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Measuring critical-thinking skills of postsecondary students

The skills — or competencies — that individuals develop play a fundamental role in determining their labour market opportunities and more generally their life chances. At a broader level, the development of skills is critical to economic prosperity, social progress and overall quality of life in Canada. While skills can be developed throughout an individual’s life, the role of postsecondary education (PSE) in the development of these skills is of significant interest to skills stakeholders such as government agencies, corporations and PSE institutions. The relevant questions are: Which skills are of value in the labour market and to other life outcomes? Which of these skills can be developed or improved in PSE and how? In this context, the Postsecondary and Workplace Skills (PAWS) project was created as a collaborative partnership involving a large Ontario college, a large Ontario university, the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI) and the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), with additional funding and support from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). PAWS focuses on one particular set of skills, namely those related to critical thinking. The goals of the project are to: 1. Measure and compare entering and graduating students’ critical-thinking levels. 2. Identify the relationships between critical-thinking scores and a range of student and program characteristics. 3. Identify the value of critical-thinking skills in the labour market. This report addresses the first two questions. The second phase of the project will involve relating criticalthinking skill levels to labour market outcomes by linking the data gathered for the project to tax data held by Statistics Canada. The results of the second analysis will be presented in a subsequent report. To measure critical thinking, PAWS uses the HEIghten Critical Thinking assessment — a 45-minute online test developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to measure the analytic and synthetic skills of college and university students. During the 2016-2017 academic year, the HEIghten assessment was administered to a selection of students in the entering and graduating classes at each institution.