in whether her or she puts the academic answer of “con,” over the internet-savvy answer given.  The bottom line is that the child understands the concept.  This answer is not wrong!

But answers of this kind are not the same as leaving the problem blank, or attempting to solve it and simply doing it wrong.  They show a desire to solve the problem, despite the fact that the student is unprepared or lack a basic skill.  This is the kind of thinking that is needed for paradigm breaking in the workforce.  This is a willingness to look at the initial question with fresh eyes, and create an answer that is completely unanticipated.  This is something we want to cultivate, not hammer out of our children.


How do we handle creativity while still allowing teachers to grade in a uniform way?  When I work with children, I work from the notion that tests are ways that I can assess what a child knows and what is left for him or her to learn.  If I saw one of the above answers, I would have to mark it correct for the interim.  

The child wins with creativity.  

However, this would be a momentary reprieve.  I do not move on with a student until he or she has achieved mastery over the subject matter in question, so I would note that on the creatively solved answers that mastery has not yet taken place, and I would begin the process of assessing what skills are missing in the child’s basic skills.  In short, he is correct in the short term, but must still “prove it” on another test or quiz over what he or she cleverly avoided.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at
Source:Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Tags:Test Taking, Creativity
Location:United States
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