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Exclusive Test Data: Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills 

students at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire showed extensive progress in critical thinking over four years, as measured by a test called the CLA+. Above, Kate Frederick, a sophomore. Photo: Cheryl Senter for The Wall Street Journal

Students at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire showed extensive progress in critical thinking over four years, as measured by a test called the CLA+. Above, Kate Frederick, a sophomore. Photo: Cheryl Senter for The Wall Street Journal

Results of a standardized measure of reasoning ability show many students fail to improve over four years—even at some flagship schools, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of nonpublic results.

writes: Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging.

At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016. (See full results.)

At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years.

Some of the biggest gains occur at smaller colleges where students are less accomplished at arrival but soak up a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum.

For prospective students and their parents looking to pick a college, it is almost impossible to figure out which schools help students learn critical thinking, because full results of the standardized test, called the College Learning Assessment Plus, or CLA+, are seldom disclosed to the public. This is true, too, of similar tests.

Plymouth State University student Madalyn Stevens, standing, performed in a mock trial in a class led by Prof. Maria Sanders, seated at rear, designed to develop critical-thinking skills. Photo: Cheryl Senter for The Wall Street Journal

Plymouth State University student Madalyn Stevens, standing, performed in a mock trial in a class led by Prof. Maria Sanders, seated at rear, designed to develop critical-thinking skills. Photo: Cheryl Senter for The Wall Street Journal

Some academic experts, education researchers and employers say the Journal’s findings are a sign of the failure of America’s higher-education system to arm graduates with analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in a fast-changing, increasingly global job market. In addition, rising tuition, student debt and loan defaults are putting colleges and universities under pressure to prove their value … (read more)

Source: WSJ

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