Glance at just about any job ad, and often included somewhere on the list of requirements is critical thinking skills or analytical reasoning ability.
But it turns out that many students don’t improve these skills even after four years of college.
That’s what the Wall Street Journal recently reported after reviewing the latest results of the College Learning Assessment Plus, or CLA+, taken by freshmen and seniors attending public colleges and universities. Students who attended some of the most prestigious schools scored lowest on the assessment, while smaller schools saw some of the largest gains.
Critical Thinking in Critical Shape
Americans are notoriously bad in math, but international rankings show that U.S. college grads rank even lower in problem-solving, the Journal reports.
When my children and I were selecting colleges, we didn’t consider a school’s ability to develop their critical thinking, nor had we heard of CLA+, which, according to its developer’s website, measures “college students’ performance in analysis and problem solving, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical reading and evaluation, and critiquing an argument, in addition to writing mechanics and effectiveness.”
The CLA+ is developed by the Council for Aid to Education. Its results aren’t disclosed publicly because “institutions contract with CAE and prefer to keep that information private,” Dylan Forsyth, partnership manager at CAE, told me.
But institutions can distribute their data if they want, Forsyth said in an e-mail. Interestingly, schools that did poorly tended to criticize the test or say they no longer use it; those that did well said it gauged their academic programs accurately, according to the Journal.
“When it comes to how students select a college, we are clueless about quality,” Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, is quoted in the article. “The proxy we use is reputation.”
Unfortunately, reputation alone doesn’t improve a student’s ability to reason. Newsweek writes, “The Journal found that at about half of schools, large groups of seniors scored at basic or below-basic levels. According to a rubric, that means they can generally read documents and communicate to readers but can’t make a cohesive argument or interpret evidence.”
This isn’t just an academic problem: The No. 1 complaint of employers is that college graduates have poor critical reasoning skills, the Journal reports.
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