CAE Discusses Measurement of Essential Skills During ‘Research on International Studies in Education’ Webinar Series

Organized by the American Institutes for Research, session focuses on OECD global higher education report ‘Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?’

NEW YORK, Feb. 06, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Council for Aid to Education, Inc. (CAE), a nonprofit developer of performance-based and custom assessments that authentically measure students’ essential academic and career skills, today announced that Chief Academic Officer Dr. Doris Zahner was a featured presenter on the Research on International Studies in Education (RISE) Webinar Series, organized by the American Institutes for Research® (AIR®). RISE showcases research using data from international studies and promotes sharing and discussion about how data-based evidence can be used for improving educational outcomes.

Dr. Zahner and Dr. Jani Ursin, senior researcher, Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, shared findings from an August Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, “Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?” Dr. Enis Dogan, chief psychometrician, office of the commissioner, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and CAE advisory board member, was the discussant and Dr. Karly Ford, associate professor of education policy studies and sociology, Pennsylvania State University moderated.

“The results indicate the importance of measuring and improving higher education students’ critical thinking and written communication skills on an international level,” said Dr. Zahner. “These are the skills students need – and employers are seeking – in order to help ensure academic and career success. Assessment, combined with a concerted effort to improve students’ higher order skills, is an essential component of best practice.”

A recording of the Jan. 26 live webinar is available for on-demand viewing.

Published by the OECD, an intergovernmental body comprising 38 member countries that works to stimulate economic progress and world trade, the report examines whether global higher education students are gaining essential skills such as critical thinking and written communications.

CAE’s performance-based Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) was used to measure the critical thinking, problem solving and written communication skills (also known as generic skills) of over 120,000 study participants between 2016 and 2021 across six countries: the U.S., Mexico, United Kingdom, Italy, Finland, and Chile.

Data from the study shows the proportion of students who are proficient in critical thinking increased between entering and exiting higher education. However, the proportion of students who are graduating without proficiency is still quite high (47% domestically and internationally).

Dr. Ursin presented key findings from a study (known by the Finnish acronym KAPPAS!) of Finnish students at the initial and final stages of their undergraduate degree programs at 18 higher education institutions. The results showed that gender, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as the type of higher educational institution (universities versus universities of applied sciences) played an important role in explaining the variation in the mastery levels of critical thinking skills among students.

“The assessment of undergraduate students’ learning outcomes in the KAPPAS! project provided evidence on their ability to think critically,” said Dr. Ursin. “However, this cross-sectional study did not provide evidence on the development of generic skills during undergraduate studies. Over the next three years, the KAPPAS2 project will implement a longitudinal study design to investigate the development of generic skills of undergraduate students more thoroughly.”

In his discussion, Dr. Dogan said: “These cross-cutting cognitive skills are critical for making informed decisions, solving complex problems, understanding implications of one's beliefs and actions, thinking independently and creatively, analyzing arguments of others, and making one’s own arguments more effective.”

The “Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?” report is available to read online for free or to purchase at:  

About CAE
Since 2002, CAE has developed performance-based and custom assessments that authentically measure students’ essential academic and career skills. Our Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) and Success Skills Assessment (SSA+) for higher education and College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for secondary education evaluate the skills that are predictive of positive college and career outcomes and in demand by employers: critical thinking, problem solving and effective written communication. Over 825,000 students at more than 1,300 secondary and higher education institutions globally have completed CAE’s essential skills assessments.

As a nonprofit whose mission is to improve student outcomes, CAE also offers critical thinking skills curriculum, professional development, and designs custom, innovative performance assessments across all subject areas and grades. To learn more, please visit and follow us on LinkedInYouTube and Twitter.

About the American Institutes for Research® (AIR®)
Established in 1946, the American Institutes for Research® (AIR®) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of education, health and the workforce. AIR's work is driven by its mission to generate and use rigorous evidence that contributes to a better, more equitable world. With headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, AIR has offices across the U.S. and abroad. For more information, visit

About the Finnish Institute for Educational Research
The Finnish Institute for Educational Research (FIER) is a multidisciplinary centre for educational research, assessment, and development, based at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Its vast research experience, wide-ranging fields of study, and multidisciplinary approach - together with a significant body of researchers and publication volume - make the FIER a nationally unique and an internationally significant unit of educational research. The national task of the FIER includes investigating, assessing, and developing the Finnish educational system and school culture. Its research covers the entire educational system, from pre-school to higher education, and the links between vocational and academic education and working life.

About the National Center for Education Statistics
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations. NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES fulfills a Congressional mandate to collect, collate, analyze, and report complete statistics on the condition of American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.


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