I (Clare) read this article in TC Record and I thought is sums up the dilemma so many teachers face. Teach skills but also teach critical thinking. They are so often set up in opposition that many teachers are left thinking they have to choose one or the other. We need to both! http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=20557
Assessing Critical Thinking in a Data-Driven Educational System
by Amanda Mattocks — May 10, 2016
The current educational environment has left teachers trapped between the accountability mandates of high stakes testing and the desire to provide an authentic, skills-based curriculum that is rich in critical thinking activities. As the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is implemented nationwide, teachers and districts should seize the opportunity to develop alternative assessment tools that incorporate more authentic measurement of students’ critical thinking skills.
HIGH-STAKES TESTING OR CRITICAL THINKING
The tension between high-stakes testing accountability and an authentic, skills-based learning environment infused with critical thinking has made the assessment of student learning a challenge for even the most experienced education professionals. Classroom teachers need to be both public servants responsible for aggregate student growth, and inspirational role models tasked with shaping future minds. The recently sunsetted No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002; U.S. DOE, 2002) narrowed the definition of learning to concepts found on multiple choice examinations that require mass data collection, equated student growth to test score improvement, and instigated punitive measures when schools do not meet national proficiency standards. In theory, the numerical data generated from the annual standardized assessment has held teachers accountable, but this has come at the cost of adequate curriculum depth, appropriate real-world skills, and deep critical thinking skills which are less easily measurable but arguably more important to foster. Tension remains between generating trackable measures of growth and providing learning filled with critical thinking activities. This tension may soon lessen given that measuring student growth and providing authentic skills-based learning are not mutually exclusive anymore; both can be accomplished simultaneously by working within the new assessment guidelines of ESSA.
EVERY STUDENT SUCCEEDS ACT
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA, 2015) has the potential to diffuse the tension between high-stakes annual testing and authentic skills-based learning. ESSA calls for the systematic collection of data of a different nature than that aggregated by traditional standardized testing. According to the federal ESSA website, “Assessments must involve multiple measures of student achievement, including measures that assess higher-order thinking skills and understanding, which may include measures of student growth partially delivered in the form of portfolios, projects, or extended performance tasks” (NCLS, 2015). ESSA will be fully implemented across the United States by the end of 2017 and public school teachers will have the opportunity to develop high-quality assessments involving critical thinking that mirror an authentic, skills-based classroom with a curriculum rich in performance tasks measuring higher-order thinking. While the job of developing authentic assessments for measuring skills-based learning and critical thinking is daunting, the educational community is already fertile ground for the ESAA’s requirements. Due to the fact that ESSA allows teachers to report data from interim assessments based on higher-order thinking skills, each localized educational community has the opportunity to establish the relevant criteria on teacher-designed rubrics and create skills-based performance tasks as long as the result is high-quality measurable data.
ASSESSING CRITICAL THINKING
After watching my students critically discuss complex themes like the American Dream and income inequality during Socratic-styled seminars, I became convinced that understanding and critical thinking are most evident when assessments incorporate real-world problems and performance tasks. Evaluating classroom discussion is challenging but worth the effort because of its curriculum relevance, authenticity, and rigor. Stanford Professor Sam Wineburg calls for students to think like a historian by “understanding that each of us is more than a handful of labels ascribed to us at birth” (Wineburg, 2001, p. 7). In order to reach this deeper understanding, students need to develop critical thinking skills, defined by the American Philosophical Association (APA) as “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based” (Facione, 1990). Traditional social studies assessments that measure names, dates, and events have their place in education but cannot measure “higher-order thinking skills and understandings” as required by ESSA. A curriculum that includes skills-based activities have the potential to also measure critical thinking. Instead of testing students on factual recall, Wineburg required high school students, college students, and professors to read documents out loud, pause to interject their thoughts, and analyze the material they just assimilated (Wineberg, 2001, p. 7). Wineburg measured the interview transcripts for the presence of critical thinking using established criterion and then norm referenced the interviews to determine the depth of critical thought to assess the performance activity (2001).
Peter Boghossian, an educator in the correctional system, also created measurable data derived from performance activities. In order to promote the merits of Socratic seminars to colleagues, Boghossian analyzed transcriptions of his discussions about morality using a rubric designed from the APA’s definition of critical thinking. His students demonstrated their ability to think critically by evaluating, interpreting, inferring, and analyzing by engaging in these types of activities (Boghossian, 2006). By crafting a numerical rubric around skills-based performance tasks, teams of teachers can collect data on student critical thinking ability. Wineburg and Boghossian used two completely different alternative assessments designed to measure critical thinking and both performance tasks yielded helpful data regarding student abilities. Stanford’s History Education Group develops free content through their project called Beyond the Bubble which is aptly named for its goal to move assessments away from multiple-choice examinations (Wineburg, Smith, & Breakstone, 2016). The organization, led by Sam Wineburg, provides critical thinking assessments utilizing primary sources with numerical proficiency rubrics and scored example assessments (Wineburg et al., 2016). With localized numerical data generated from rubrics, teachers can collaborate and strategize pedagogical shifts to promote student growth and then report the relevant and longitudinal information to the state under ESSA, instead of the state collecting a single high-stakes examination and subsequently passing the data to teachers.
CALL TO ACTION
By creating rubrics for critical thinking performance activities, teachers can collaborate to generate meaningful data that can be reported to the state for accountability purposes. This means that nurturing a skills-based classroom rich in critical thinking and reporting achievement goals can happen simultaneously, which is an exciting prospect for both teachers and local communities. However, for change to take place in the classroom, departments and districts need to design rubrics based on higher-order thinking skills using performance assessments. As states implement ESSA in the next couple of years, teachers and districts should seize the opportunity to develop alternative sources of data that incorporate authentic assessments of critical thinking skills.
Boghossian, P. (2006). Socratic pedagogy, critical thinking, and inmate education. Journal of Correctional Education, 57(1), 42–63.
Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95 (2015).
Facione, P. A. (1990). Research Findings and Recommendations. Newark, DE: American Philosophical Association.
National Conference of the State Legislature (NCLS) (2015). Summary of the every student succeeds act, legislation reauthorizing the elementary and secondary act. Washington DC: NCSL. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/documents/capitolforum/2015/onlineresources/summary_12_10.pdf
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, • 115, Stat. 1425 (2002).
United States Department of Education (2002). The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 executive summary. Washington DC: The U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/overview/intro/execsumm.pdf
Wineburg, S. S. (2001). Historical thinking and other unnatural acts: Charting the future of teaching the past. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Wineburg, S. S., Smith, M., & Breakstone, J. (2016). Beyond the bubble. Stanford, CA: Stanford History Education Group. Retrieved from https://beyondthebubble.stanford.edu/