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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

3 thoughts on “CREATE Week: Measuring Critical Thinking by Doug Wren”

  1. Thank you for sharing such an informative post on Critical Thinking. I am in my tenth year as an educator and this has become my most recent interest in both studying in literature and discussions and trying to bring these ideas to my classroom. I also think that this has been an under-rated area of education for a long time that is finally getting to be in the spotlight.

    I also really appreciate that you are encouraging your readers to find ways to evaluate Critical Thinking. Your post reminded me of some of the discussions I was involved in over the summer with some people who believe that to reach the ‘higher levels’ of the taxonomy one must first complete the beginning levels, but that in turn can be interpreted as ‘some students are too young for higher order critical thinking skills’, others have proposed that Bloom’s Taxonomy should be presented as a group of skills to assess and teach, not a succession of levels, what is your stance on this?

    I appreciate your links to resources and the Hot Tip you offered about “An instrument with demonstrated reliability and evidence of validity designed for a population that mirrors yours is best.” And the reminder that you should use multiple methods to assess critical thinking, because it is such a complex process compared to memorization skills.

    Thank you once again,

  2. 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?


    1. Thank you for your comment, Adam.

      As a former elementary school teacher, I believe Dr. Case’s approach (as explained in an interview at 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

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