ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
I'm Melissa Block.
And, Robert, I have a question for you. It's from a standardized test. You ready?
BLOCK: How would the world be different if we all had a third eye in the back of our heads? That's the question.
SIEGEL: I think the only conceivable answer to that question is all of the above.
SIEGEL: What kind of test has a question like that on it?
BLOCK: That was not the right answer. It's a very deep test. It's called the Next Generation Creativity Survey. It measures creativity, a little like the way an IQ test measures intelligence. And they use it in schools, sometimes. Well, NPR's Elizabeth Blair is reporting this week on the intersection of arts and education. And she says there's actually more than one creativity test out there right now.
ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: First, why would you want to measure creativity?
JAMES CATTERALL: The simplest answer is that if we demand it or want it, as a society or as a business community or as an educational community, we need to know when it's happening.
BLAIR: James Catterall is a psychologist and director of the Centers for Research on Creativity in Los Angeles. He says if we're not measuring creativity, then we're just guessing when it's happening.
CATTERALL: And measuring is an important aspect of knowing where our investments pay off.
BLAIR: Back in the late 1950s, E. Paul Torrance thought investing in children's creativity was important. Torrance was a Georgia farm boy-turned-psychologist. One of his first jobs was working with boys at a military academy. And this is where he began to believe that creativity is misunderstood.
Bonnie Cramond, director of the Torrance Center for Creativity at the University of Georgia, says a lot of the boys he worked with were thought to be troublemakers.
BONNIE CRAMOND: They were high-energy kids with ideas, and those don't always fit into a very structured school situation. So he did a lot of research in how, for example, teachers much prefer highly intelligent kids and often don't like highly creative kids because they are harder to control and they're misunderstood.
BLAIR: So Torrance set out to change that or at least to prove that creativity was as important as intelligence, not just in the arts but in every field. So he devised a number of ways to test it.
JANET STANFORD: So the test is in three parts, and this one is going to test your originality.
BLAIR: Janet Stanford is artistic director of Imagination Stage, a professional children's theater company and arts center in Bethesda, Maryland. She says when she first heard about the Torrance test, she was skeptical.
STANFORD: Initially, I thought, as many people do, well, creativity is not something you can measure. It's this sort of wonderful gift, and let's not question it too carefully.
BLAIR: But she was curious and ordered the test packet anyway. She also got to see some of the results. In the figural section, there's a page with a large, black egg shape in the middle. You're asked to make a picture out of it that no one else will think of.
STANFORD: One little boy created a cave out of it. He put a cliff around it, and so there was a ladder going up to this hole as if it was a great cave. And then there was a Martian or some kind of alien spaceship in the air and this little boy who was hiding from the aliens. I mean, the world that he created was complete.
BLAIR: Stanford was intrigued enough that she asked her entire staff to take the test. Yes, she says, there was some resistance at first. Then a few members learned how to grade the test, like Lauren Williams, who says for a test about creativity, it has a lot of little details you might not expect.
LAUREN WILLIAMS: There's one part of the exam that's graded as resistance to premature closure.
BLAIR: Resistance to premature closure. In this part, you're asked to turn lines on the page into a picture somehow.
WILLIAMS: They look for people who choose not to take the quickest way and to choose a longer, more elaborate route instead. And you get points for that.
BLAIR: The Torrance test has been translated into several languages. Mostly, it's used for admissions to gifted and talented programs. But other creativity tests are in the works. James Catterall and his team at the Centers for Research on Creativity are still tweaking theirs. He says as they were testing out their test, they made an interesting discovery: The elementary school kids did better on it than the high school kids. Why do you think that is?
CATTERALL: Well, I think the expression that many people use is that the schools have a tendency to suck the creativity out of kids over time.
BLAIR: A problem that will require enormous creativity to solve. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.