Does Testing Assign Importance?

Posted by Jeff Cacek on 2/5/2015

I have always loved Mark Twain quotes. There are very few thinkers who could at once be playfully humorous and sharply critical of the human condition. Recently, I thought of one my favorite Twain quotes: "Man is the only animal that blushes - or needs to." While I always notice what could be mistaken as the archaic use of "man" to represent all of humanity, I believe he meant for this quote to be gender specific. It would be easy for this post to turn into a meditation of gender equity, but instead, for just a moment, I will insert the "A human" instead of "man" in order to focus the discussion on how amazing human consciousness is.

 

I was reminded of this quote this morning as I was reading Sir Ken Robinson's Out of Our Minds. Sir Ken wrote: "In one respect, at least, human beings are radically different from the rest of life on earth. We have the ability to imagine. As a result we have unlimited powers of creativity…imagination is the primary gift of human consciousness." While the ability to blush in embarrassment is certainly a very human trait, so is imagining and creating. In the age of high stakes testing schools are often duped into allowing students' creativity skills to atrophy. The results of such shifts could be catastrophic. Creativity is an essential skill for success in the modern economy. That is not an attempt to downplay the importance of reading and math - without these basic skills, our students will be hamstrung in their future endeavors. However, they will also come up lame if they have inability to imagine and to turn those ideas imagined into reality - an excellent working definition of creativity.

As we become firmly entrenched in Testing 2015, you may find yourself asking your student about her reading and math. Be sure also to ask about how she is using her imagination. Ask her what she has created recently. Encourage her to imagine wildly and do her best to make reality of her ideas. You may be shocked to learn what fantastic things she is creating at North Park. By mastering such a skill she will learn many other important things; such as, the importance of taking risks, experiencing failure and persevering to find success. In the end, you will have a child who has the confidence and skills to make the world her own.

 

Questions about high stakes testing abound. The most relevant of which is: what about the value of those skills not tested? In this age of the tested child it would be easy to succumb to the pressure of reading and math MCAs. This pressure can make educators - and parents - feel like everything else is secondary. Graphic arts, music and physical education have a tendency to disappear in this environment. Social studies are often neglected and science becomes another opportunity for reading interventions instead of content rich inquiry activities. No other skill takes as much of a beating as creativity.

Few thinkers have articulated the importance of creativity as much as the great physicist Albert Einstein. Two of his most oft quoted statements on the subject are: "Creativity is intelligence having fun," and - considering imagination as the foundation of creativity a la Sir Ken Robinson, "Imagination is more important than intelligence."  However, schools often make the mistake of discounting or forgetting the importance of creativity - perhaps because it is not tested.

There is no MCA for the 4 C's of 21st Century learning (nor do we hope for one!). We don't spend weeks taking the MCA - Collaboration or MCA - Creativity. Does this mean we should not provide opportunities for student mastery of these essential skills? If so, where do you find a research-based intervention for building such mastery? Of course, you know the answers to most of these questions. The interventions lie in art and music classes and inquiry activities in the science lab. But they also reside in the learning studio and the classroom. Encouraging imagination and creativity throughout the day is not only possible, it is essential. This is something we require of our students at North Park.

 

It is true there is no high stakes test that assesses creativity - if you discount the tests of everyday life, that is. However, at North Park we are currently embarking on a journey to find our own assessments for the essential skills. Over the past two years we have struggled with developing ways to measure mastery the 4 C's. Creating such rubrics sounds a lot easier than it has proven to be. Luckily, in November the organization Leadership 21 released rubrics for assessing creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. North Park was at the front of the line in the acquisition of the rubrics. Currently, our second grade team is piloting the communication rubric as it pertains to project based learning and we hope to share all them with the rest of our school in Fall 2015.

 

We have learned many things in our journey to become a center for 21st Century Learning. First, our state tests do not measure everything our students need to be able to do. Second, this is no excuse for not providing the amount of practice necessary for our students to master the 4 C's. Again, this is not an attempt to short-change reading or math - it is to complement reading and math. It is our argument that the tested skills have little value or meaning without mastery of the so-called soft skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. The 4 C's give the tested skills more power. We look forward to the day when measures of each student's mastery of the 4 C's are held in as high regard and as commonplace as those that measure math and reading.