Study Reports Decline in Student Creativity

We are an inventive country. We’re creative Americans who produce works of fiction and film and other forms of entertainment and we have the home field advantage when it comes to technological innovation, with Google, Apple and Microsoft all calling the USA home. We’re forward-thinking, innovative people.

But those optimistic and beautiful thoughts only apply so long as we encourage creativity in our children. Psychology Today has reported on a new research report from Kyung Hee Kim, a professor of education at the College of William and Mary. The report documents a decline in creativity among American youth over the last few decades.

Kyung Hee Kim Ph.D

Kim conducted a series of Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking with K-12 students and found that between 1984 and 2008, the average Creative Elaboration score fell dramatically. Time for the below-the-belt punch: 85 percent of average K-12 kids scored lower on creativity than the kids in 1984.

The test Kim used was developed by E. Paul Torrance in the late 1950s as part of a way to learn how to evaluate creativity and scientific innovation in an effort to surpass the Russians in the Cold War era. Torrance’s test is still applicable today. According to Psychology Today:

“[Torrance] set about developing a test in which people are presented with various kinds of stimuli and are asked to do something with them that is interesting and novel—that is, creative.  The eventual result was the set of tests that now bear his name.  In the most often used of these tests, the stimuli are marks on paper–such as a squiggly line or a set of parallel lines and circles—and the task is to make drawings that incorporate and expand on those stimuli. The drawings are scored according to the degree to which they include such qualities as originality, meaningfulness, and humor.”

The Torrance test has been suggested as a better predictor of lifetime achievement than high school letter grades or even an IQ test. Psychologists place plenty of stock in this kind of evaluation, and so to observe findings that indicate that 85 percent of kids who took the test are significant less creative than kids almost thirty years ago is cause for alarm. Last July, Kim used the term “creativity crisis” to draw attention to this disturbing trend.

What can be done about this? How do we encourage more creative growth in our students? I’d like to draw your attention back to my colleague’s article on making sure that the arts aren’t left out of public education, when she advocated that STEM learning—science, technology, engineering and math for those of you who don’t recall—must not leave creative expression to stagnate. Creativity provides a child with the opportunity to flex a mental muscle not always exercised when schools give exclusive attention to testing standards and graduation rates. We need to allow our children room to breathe.