International Study Reveals Measuring and Developing Critical-Thinking Skills as an Essential Best Practice in Higher Education

Opportunities exist for higher education institutions worldwide to increase critical-thinking skills among higher education graduates through explicit instruction, practice, and measurement of the skills employers are most seeking in today’s innovation economy.

NEW YORK, Oct. 18, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The Council for Aid to Education, Inc. (CAE), a leader in designing innovative performance tasks for measurement and instruction of higher-order skills, recently co-authored an article on a six-year international study in the European Journal of Education Study. Key findings shared in “Assessing and Developing Critical-Thinking Skills in Higher Education” include that it is feasible to reliably and validly measure higher-order skills in a cross-cultural context and that assessment of these skills is necessary for colleges and universities to ensure that their programs are graduating students with the skills needed for career success after graduation.

Between 2015 and 2020, 120,000 students from higher education institutions in six different countries — Chile, Finland, Italy, Mexico, the UK, and the US — were administered CAE's Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), a performance-based assessment that measures proficiency with critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication. Analysis of the data show that students entering a higher education program on average performed at the Developing mastery level of the test while exiting students on average performed at the Proficient mastery level. The amount of growth is relatively small (d = 0.10), but significant. However, half of exiting students perform at the two lowest levels of proficiency, indicating that higher education degrees do not necessarily mean students have gained the higher-order skills needed for innovation-oriented workplaces.

“In response to employer concerns about graduate employability, assessing and developing students’ higher-order skills is an essential component of best practices in higher education,” said Doris Zahner, Ph.D., CAE’s chief academic officer. “The ability to measure these skills in a cross-cultural context addresses a current gap between the skills that higher education graduates possess and the skills that are required by hiring managers for success in the workplace.”

This study reinforces the same findings of OECD’s 2013 Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) Feasibility Study and is based upon a recently published 2022 OECD report, Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?. Since this original study, CAE has further improved CLA+ through lessons learned from its implementation, analytical research on the data gathered, and international collaboration.

The research discussed in “Assessing and Developing Critical-Thinking Skills in Higher Education” reinforces the need for policymakers, researchers, and higher education leaders to have valid and reliable internationally comparative assessments of the skills that are needed for today’s knowledge economy. “The results outlined in this report show the power of assessing critical-thinking skills and how such assessments can feed into the higher education policy agenda at the national and international level,” said article co-author Dirk Van Damme, former head of the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation at OECD and current senior research fellow at the Centre for Curriculum Redesign.

CAE, in collaboration with the Finland Ministry of Education and Culture, will continue to study the impact of higher education on the development of critical-thinking skills. Starting in 2023 and continuing through 2025, a cohort of students from 18 Finnish higher education institutions will use CLA+ to measure their growth with critical-thinking, adding a longitudinal component to this ongoing research.

To learn more about this study, CAE’s other research, and CAE’s performance-based assessments and critical thinking instruction, visit

About CAE
As a nonprofit whose mission is to help improve the academic and career outcomes of secondary and higher education students, CAE is the leader in designing innovative performance tasks for measurement and instruction of higher order skills and within subject areas.

Over the past 20 years, CAE has helped over 825,000 students globally understand and improve their proficiency in critical thinking, problem solving and effective written communication. Additionally, CAE’s subject area assessments have helped millions of K12 students across the US. Supported by best practices in assessment development, administration and psychometrics, CAE's performance-based assessments include the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) and College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+). To learn more, please visit and connect with us on LinkedIn and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Emily Sumner