How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom

How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom

How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom

How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom


Educators know it's important to get students to engage in "higher-order thinking." But what does higher-order thinking actually look like? And how can K-12 classroom teachers assess it across the disciplines? Author, consultant, and former classroom teacher Susan M. Brookhart answers these questions and more in this straightforward, practical guide to assessment that can help teachers determine if students are actually displaying the kind of complex thinking that current content standards emphasize.

Brookhart begins by laying out principles for assessment in general and for assessment of higher-order thinking in particular. She then defines and describes aspects of higher-order thinking according to the categories established in leading taxonomies, giving specific guidance on how to assess students in the following areas:

• Analysis, evaluation, and creation

• Logic and reasoning

• Judgment

• Problem solving

• Creativity and creative thinking

Examples drawn from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and from actual classroom teachers include multiple-choice items, constructed-response (essay) items, and performance assessment tasks. Readers will learn how to use formative assessment to improve student work and then use summative assessment for grading or scoring.

Aimed at elementary, middle, and high school teachers in all subject areas, How to Assess Higher-Order Thinking Skills in Your Classroom provides essential background, sound advice, and thoughtful insight into an area of increasing importance for the success of students in the classroom--and in life.


How many times in your adult life have you needed to recall a fact immediately? Sometimes it’s handy to have facts at your fingertips. When I cook I often use the fact that three teaspoons equal one tablespoon. To understand the TV news, it is helpful to know some geographical facts, like the names and locations of various countries.

But think about it. You almost never need to know these facts for their own sake. My goal in cooking is having the dish I’m preparing turn out to be tasty. Math facts are useful when I’m working on my checkbook, a plan or budget, or a school report. Spelling facts are handy when I’m writing something. In life, almost everything we do requires using knowledge in some way, not just knowing it.

I believe that most teachers, in fact, do understand this reality. But we often don’t carry it through into our assessment practices. Studies analyzing classroom tests, over many decades, have found that most teacher-made tests require only recall of information (Marso & Pigge, 1993). However, when teachers are surveyed about how often they think they assess application, reasoning, and higher-order thinking, both elementary (McMillan, Myron, & Workman, 2002) and secondary (McMillan, 2001) teachers claim they assess these cognitive levels quite a bit. Although some of this discrepancy may come from recent . . .

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