4 Key Components to Assessing Critical Thinking

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Assessing critical thinking can be tricky.  Figuring out the tasks, isolating the skills, and knowing what you are actually assessing. Here is a summary of the key components for assessing critical thinking in even very young students.

 1. Take out the noise. If you are measuring reasoning, focus on reasoning. Do not focus on other skills, such as spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Reasoning assessment should be done through conversations for kindergarten and first grade students. Beginning in  second grade, activities that incorporate writing may be used.

2. Don’t scaffold. When assessing reasoning skills, do not provide support. Give them the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding without help from teachers or other students. Here is an example of a task for second or third grade students.


First generate a class list of what makes a hero.  Make certain you discuss heroes that are not super heroes. Typical lists may include brave, strong, faces challenges, clever…. Then read Jack and the Beanstalk retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg.  Each student should have a copy to follow along to read and look at the illustrations.  Review any questions on vocabulary. This version shows Jack as morally ambiguous. Next ask students according to the characteristics, was Jack a hero? Support your answer with specific evidence from the text.


3. Use a scoring guide. Know what you are looking for to demonstrate different proficiency levels. Here is an example of a scoring guide for grades 2 and 3 with different proficiency levels. The first row describes the skill for that proficiency level. The row below shows the evidence to look for in determining at which level the student performs.



4. Analyze student work together.  Comparative assessment helps calibrate expectations between classrooms and provides rich dialogue for understanding criteria and student outcomes.


This topic was one of many explored at EL National Conference. Many thanks for the insights and resources provided by Jeff Heyck-Williams and Jill Clark, who taught the master class on Creating Assessments of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving!

Teachers in schools have saved countless hours by utilizing Novare’s assessment platform to organize and share resources for assignments, evaluate student work and easily aggregate and manipulate data.


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