Critical Thinking and Assessment

As faculty seek to make CTS the gold standard and the aim of dental education, it is important to consider how much time and effort they will invest. It is also important to consider the purpose of formal assessment.

The purposes of assessment can range from diagnosis to research and accountability. For example, asking students to take critical thinking skills test inventories allows researchers to diagnose students' critical thinking skills. This information could be used to make decisions about where to focus instruction. Also, test scores could be shared with students so that they become aware of their CT strengths and weaknesses. The scores resulting from administration of a critical thinking skills inventory midway through students' program, or at the end, can inform teachers about the effectiveness of their efforts to teach students CTS. When critical thinking scores become available, researchers can explore how instructional practices or the design of the curriculum influenced outcomes. For example, qualitative inquiry could be used to examine the amount of time used (e.g., by documenting the frequency of critical thinking strategies) to develop students' CTS in didactic or clinical learning environments and compared to empirical changes in students' CTS. Qualitative inquiry could also be used to interview faculty and students about the quantity or quality of instruction aimed at developing students' CTS. Providing information about students' CTS might also result in holding dental schools accountable for the students' critical thinking skills prowess.83

Currently some dental schools are participating in a study that will correlate third and fourth year dental students' critical thinking skills as measured by the CCTST with their GPAs and National Board scores for Part I and Part II. As more dental schools participate in studies like this one, information about the usefulness of the CCTST measure may become better known. However, because data have not yet been collected, publications may not be available until 2012.

In a study about the predictive validity of the CCDTI and CCTST on dental hygiene students' performance on the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam (NBDHE), William et al. reported that CCTST explained a statistically significant (p < .05) amount of the variance (exceeding GPA, number of college hours, and student's age) in students' (n = 76) multiple-choice and case-based NBDHE scores 84. The CCDTI scores were not a significant predictor of either outcome.

The CCTST and HRST are measures of general CTS not specific to dental skills. Other researchers may develop a measure of critical thinking that specifically measures dental skills. Such an endeavor is likely to take several years.

More studies in dental schools are needed to explore how instruction leads to changes in students' dental critical thinking and whether variables like GPA, demographics, or board scores predict pre-test to post-test changes in mean scores.

Dental schools might also consider qualitative studies of instruction in conjunction with using the CCTDI and CCTST; the HRST, the CCTDI, and CCTST; and the PJRF or the HRST and CCTST. It is important to point out that the use of pre-test and post-test comparisons are also fraught with problems. For example, if a control group is not used, then the findings are dubious. Also, as Ennis points out, "The use of the same test for pretest and posttest may alert students to the test questions."85