English teacher Justin Parmenter writes that creative writing is one of the victims of standardized testing and data-driven mania.


He writes:

“Educators are under enormous pressures stemming from a data-driven culture most recently rooted in No Child Left Behind and its successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in which the ultimate measure of professional and academic success is a standardized test score. As a result of this standardized testing culture, many of our English students spend way too much time reading random passages which are completely detached from their lives and answering multiple choice questions in an attempt to improve test results. In many classrooms, writing has become little more than an afterthought. Creative writing, in particular, is seen by some as a frivolous waste of time because its value is so difficult to justify with data.

“Two decades before the advent of No Child Left Behind, the research of influential literacy professor Gail Tompkins identified seven compelling reasons why children should spend time writing creatively in class:

*to entertain
*to foster artistic expression
*to explore the functions and values of writing
*to stimulate imagination
*to clarify thinking
*to search for identity
*to learn to read and write

“The majority of Tompkins’s outcomes of creative writing could never be measured on today’s standardized tests. Indeed, over the same period that standardized reading tests have pushed writing in English classes to the sidelines, efforts to evaluate student writing on a broad, systematic scale have dwindled. Measuring student writing is expensive, and accurately assessing abstract thinking requires human resources most states aren’t willing to pony up. It’s much cheaper to score a bubble sheet.

“Measurement and assessment aside, the soft skills that we cultivate through regular creative writing with our students have tremendous real-world application as well as helping to promote the kind of atmosphere we want in our classrooms. After many years as an English teacher, I’ve found that carving out regular time for creative writing in class provides benefits for me and my students that we simply don’t get from other activities.”

Writing is thinking, put to paper or screen, with the opportunity to clarify and edit one’s thoughts. It can’t be taught by formula or by rote. It is a joy for some, a struggle for others. It is a luxury available to all. There is reward in knowing that your thoughts matter.

Not everyone will become a writer, but everyone needs to learn how to express his or her thoughts clearly. Everyone has a voice. Everyone must learn how and when to use it. These are lessons that standardized tests can neither teach nor test.