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  Project History
In 1996, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT), the General Education Program, and the Writing Programs collaborated to develop a seven-dimension critical thinking rubric derived from scholarly work and local practice and expertise to provide a process for improving and a means for measuring students’ higher order thinking skills during the course of their college careers.

The 1999 Progress Report on the WSU Writing Portfolio showed that 92% of student writers received passing ratings or higher on junior-level Writing Portfolios, indicating that an overwhelming majority of upper-division students demonstrated writing proficiency as defined by WSU faculty. However, a pilot critical thinking evaluation session conducted in the summer of 1999 on papers from three senior-level courses revealed surprisingly low critical thinking abilities (a mean of 2.3 on a 6 point scale).

In December 1999, several WSU units working collaboratively on these issues sought funding from the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB). We received $65, 000 from the Fund for Innovation in Quality Undergraduate Education to explore the usefulness of the critical thinking rubric that had been developed at Washington State University both to foster student higher order thinking skills and to reform faculty practice.

In the HECB-funded pilot study, we ascertained that students' critical thinking scores:
  • Increased three and a half times as much in a course that overtly integrated the rubric into instructional expectations, compared with performances in a course that did not
  • Improved more in one semester in those courses than students not in those courses demonstrated in the two years from freshman to their junior year, as established by comparison of entry and junior level performances in WSU's writing assessment data
As we expanded our pool of faculty participants in the HECB study, we found that some instructors' habitual teaching approaches did not elicit critical thinking from their students, and it was not easy for them to change to a mode that would. From these initial studies we concluded the following:
  • As a faculty, we are not eliciting systematically the kinds of higher order thinking skills that we have defined as our desired program and course outcomes.
  • Therefore, we need to make a shift in our academic culture, so that we focus consciously and collectively upon our agreed upon goals and use effective means to move our students to the desired levels of achievement.
  • In the WSU critical thinking rubric, we have an instrument capable of helping us achieve that shift in our teaching practices. The rubric has proven useful as a diagnostic tool for faculty in evaluating their own practices and testing the outcomes of different approaches objectively.
Washington State University has now received a three-year, $380, 000 grant from the U. S. Department of Education FIPSE Comp rehensive Program to integrate assessment with instruction in order to increase coherence and promote higher order thinking in a four-year General Education curriculum at a large, Research-I, public university, and to work with our two- and four-year counterparts in the State of Washington. During FIPSE CT project, we will enlist 120 faculty in the General Education core courses representing a variety of disciplines to adopt the new assessment instrument, revise their own pedagogies in terms of the program goals and outcomes, and develop innovative combinations of teaching and assessment based on the instrument. This project will yield the following results:
  • A replicable model for assessing the outcomes of broad General Education goals at a large, public university.
  • A set of courses distributed horizontally and vertically throughout Washington State University’s General Education curriculum which are designed both to promote the development of a shared definition of critical thinking skills and to provide assessments of effective teaching and learning related to those skills.
  • Further development of existing, complementary assessment tools—including but not limited to the Critical Thinking Rubric—that can provide faculty at any institution with means for assessing students’ learning outcomes.
  • An objective means of faculty self-assessment of their teaching effectiveness based on their students' progress in reaching learning goals.
  • A book-length edited collection, written by faculty engaged in this project, of successful, assessment-friendly teaching methods and setting out the assessment data that establish the effectiveness of those methods.
  • Dissemination efforts that reach state-wide in order to articulate critical thinking expectations between two- and four-year institutions.

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