Students aren't learning to think critically, according to new analysis

Official says new system gives 'better picture of student learning'

The quest for an accurate way to measure student learning has been going on for a while.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has proposed a new solution to the problem, the Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education (VALUE) initiative. AAC&U recently released a report analyzing early results from the effort, Colleen Flaherty reports for Inside Higher Ed.

The assessment, which was applied in the form of a rubric to 21,000 samples of student work, was created in an effort to gauge students':

  • Critical thinking;
  • Quantitative literacy; and
  • Written communication.

To complete the VALUE assessment, 288 educators from a variety of disciplines scored student work samples based on a scale of zero to four in a number of areas, including:

  • Explanation of issues;
  • Conclusions and related outcomes;
  • Influence of context and assumption;
  • Students' perspectives and hypotheses; and
  • Use of evidence to investigate a conclusion.

The metrics one school is using to track progress on student outcomes

According to the report, VALUE revealed that today's students have developed strong skills in:

  • Communicating in writing;
  • Calculating and interpreting data; and
  • Explaining issues and presenting related evidence.

However, the report states that VALUE data reveal students may need more training in:

  • Using evidence to support written arguments;
  • Applying data and making assumptions; and
  • Drawing conclusions and explaining why an issue is important.

The broad theme is that students need more help "to not only know things, but know what to do with what they know," says Terrel Rhodes, VP of quality, curriculum, and assessment and executive director of VALUE.

These gaps in critical thinking ability have been difficult to quantify through standard assessment tools, Rhodes says.

"This project represents the first attempt to develop a large-scale model for assessing student achievement across institutions that goes beyond testing," says Lynn Pasquerella, president of AAC&U. Pasquerella believes the system could improve educational quality—and equity—going forward (Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, 2/23).

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