The State of Critical Thinking among 6th to 12th Graders

A recent Washington Post analyzed data from one of the country’s largest websites that helps students hone writing and critical thinking skills. After looking at billions of answers provided by over 200,000 students, the results were… underwhelming.

A few highlights from the story:

  • Fewer than half of students are able to identify when a claim is defendable
  • 47% were able to accurately distinguish between claims, evidence, and reasoning in an argument
  • Students are not good at consistently evaluating the strength of an argument, or recognizing vague or ambiguous language
  • When analyzing the leap from an argument’s claim to the evidence provided, students were easily fooled into simply going along with what was written regardless of how illogical the connection.

The 7 proficiency areas analyzed were not the most nuanced aspects of an individual’s critical thinking; rather, they represent some of the foundational skills students should master early and build upon. 

What this shows us is that institutions of higher education shouldn’t take anything for granted when designing their critical thinking and other foundational skills strategy. These are the competencies employers seek from recent graduates, and they are widely regarded by faculty, students, and administrators alike as essential learning outcomes for a college education.