Critical Thinking Assessment Abstracts

Below are citations and abstracts for resources on teaching critical and creative thinking, the focus of NC State’s Quality Enhancement Plan.  For discipline-specific resources for teaching critical and creative thinking, click here.

Ennis, R. H. (1993). Critical Thinking Assessment. Theory into Practice, 32(3), 179-186.

Ennis describes the abilities and dispositions that are necessary for critical thinking. He delineates the purposes of critical thinking assessment. He then identifies the “traps” of assessment: 1. Comparison of test results with norms and incorrectly attributing the results to the instruction; 2) giving a pretest and post-test with having a control group; 3) using the same test for pre and post testing (though using a different test is also problematic); 4) using easy, multiple choice tests that miss much of what is important; 5) Differences in background beliefs and assumptions between the test maker and the test taker can result in justifiably different answers to test questions; 6) Learning to think critically takes a long time; significant results may be expected too soon; 7) High stakes purposes interfere with the validity of testing; 8) Scarce resources often lead to compromises that impact test validity. Ennis provides guidelines for choosing a good test, noting that subject-specific tests are rare. He provides an annotated list of tests available at the time.

Langer, P. & Chizar, D. (1993). Assessment of critical thinking courses. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 77, 970.

The College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado mandated a course in critical thinking at the undergraduate level.  Course parameters were left to the discretion of each department.  The effectiveness of courses was assessed using the Cornell Critical Thinking Test. The test was administered at the end of the semester in four critical thinking and five regular classes. While grand means for the two conditions were not statistically different, the best critical thinking sections had significantly higher means than did all of the regular sections.

In a second study, the Cornell test was administered twice in the semester to a critical thinking and a regular section. Gains were found in both sections, but the gain in the critical thinking section was significantly higher.

The two students suggest that, while critical thinking courses produce desired changes, there is a great deal of variability in effectiveness.

Miri, B., David, B. & Uri, Z. (2007). Purposely teaching for the promotion of higher-order thinking skills: The case of critical thinking. Research in Science Education, 37 (4), 353-369.  

Abstract:  This longitudinal case-study aimed at examining whether purposely teaching for the promotion of higher order thinking skills enhances students’ critical thinking (CT), within the framework of science education. Within a pre-, post-, and post–post experimental design, high school students, were divided into three research groups. The experimental group (n = 57) consisted of science students who were exposed to teaching strategies designed for enhancing higher order thinking skills. Two other groups: science (n = 41) and non-science majors (n  = 79), were taught traditionally, and acted as control. By using critical thinking assessment instruments, we have found that the experimental group showed a statistically significant improvement on critical thinking skills components and disposition towards critical thinking subscales, such as truth-seeking, open-mindedness, self-confidence, and maturity, compared with the control groups. Our findings suggest that if teachers purposely and persistently practice higher order thinking strategies for example, dealing in class with real-world problems, encouraging open-ended class discussions, and fostering inquiry-oriented experiments, there is a good chance for a consequent development of critical thinking capabilities.

Wolcott, S. K., Baril, C.P., Cunningham, B.M.,  Fordham, D.R., & St. Pierre, K. (2002). Critical thought on critical thinking research. Journal of Accounting Education, 20 (2), 85-103.

While this article focuses on the field of accounting, the authors address the lack of empirical evidence in both the accounting education and higher education literature to demonstrate that any particular instructional method enhances the critical thinking skills of students.  They present a review of prior research and offer suggestions on how to improve the design of future research, with more powerful empirical tests of promising curricular strategies.

Jones, E. with S. Hoffman et al. (1995) The National assessment of college student learning: identifying college graduates’ essential skills in writing, speech and listening, and critical thinking: final project report. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, US Dept of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

The goal was to design an appropriate national assessment of collegiate skills using a consensus building process and to identify the skills necessary in critical thinking, problem solving, and communication. In addition to “white papers” from experts they used public hearings and the Delphi model, with over 600 participants, to evaluate the relative importance of extensive lists of specific skills.  Participants included representative from the business sector, as well as faculty.

Additional Critical Thinking Assessment References:

Cotter, E. M. & Tally, C. S. (2009). Do critical thinking exercises improve critical thinking skills? Educational Research Quarterly, 33 (2), 50-59.

Mulnix, J. W. (2010). Thinking critically about critical thinking. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44 (5), 454-479.

Thomas. T. (2011). Developing first year students’ critical thinking skills. Asian Social Science, 7 (4), 26.

Additional Critical and Creative Resources by Focus or Discipline