Standardized Critical Thinking Tests – Powerful Predictors in High Stakes Situations

Standardized tests are used to measure the strength of important skills and attributes in large groups of people. A standardized test of critical thinking measures a person’s thinking and problem solving skills and the thinking mindset attributes needed by a strong critical thinker. Cognitive scientists have been capturing evidence of critical thinking using standardized tests. Today independent research scholars around the globe have documented the relationship between critical thinking and educational achievement, workplace transition, and leadership potential.

After decades of independent research there is no longer any doubt. If we give a standardized critical thinking test to a student of any age, the scores are diagnostic of the student’s strengths in reasoning skills and thinking mindset, and diagnostic of ways that student can continue to improve and grow.

What makes a standardized critical thinking test high-quality?

Standardized tests can provide accurate and fair assessments, if they are well-constructed and administered properly. There are five hallmarks of a high-quality assessment of critical thinking:

High Stakes Testing

Standardized critical thinking tests are commonly used to identify prospective students who can and will complete rigorous educational programs in STEM, military science, and the health sciences. These testing tools are also predictive of licensure in our needed professional fields. More than three decades of educational research shows the strength of this relationship.

So, what is the problem? There are two problems, and they interact to discourage their joint resolution.

  1. There are too few seats in many educational programs and there has not been enough allocated funding to build programs and support educators who can teach and train students in these highly evolving and technical fields. Many parents argue that their child deserves a seat because they have shown superior capability in every type of test of their talents.

    The parents have a good point. The USA is a wealthy and powerful country. If we can identify talented children that want to study in challenging and needed fields, it is in our collective interest to provide all of them with that opportunity. There are many children who have demonstrated strong abilities and yet have no opportunity to participate in specially designed educational programs because there are too few seats.

  2. Schools are community assets and places for children and families to connect and grow, but they differ widely as to their capacity to support teachers, administrators, curriculum design and infrastructure, resulting in well-known inequities in educational opportunity.

    Simply put, educational opportunity is “the access and availability of educational resources and experiences for individuals.” But, it’s more complicated than that. Of course, for a student to be competitive and get one of those limited seats, they must have access to a school with quality academic programs, one that will provide them with experiences where they can use their developing knowledge. But, more importantly, students need mentors and guides. In addition to any parental support that they might have, they need to connect with a teacher, trainer, tutor, or coach to help them practice and use their developing skills and knowledge. One that complements their achievements and helps them see that they can become a professional and a leader because of their educational preparation.

    Many wealthy parents invest in their children’s education by providing them with tutors and learning experiences. Wealthier families are more able to provide their children with safe living environments and the resources needed for growth and health. The resulting advantage their children have over those whose parents have fewer resources can impact test scores. If we give a standardized critical thinking test to students who have had less educational opportunity, some students who have strengths in reasoning skills and thinking mindset may not fully demonstrate them, other students may demonstrate higher scores because they have benefitted from gifted mentors and guides. This reality is the basis for interpreting score in the context of educational opportunity or socio-economic status.

    Our educational research data shows that gains in critical thinking skills at posttest are made by all groups of students in educational enhancement programs, and broader gains are often made by those who have weaker skills at pretest. This supports the idea that if a child’s testing performance has been suppressed because of lack of educational opportunities (socio-economic status or other educational opportunity factors) that it is the child who has the most room for growth.

    Standardized critical thinking tests are extremely valuable in these situations as they provide a way for disadvantaged students to demonstrate their potential, and they offer ways for them to demonstrate evidence of growth as they complete degree programs and move into leadership positions.

Looking towards a future of Equitable Education Opportunity

Standardized critical thinking tests are indispensable tools in education and professional fields, offering insights into students’ reasoning skills and mindset. However, their effectiveness is contingent upon addressing the dual challenges of program capacity and educational equity. By expanding access to specialized programs and leveling the educational playing field, we can ensure that every talented student has the opportunity to succeed and contribute to their field. Embracing this approach not only fosters individual growth but also advances societal progress by fully harnessing the potential of our future leaders.

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