Standardized test measures critical thinking

Suzi Starheim

Students who take exam receive gift card

Just when students thought they were finished with standardized testing after high school, Kent State decided to administer the Collegiate Learning Assessment — a standardized exam measuring students’ critical thinking skills.

This exam is administered to freshmen and seniors to see how capable students are of problem-solving skills in daily life when entering college and when leaving college.

“What we liked about the CLA was that it’s what we might call authentic assessment,” said associate provost Stephane Booth. “It’s not just fill in the blank or multiple choice. The student is given a problem to solve, they are given sets of materials to work with and then they have to write what their solution is, or could be, to the problem.”

The CLA is a two-hour exam taken on a computer. The exam gives students written resources to look at and open-ended prompts to solve their way through. Students who participate are given a $25 gift card for the University Bookstore. A proctor is always present during the exam.

Jacob Roope, a teaching fellow in the exploratory advising center, is one of the proctors for the CLA.

Roope said overall this exam is much more qualitative than the ACT or SAT.

“You don’t need a calculator. All they need to do is come,” Roope said. “You can’t study for it. It’s about the skills you already have.”

It is part of Kent State’s four-year pilot with the Voluntary System of Accountability, Booth said. The VSA is a movement by public four-year universities to provide basic information on the undergraduate experience through online reports.

Getting enough test takers

Freshmen were tested from September through October to get a baseline of critical thinking skills of new students, said Gary Padak, dean of undergraduate studies.

“We tried to entice up to 200 students and had to send out information to approximately 700 students to get that number,” Padak said.

A total of 139 freshmen took the CLA. Seniors began taking the test Feb. 23 and will continue through March 24.

Roope said he also remembers how difficult it was to entice freshmen last fall.

The process included advertising by e-mail, going into first-year experience classes and distributing handouts to professors.

“A lot of (professors) worked in that if the whole class goes they get extra credit or a pizza party,” he added.

Padak said a big part of using this exam at Kent Sate is recent “pressure being put on higher education institutions by legislatures to demonstrate that they can produce results, and this is the way of showing those results.”

He said no one ever used to measure this information in the past, but with today’s cost of higher education, people want to know if their schooling has paid off .

Students taking the exam will receive their scores during the summer and will be able to compare them with other students across the country on the VSA Web site.

Getting more

students involved

Amanda Thomas, graduate assistant in the provost’s office, also played a large role in getting the CLA to Kent State.

Thomas found proctors, set up the student registration forms and made sure to get communications out to students.

Thomas said a big accomplishment for the program would be to have more students participating.

“I see it as a way of giving back and helping Kent State in figuring out what we did right, what we did wrong and where we can improve,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she would have wanted to take an assessment like this when she was a business major at Kent State.

“As a former business management major, I would be curious where I stand against peers across the nation,” she said. “Business is very competitive.”

Students can register for the exam at the CLA registration Web site:

Contact academics reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected].

Goals of the CLA:

1. To see how good students’ problem-solving abilities are when faced with real-life situations.

2. To find out what is needed for us to improve students’ problem-solving skills if they are weak.

3. To make sure every student graduating from Kent State has problem-solving skills for the professional world.

Source: Associate Provost Stephane Booth

What is the Voluntary

System of Accountability?

The VSA is a voluntary initiative developed by the higher education community to:

1. Provide a useful tool for students during the college search process.

2. Assemble information that is transparent, comparable and understandable.

3. Demonstrate accountability and management to the public.

4. Measure educational outcomes to identify and enhance effective educational practices.

Source: Voluntary System

of Accountability Program