Laura H. Chapman, a reader who is an expert curriculum consultant in the arts, wrote the following in response to studies that say that “grit” is unrelated to creativity:

“This discussion about creativity should include mention of theoretical and empirical work from the 1950s and 1960s such a J.P. Guilford’s broad view of human intelligence, reworked by Howard Gardner; Getzels & Jackson, “Creativity and Intelligence:

Explorations with gifted students;” and the legacy of E. Paul Torrence who developed still-in-use tests of creativity translated into 36 languages and being studied for cultural bias. More at http://www.coe.uga.edu/events/major/ttct-figural

Here is a little-known back story on the fate of talk about “creativity” in the midst of the roll-out of the CCSS and the desire of Achieve and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bury this concept (along with other phrases popularized by tech-lobbyist Ken Kay under the banner of 21st Century Skills.)

In July, 2010, Newsweek featured a report called “The Creativity Crisis,” citing a steady decline in scores on the Torrance Tests of Creativity since 1990. The tests have been respected and widely used, in part, because data has been kept on multifaceted accomplishments of each cohort of test takers since the late 1950s. A secondary analysis of the longitudinal data indicated that lifetime creative accomplishment (patents, publications, awards and other indicators) is more than three times stronger for childhood creativity than for traditional childhood measures of intelligence.

In response to inquiries, the CCSSO issued a press release that dismissed the Torrance tests and referred its own work on creativity. This work included a program of individualized instruction via computers (a stretch); some activities in the Arts Education Partnership (not relevant); and EdSteps, the latter described as a project to help “advance creativity to the highest possible international standards, and measure creativity in a way that is situated in a context of actual activity.”

EdSteps is a web-based standard setting and assessment project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is operated by the CCSSO. Although the Common Core State Standards are separate from EdSteps, the CCSSO says the two initiatives complement one another. “EdSteps was created to find new ways to assess vital skills—those that contribute to college and career readiness—that are not currently assessed on a broad scale for reasons of difficulty and cost.”

“EdSteps defines creativity as the valued uses and outcomes of originality driven by imagination, invention, and curiosity.” In order to create a novice-to-expert scale for creativity, EdSteps started soliciting work for an online data bank. ….”from students in early childhood and elementary, middle, high school and from college and graduate students; from individuals in the workplace; from teachers of all subject areas; for any audience or purpose, both within the United States and globally; in any form, genre, or media. Creativity samples can include anything – writing, videos, images, charts, or other graphics – in any subject area.”

Anyone can submit work through EdSteps’ website. The submitter must agree to give up all rights to the work, and permit EdSteps to alter, edit, and otherwise modify the work for its purposes. That freedom of action may be a concern to persons in the arts who think that the integrity of a performance is in the whole work, not a snippet.

I was unable to determine how the proposed scale will address the fact that, in some arts, novice performances by children and untutored adults are sometimes judged more original and imaginative than expert performances by well-trained adults (e.g., a quote attributed to Picasso: ”It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child”). Nor was I able to determine whether EdSteps assumes that a single scale of creative achievement can be constructed from the heterogeneous samples of work.

The process of constructing the scale is fairly technical, but it relies on comparing two works and deciding which of the two is the most “effective,” The paired comparisons are carried out in multiple iterations, by multiple judges, with multiple samples. Submissions are coded to permit analyses based on factors such as age, gender, ability level, geographic region, type of work, and the like. In theory, a scale representing a progression of achievement from novice to expert can be constructed without the need for written criteria or explanations, “although these may be added.”

This all sounds like a crock to me, perhaps because I had more than one conversation with Torrence as a young scholar and, as a worker in arts education, have relied on his vocabulary—fluency, flexibility, elaboration, humor, elaboration, and the like—to teach others that some qualities of creative thinking are not entirely a mystery.

Gates paid for some high profile talent to consult on EdSteps, including Howard Gardner. I can’t imagine that they endorced what the website has become.

Judge for yourself. Samples of work and the rest are posted on the glitchy EdSteps website.”