campus partner(s)

Northwestern University






Outcomes and Assessment

award date


project director

Rachelle L. Brooks

Northwestern University

Grant Summary

$215,899 over 41 months. Under the auspices of a 2005 Teagle grant, Rachelle Brooks of Northwestern and an advisory board of five faculty in classics developed and pilot-tested a discipline-specific assessment instrument that evaluated the critical thinking abilities—rather than the content-based, discipline-specific knowledge—in classics majors. That pilot study demonstrated the feasibility of measuring cognitive outcomes from a disciplinary perspective, and laid the groundwork for this larger-scale study. Using a three-year longitudinal research design, this study will examine the development of two undergraduate student outcomes—critical thinking (using information to find solutions to puzzles or problems with verifiable correct answers) and postformal reasoning (making judgments about ill-structured problems that have no right or wrong answers)—within the disciplinary frameworks of classics and political science. More specific aims of the study include:

  • Identifying the extent to which critical thinking is better demonstrated and measured with instruments that attend to disciplinary content than with those that are "interdisciplinary" and designed to be administered to all undergraduates, irrespective of their major field of study.
  • Examining the extent to which knowledge and skills developed within the major can be "transferred" to other contexts.
  • Investigating the relationship between the development of critical thinking and postformal reasoning during the college years.

The principal investigator will work with two faculty advisory boards—one for classics and the other for political science—to:

  • Develop an assessment instrument consisting of two essay questions formulated by the classics and political science faculty advisory boards to evaluate critical thinking, and the Reasoning with Current Issues tool to assess postformal reasoning. The assessment instrument will also gather data on student demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity) and academic performance (e.g. high school GPA, college GPA, SAT/ACT scores), as well as information on student opinion on campus activities and student views on college experiences.
  • Administer the instrument to 1,500 students in either an introductory classics or general humanities course, and in an introductory political science course in fall 2008. Those students will be sought out for re-testing in fall 2010, with the goal being to identify at least 100 classics majors and 100 political science majors among them.
  • Three liberal arts colleges (Hamilton, Rhodes, and Skidmore Colleges) and one research university (University of Pennsylvania) have agreed to serve as administration sites for the study.