The most recent results of the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (CLA ) test—a standardized testing initiative designed to measure college students’ critical thinking skills—are not encouraging.
Both professors and students at Plymouth State noted that classes at the school provide little direct information about critical thinking; instead, they provide a framework for critical reasoning that leads students to ask the right questions and seek out information on their own.
Essentially, critical thinking is baked into many different courses, rather than being the formal subject of any one course.
Critical thinking is one of the top-requested skills employers look for in job applicants, but is higher ed doing enough to help students develop this skill?
Fifty-nine percent of surveyed adults ages 18-31 who attend or attended a college or university say they are very confident in their soft skills, including critical thinking—but that same survey also shows a decrease in that group’s ability to distinguish between false and factual information.
In this approach, students are given a problem to solve.
At Plymouth State, students were asked to conduct a mock trial of Lizzie Borden, who was accused (but eventually acquitted) of the sensational 1892 axe murders of her father and stepmother in Massachusetts.Beyond question, this is a serious problem; without critical thinking skills, students can fall into, or reinforce, bad intellectual habits.One example: according to a recent survey in the United Kingdom, 52 percent of university admissions officers report that students have a hard time remembering facts.Pair that with confirmation bias (the tendency to seek out and believe information that maps to one’s own beliefs) and you have a recipe for trouble.Today’s educators need to do a lot more to help students understand how to evaluate information.Critical thinking is a tremendously important skill.But, it turns out, teaching this skill is no easy task.This is a serious problem that educators need to understand and address.But before diving into the potential solutions, it’s worth spending a few moments digging deeper into the results and the test itself.The CLA tests are administered to incoming freshmen and outgoing seniors at more than 200 public colleges and universities.The results are typically not published, but this year The Wall Street Journal filed a public records request and was able to get details on the results at a number of colleges and universities that administered the test between 20.