DIFFERENCES IN CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS AMONG STUDENTS EDUCATED IN
PUBLIC SCHOOLS, CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS, AND HOME SCHOOLS
Paulo C. M. de Oliveira, Ed.D.
Bob Jones University Press
Bob Jones University
Greenville, South Carolina 29614
Timothy G. Watson, Ph.D.
Division of Elementary Education
School of Education
Bob Jones University
Joe P. Sutton, Ph.D.
Department of Special Education
School of Education
Bob Jones University
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).
(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 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 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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