AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Mar/17

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CREATE Week: Measuring Critical Thinking by Doug Wren

Hello from Hampton Roads, Virginia.  I’m Doug Wren, Educational Measurement & Assessment Specialist with Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) and Assistant Adjunct Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations & Leadership at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.

While Socrates is known as the father of critical thinking (CT), the ability to think critically and solve problems has been in our DNA since our species began evolving approximately 200,000 years ago.  Around the turn of this century, educational circles once again started talking about the importance of teaching CT skills, something good teachers have been doing all along.  The Wall Street Journal reported businesses are increasingly seeking applicants who can think critically; however, many report that this skill is at a premium—arguably the result of teaching to the multiple-choice tests of the No Child Left Behind era.

Instruction at the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy is quite easy compared to teaching higher-order thinking skills.  Likewise, assessing memorization and comprehension is more straightforward than measuring CT, in part due to the complexity of the construct.  A teacher who asks the right questions and knows her students should be able to evaluate their CT skills, but formal assessment of CT with larger groups is another matter.

Numerous tests and rubrics are available for educators, employers, and evaluators to measure general CT competencies.  There are also assessments that purportedly measure CT skills associated with specific content areas and jobs.  A search on Google using the words, “critical thinking test” (in quotation marks) returned over 140,000 results; about 50,000 results came back for “critical thinking rubric.”  This doesn’t mean there are that many CT tests and rubrics, but no one should have to develop a CT instrument from scratch.

Hot Tip:  If you plan to measure CT skills, peruse the literature and read about CT theory.  Then find assessments that align with your purpose(s) for measuring CT.  An instrument with demonstrated reliability and evidence of validity designed for a population that mirrors yours is best.  If you create a new instrument or make major revisions to an existing one, be sure to pilot and field test on a sample from the intended population to confirm reliability and validity.  Modify as needed.

Rad Resources:

Here are three different types of critical-thinking assessments:

The author of the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment describes the test “as a means of assessing levels of critical thinking for ages 15 through adulthood.”

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Consortium for Research on Educational Assessment and Teaching (CREATE) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members of CREATE. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

2 comments

  • Adam Friedmann · March 15, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Thanks for this very informative post.

    You mention that CT ought to be viewed as something that is higher-order in terms of Bloom’s Taxnonomy and therefore teaching it should be approached the same way as teaching other higher order skills. I tend to agree with this, but I know there are those who don’t.

    Roland Case, for example, has argued that CT ought to be viewed as a kind of parallel skill or approach to thinking which can exist in tandem with the other elements of the taxonomy. The result in terms of educational methodology would be not to wait until a more advanced thinking stage to start teaching CT,but rather to interweave it as the other elements of the taxonomy are presented.

    What do you think about this view?

    It would seem that based on this view we may anticipate (or at least there is the possibility for) more advanced CT skills at younger ages. Can this have potential ramifications on standardized assessment of CT?

    Thanks!

    Reply

    • Doug Wren · March 17, 2017 at 11:23 am

      Thank you for your comment, Adam.

      As a former elementary school teacher, I believe Dr. Case’s approach (as explained in an interview at http://www.canadianteachermagazine.com/archives/ctm_life_skills/winter05_critical_thinking.shtml) is the most practical way to go, but teaching CT skills in any context has merit. While he was still a teenager, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “The function of education … is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

      We have been administering a series of standardized performance tasks to measure general critical-thinking and problem-solving skills among fourth and seventh graders in Virginia Beach City Public Schools since 2010; anecdotal evidence indicates that students whose teachers provide, in Case’s words, “continuing opportunities for thoughtful analysis of issues” (regardless of the subject matter), tend to do better than other students on the tasks. Nevertheless, assessing CT skills can be messy (i.e., subjective), so multiple measures are recommended.

      I’m not sure if I fully addressed your question – feel free to follow up with me.

      Doug Wren

      Reply

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