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UW Ranks Among Nation’s Best in Helping Students’ Critical Thinking

June 13, 2017
a lot of people at a whiteboard
Students in UW Associate Lecturer Rachel Watson's general microbiology class participate in an active-learning exercise that promotes collaborative work in the atrium of the Michael B. Enzi STEM Facility. UW students’ critical-thinking skills improve at a rate that is among the highest in the nation, according to data analyzed by the Wall Street Journal. (UW Photo)

The University of Wyoming ranks among the top 15 universities in the nation in helping students improve their critical-thinking skills, according to a recent report by the Wall Street Journal.

UW stands at No. 14 on the list that appeared June 5 in the newspaper, which submitted requests to over 100 public institutions for results from the College Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+), an exam administered by the Council for Aid to Education. The ranking was based on how much students’ critical-thinking skills improved between their freshman and senior years, as measured by the exam.

CLA+ has been one measure used by UW over the past decade to assess its performance in improving students’ critical-thinking, reasoning, writing and problem-solving abilities.

“We are happy to see that our students have gained these skills at a level that ranks among the best in the nation,” UW Provost Kate Miller says. “While we have seen improvements in value-added scores for our students since implementing CLA+, the institution continues to pursue educational practices to improve graduates’ critical-thinking skills to bring all students to proficient or higher levels.”

According to data from 2015, just 4 percent of UW seniors scored “below basic” on the exam, compared with 15 percent when they were freshmen. The average score on the CLA+ went from 1,113 when the students were freshmen to 1,209 when they were seniors -- a number that actually is higher than 10 of the universities ahead of UW in the rankings.

Beginning with the fall 2015 semester, UW implemented a new general studies program that embeds critical- and creative-thinking outcomes throughout required courses. In addition to critical-thinking and communication skills, the essential outcomes include intercultural knowledge and engagement; knowledge of human culture and the physical and natural world; quantitative reasoning; ethical reasoning; and problem-solving ability.

“UW greatly values instruments that evaluate students’ critical-thinking skills and believes a variety of measures are vital for understanding learning gains from freshman to senior year,” says Mark Lyford, UW’s assessment director. “This ranking, based on CLA+, is one indication that we are on the right track.”

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