Susan Riley | March 2013

Creativity Isn’t Measurable

“What is the difference between creativity and originality?”

What a loaded question.  Before I start to put down my thoughts about this one, I have to say that I have heard this question asked frequently as of late.  I have received emails, engaged in conversations at work, and it has been a target during consulting sessions.  It’s a popular idea to ponder and for good reason.  We are being asked on report cards to grade things like “creativity” and it just feels wrong.  Do you know why?  Because creativity isn’t measurable.

Let me back up a moment.  I have been fortunate enough to enter into an 8-day contract with Upper Darby School District as they commit to embarking on an arts integration journey with their elementary schools.  During one of my most recent sessions, we were discussing how to assess an arts integration lesson.  This is always difficult for classroom teachers to understand, because measurement in the arts can sometimes be less tangible than in, say, a math class.  So when a member of their group raised her hand, I wasn’t surprised…until I heard her question.

“How can we grade creativity?”

At first, I didn’t understand her question, so she clarified that their district actually has a column listed for “creativity” in their report cards and she wanted to know how to provide an authentic grade in that category.  This is fairly common with the push for 21st century learning skills, and it’s certainly up to a district as to what criteria to include on a report card.  Yet, my answer of “creativity isn’t measurable” wasn’t exactly reassuring.

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I believe that creativity is part of the human spirit.  When someone creates something, they are pulling a piece out of themselves and unselfishly sharing it with the world.  Who are we to assume that we can evaluate – pass judgment – on creativity?  Who are we to say that one person’s spirit is better or worse than another’s?  We may be able to assess creativity, because assessment is a way to measure growth.  We can document and see/hear/feel that someone’s creative spirit has grown over time.  But can we label that with a letter or percentage?  I don’t believe we can and it has taken me a few tries to come to this conclusion.

Instead, I propose that what we are really looking to measure or evaluate is the originality within a piece of work.  We want something to be “new”, “innovative”, “novel” – to see something original.  This is something that is tangible.  We can measure what has been made before to see if students are able to learn from that work and synthesize it into something that the world has never seen before.

Originality and creativity live within the same work.

What is produced can be measured for originality. But the one special thing that shines through to represent that unique student – the piece that is hard to put your finger on but you know it’s what makes the work different- that is creativity.  And you can’t put a grade on that.

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About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan