Is There a Standardized Test for Critical Thinking?

Posted: 2011/03/08 in Classroom Teacher, Education, High School, Students

My first day as a substitute teacher was September 11th, 2001. For those who’ve read my profile, you know that I hadn’t even registered for credential classes and didn’t know anything about managing a classroom. But my first stint as a sub evolved into my permanent job.

September 11th inspired a lesson that first week that I’ve continued to use during the first week of school with my freshmen computer classes. At the start of the lesson the class discusses three words: Fact, Rumor, Opinion. What is the definition of each of those words?

Fact, the bell rang this morning at 8 a.m.

How do we know this is a fact?

Experience.

But what if you were late to school and didn’t hear that bell for yourself?

The class comes up with words like Verified/Verifiable, Confirmed, Source, Authority, Spokesperson. Then I volley with the students: We won last year’s football championship. Fact, rumor or opinion? Mr. M is very handsome and extremely intelligent. Fact, rumor or opinion? The kids who yell out “Fact” on that one are told that they’re obviously A students.

Then down to the serious work. Students search the internet for examples of facts, rumors and opinions on news and entertainment websites.

That first week in 2001 all the facts, rumors and opinions were specifically about 9/11. Also that week I discovered a curious anomaly, which repeats each year. Certain studious kids who regularly get A’s have difficulty with this assignment. Certain D-to-F students who rarely pass tests in school ace this assignment. The studious kids are great at rote learning and regurgitating facts. Those D students have street smarts; they understand nuances of language because they have to.

This assignment gives me a great opportunity early in the semester to toss a graded paper back to some hardcase and say, “Now you can’t give me any bull about not being smart. Look, you got an A on this one.”

That one single assignment has done a lot to help me forge ties with certain students who were disconnected from the school, students who believed no teacher would be their champion. But you can’t fake it. You can’t give that kid easy grades for the rest of the semester. You have to be demanding.

Here’s this kid who’s used to being called dumb and useless. He’s going to get a lot of D’s in his high school career, even some on my assignments. It’s good for him to have one teacher who can hand back a D assignment and honestly say, “I know you can do better. Come and talk to me about what kind of help you need.”

Meanwhile, this leads me to wonder how many grades in high school are given for critical thinking skills? What tests do we give to high school students that measure critical thinking?

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