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Open Access Publications from the University of California

How State Assessments Lead to Vacuous Thinking and Writing

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Most states, in their statements about goals for education in the schools, talk about the need for students to learn to be critical thinkers. As part of their writing assessments, most states ask student writers to produce some sort of persuasive writing which the states usually see as involving critical thinking. If we believe that states truly are interested in students' thinking critically, then one would expect to find that the persuasive writing in the testing programs would reflect the concern with critical thinking. An analysis of the test formats (including prompt, test settings, and time available); the criteria for judging the results; and the benchmark papers that demonstrate what the criteria really mean indicates that states are not at all much concerned with critical thinking. Rather, most of the assessments examined appear designed to elicit and reward shoddy, vacuous thinking.

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