Development of critical thinking, reading, writing, and mathematics in college students

While many studies have looked at skills such as critical thinking, reading, writing, and mathematics in brief or cross-sectional studies, very few have looked at how students develop these skills over time. So-called longitudinal studies are quite rare, but vary valuable because they provide key insights into the actual development over time, instead of a 'snapshot' picture at a specific time-point.

This study examines learning gains of college students’ performance in critical thinking, reading, writing, and mathematics as assessed by the ETS Proficiency Profile (EPP). The EPP is a widely used tool to assess study learning outcomes in the US, and is administered at more than 500 institutes to 550.000 students. The EPP provides direct evidence of student learning by measuring college-level skills in reading, critical thinking, writing, and mathematics. Unlike many other tests, it focuses on general education skills rather than domains-specific skills.

In this study, students’ college learning gain was estimated by calculating the score differences between their first and last test administrations. Results revealed that

  1. after being in college for one or two years, students did not demonstrate significant learning gains
  2. after three or more years, students made small to moderate gains on the EPP total score, and reading and mathematics subscales,
  3. after four or five years, students made small to moderate learning gains on EPP total score and all four subscales, and
  4. among various demographic and college-level variables, college experience was the largest significant predictor of students’ learning gain, followed by first-year GPA.

Further implications of these results are discussed in the article.

Katrina Crotts Roohr, Huili Liu & Ou Lydia Liu (2016): Investigating student learning gains in college: a longitudinal study, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2016.1143925

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