In order for America to survive in this competitive world, its educational system must teach students how to think. Unfortunately, current educational systems have guided students into acquiring information, but educators in general have not taught students how to use it in their lives. Students may read a variety of materials, but they do not develop skills to examine the principles, values and facts encountered in their readings (Grice & Jones, 1989; Newmann, 1988). With the emphasis today on academic achievement (as opposed to cognitive learning outcomes), many students complete their basic courses with only a superficial understanding of what they have learned.
As a result, our schools have produced impulsively thinking students who rely on rote memory, have inconsistent thinking patterns, and are unable to cope with the intellectual demands of today’s society (Paul, 1990). The ill effects of an educational system that does not promote the teaching of critical thinking skills goes far beyond the grade school years, however. The fragmented and impractical education that many present day students are receiving has hindered them from developing the ability to solve problems and from finding and holding good jobs. Only a small percentage of graduates who are successful in finding attractive jobs exhibit critical thinking abilities which are considered a must in today’s global economy (Marzano & Arredondo, 1986; Rankin, 1991).
According to Norris (1985), critical thinking is not an option but an educational ideal. The teaching of critical thinking will develop personal accountability in students and will enable them to establish the principles which will promote intellectual, moral, and emotional responsibility. To this end, in the challenging task of educating students, critical thinking is a crucial element which must be the goal of school administrators, teachers, students and parents (Troter, 1986). The call for the development of higher order thinking skills is urgent. Teaching and learning can improve only if critical thinking skills are improved in both teachers and students (Walsh & Paul, 1989).
The literature is replete with a number of studies that have investigated critical thinking skills of college students who have been educated in K-12 American schools over the last decade (e.g., Brabeck, 1981; Farley & Elmore, 1992; Follert & Colbert, 1983; Frost, 1989; Jones, 1988; Keeley, 1992; Keeley, Browne, & Kreutzer, 1982; Kuhara-Kojima & Hatano, 1985; MacPhail-Wilcox, Dreyden & Eason, 1990; Olsen, 1990; Outz, 1992; Pascarella, 1987; Raburn & Van-Schuyver, 1984; Spaulding & Kleiner, 1992; Steward & Al-Abdulla, 1989; Wells, 1983; Wright, 1989). But a thorough review of this research base reveals that virtually all of the samples of college students were drawn from state-supported institutions of higher learning with non-religious affiliations. We found none who had investigated critical thinking among college students enrolled in private, Christian colleges. (In contrast to a secular college, Holmes [1975] characterizes a Christian college as one which provides “an education that cultivates the creative and active integration of [Christian] faith and learning, of faith and culture” [p. 6].) In addition, researchers have focused almost entirely on students who had received their elementary and secondary education in conventional schools, not from other alternative forms of schooling such as home schools.
Finally, these studies investigated variables that had been found to influence critical thinking, including grade point average (GPA), American College Test (ACT) scores, college education, and computer programming courses, to name a few. Notably absent from these studies, though, are any investigations of the effect of educational setting (i.e., prior educational background) on students’ critical thinking skills. Yet Adler (1984) and Walsh and Paul (1989) argue that critical thinking is promoted through curriculum and its many elements such as educational philosophy, goals, objectives, lesson plans, assessment, textbooks, and so forth, all of which may vary from one type of educational setting to another. The possible effect of educational setting on critical thinking skills is a legitimate area of inquiry, for prior research has established the influence of educational setting on other instructional variables. For example, we know that educational setting may affect teaching behaviors and outcomes (Brookhart & Loadman, 1989; Smith & Cranton, 1992; Sutton, McKinney & Hallahan, 1992; ), student learning outcomes (Howe & Disinger, 1988), and test scores (Kleinfield, 1991).
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine the differences in selected critical thinking skills among freshman Christian college students who graduated from various educational settings (i.e., Christian schools, public schools, Accelerated Christian Education [ACE] schools, and home schools). Such an investigation would not only fill a void in the present research base, but it would point out specific critical skill strengths and weaknesses among these various groups. The results of this study should benefit both Christian educators and home educators, in particular, as they continue to develop and refine their educational programs and curricula.


The original sample for this study included 864 first-time freshman students who were enrolled in a large liberal arts, Christian university in the Southeast during the fall semester of the 1993-94 school year. We eliminated 75 students from the outset of the investigation since we could not ascertain the primary type of educational setting from which these students received their high school instruction. Therefore, our final sample consisted of 789 freshman students. Their predominate high school educational setting (either public school, conventional Christian school, Accelerated Christian Education [ACE] school, or home school) was determined as follows: (a) all four years of high school instruction were conducted in one educational setting (N=695); (b) three of the four years of high school instruction were conducted in one educational setting (N=91); or (c) two-thirds of the total high school credits were earned in one educational setting (N=3).
The four groups of students formed according to high school educational setting included 486 students from conventional Christian schools, 195 students from public schools, 50 students from ACE schools, and 58 students from home schools, for a total of 789 students. The groups and their basic demographic characteristics are provided in Table 1. Based on findings from analysis of variance (F=1.83, df=3,785, p=.142), the groups did not differ significantly on mean ACT (ACT, 1992) composite scores.
The California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST, Facione, 1992), a 45-minute, 34-item (multiple choice) standardized instrument was administered to all subjects in the sample to assess their core critical thinking skills. The test produced scores in the following critical thinking skill domains: (a) overall critical thinking cognitive score, (b) analysis, (c) evaluation, (d) inference, (e) deductive


Christian           Public               ACE                Home
School            School              School              School
Characteristic                  Sample           Sample             Sample             Sample
     Variable                   (N=486)            (N=195) (N=50)  (N=58)
Age (years)                   18.06                18.73                18.06                18.00

Male                   229                     87                     23                    32
Female               257                   108                     27                     26

Caucasian           470                   179                     46                     53
Black                    3                      3                       0                      0
Asian                    3                      4                       0                      0
Other                    7                      6                       3                      3

Northcentral         149                     58                     13                      14
Northeast            111                     49                     16                       5
South                  183                     56                     14                      21
West                   31                      22                      4                       7

U.S. Territories                  4                       1                      0                       0

Foreign Countries               4                       9                      3                      10

ACT *                               21.54     21.00                20.70                 22.17

Table 1. Sample characteristics by groups of freshmen.

* Group means for American College Testing composite scores.
NOTE. Two students did not specify age, nine students did not specify race, and five students did not specify home state (hence, region could not be determined).


reasoning, and (f) inductive reasoning. Facione (1990b) reports an internal consistency reliability figure of .71 (KR-20 Alpha) on Form B (which is the form that was adopted for use in the present study) of the CCTST. Pretest and posttest experiments using the CCTST on students enrolled at California State University at Fullerton during the 1989-90 school year along with a Delphi report on critical thinking that included participation by 46 leading theorists provides evidence that the instrument possesses sufficient content, construct, and concurrent validity

(Facione, 1990a, 1990b). According to Carter-Wells (1992), the CCTST has been characterized as the best commercially-produced critical thinking skills assessment instrument available.

The independent variable for this study was the educational setting. The dependent variables were the resulting six mean CCTST domain scores for each of the four groups. Three hypotheses were formed, and three statistical tests were conducted to test for group differences on mean critical thinking skill scores. We tested the first hypothesis (i.e., there were no statistically significant differences among the four groups of freshmen from various educational settings on their mean overall CCTST critical thinking score) by conducting an analysis of variance (ANOVA). We tested the second hypothesis (i.e., there were no statistically significant differences among the groups of freshmen on their CCTST analysis, evaluation and inference subscale mean scores) by conducting a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA). We tested the third hypothesis (i.e., there were no statistically significant differences among the groups of freshmen on their CCTST deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning subscale mean scores) by conducting a second and final MANOVA. The alpha level for the F-ratio in the ANOVA test and for the Wilks’ Lambdas in each of the MANOVA tests was set at .05.
 The statistical program SYSTAT (Wilkinson, 1987) was used for computation and analysis of data. The CCTST test responses for each of the students in the sample were gathered through the use of answer sheets and scored with a Scantron machine. The primary investigator entered these data in the computer for analysis. Interrater reliability was established by having three graduate students not connected with the study to check every 9th test protocol to determine the consistency with which the scores had been entered into the data base by the investigator. The resulting interrater reliability figure (calculated by dividing the number of agreements by the number of agreements plus disagreements) for each of the six critical thinking scores ranged from .98 to 1.00.


The means and standard deviations for each of the four student groups across the six critical thinking scores from the CCTST are provided in Table 2.

The results of the ANOVA are given in Table 3. Although the students who were educated in home schools had a slightly higher overall mean critical thinking score (Xsample=14.48) than that of students who were from public schools, Christian schools, and ACE schools, the results of the ANOVA test revealed that there were no significant differences among the groups on this critical thinking score (F=1.56, df=3,785, p=0.19).
The results of the two MANOVA tests (see Table 4) that compared the groups across the three critical thinking scores of analysis, evaluation, and inference produced no significant differences (Wilks’ Lambda=0.988, F=1.026, df=9,1905, p=0.41). Similarly, there were no significant differences among the groups across the deductive reasoning and inductive reasoning mean scores (Wilks’ Lambda =0.989, F=1.428, df=6,1568, p=0.20) in the second MANOVA. Based on these findings, all three null hypotheses formulated for this investigation were retained.


This study sought to fill a void in the current critical thinking research base by investigating college students enrolled in a large, private, Christian university and how their critical thinking skills varied based on prior high school  educational setting. Our twofold goal in this study was to determine (a) the extent of critical thinking skills among post-secondary students educated in different educational settings and (b) if there were significant differences among the different groups on various critical thinking variables.           With regard to our first goal, Facione (1992) advises that in order to determine whether the derived critical thinking scores from the CCTST are at an acceptable level, local norms should be developed in the context of the particular curricula adopted by the individual school system. Nonetheless, he provides suggested corresponding percentile rankings for the overall CCTST score. When applied to the mean overall critical thinking raw scores gathered from the four groups in our study, the respective percentiles are as follows: Home school group (40th percentile), Christian school group (40th percentile), ACE school group (31st percentile), and public school group (31st percentile). It was somewhat disheartening to us that none of the percentiles for any of the four groups were at or above the 50th percentile. One might have expected that the percentiles would have been higher, especially given the academically rigorous reputation of the institution that participated in this study and since the sample of students was both nationally and regionally representative (see Table 1).


Christian           Public               ACE                 Home
Critical Thinking School              School              School              School
  Subscale                     Freshmen          Freshmen          Freshmen          Freshmen
Analysis                             4.46     4.20                  4.18                  4.51
(1.77)    (1.68)    (1.88)   (1.67)

Evaluation                          5.44      5.01     5.46                  5.43
(2.27)    (2.27)    (2.10)   (2.40)

Inference                            4.52     4.39                  4.22                  4.53
(2.06)    (2.08)    (2.22)   (2.29)

Deductive                           6.91     6.44                   6.24     6.82
Reasoning                     (2.74)    (2.76)    (2.93)   (2.61)

Inductive                             5.61    5.44                    5.86    5.75
Reasoning                     (2.38)    (2.20)    (2.33)   (2.53)

Overall                 14.43   13.61                 13.86 14.48
(4.69)    (4.70)    (4.81) (4.79)

Table 2. Means and standard deviations of college freshmen scores on CCTST subscales grouped according to prior high school educational setting.

Note: Numbers in parentheses represent standard deviations.



Table 3. Analysis of variance for CCTST overall score.

We found no significant differences among our groups on the different critical thinking skills, including deductive and inductive reasoning skills. This finding may be explained in part by Olsen’s (1990) and Kuhara-Kojima and Hatano’s (1985) studies which concluded that general knowledge is ineffective as opposed to domain-specific knowledge

in the development of thinking skills. It may well be that measuring coverage of material proposed by a curriculum in a general fashion (for which our variable of educational setting served as a proxy measure) without giving proper attention to measuring the mastery of specific subject matter may be why we found no differences. The development of deductive and inductive reasoning may require more than the simple exposure to general knowledge.
Based on the results of our analyses, one may conclude that educational setting as a whole does not account for differences in critical thinking skills of college students. On the acceptance of this finding, however, one also has to consider the limitations of this study. First, the results of the CCTST test administered in this study are limited to the students’ willingness and ability to respond. We assumed that the students in our sample answered the questions on the CCTST truthfully, providing an accurate reflection

Table 4. Multivariate analysis of variance for analysis, evaluation, inference, deductive reasoning, and inductive reasoning CCTST subscales.

of their critical thinking abilities. Second, the focus of this study was on determining differences in selected critical thinking skills among Christian college students who had graduated from one of four types of high school settings. Although it is through the various elements of curriculum that critical thinking skills can be developed (Walsh & Paul, 1989), no attempt was made to control the many variables present in each of these educational settings. Upon the results of this study, future investigators may choose to concentrate on specific instructional elements subsumed within an educational setting such as curricula, textbooks, teacher experience, methodology, and so forth.
That there were no significant differences among the student groups across the various critical thinking skill scores might be troublesome to certain individuals and/or groups of educators. For example, Christian school proponents may be somewhat disappointed, given the claim that they have students who have achieved academically at a level “‘two to four years’ ahead of the public school students” (Stoker & Splawn, 1980, p. 22). But for home educators who “are routinely harassed by their local school district or law enforcement officials” (Klicka, 1993, p. 230) and who continue to be criticized and harangued for their nonconventional approach to education, it is a most encouraging finding. Combined with research that substantiates their above average achievement on standardized tests (Ray, 1993), our finding that home educated students do not differ significantly on critical thinking skills from their conventionally educated counterparts surely offers increasingly strong validation that home education is a viable and effective educational alternative.


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