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Using Intellectual Standards to Assess Student Reasoning


To assess student reasoning requires that we focus our attention as teachers on two inter-related dimensions of reasoning. The first dimension consists of the elements of reasoning; the second dimension consists of the universal intellectual standards by which we measure student ability to use, in a skillful way, each of those elements of reasoning.

Elements of Reasoning

Once we progress from thought which is purely associational and undisciplined, to thinking which is conceptual and inferential, thinking which attempts in some intelligible way to figure something out — in short, to reasoning — then it is helpful to concentrate on what can be called "the elements of reasoning." The elements of reasoning are those essential dimensions of reasoning whenever and wherever it occurs. Working together, they shape reasoning and provide a general logic to the use of reason.

We can articulate these elements by paying close attention to what is implicit in the act of figuring anything out by the use of reason. These elements, then — purpose, question at issue, assumptions, inferences, implications, point of view, concepts and evidence — constitute a central focus in the assessment of student thinking.

Standards of Reasoning

When we assess student reasoning, we want to evaluate, in a reasonable, defensible, objective way, not just that students are reasoning, but how well they are reasoning. We will be assessing not just that they are using the elements of reasoning, but the degree to which they are using them well, critically, in accord with appropriate intellectual standards.

To assess a student's response — whether written or oral, in structured discussion of content or in critical response to reading assignments, by how clearly or completely it states a position — is to assess it on the basis of a standard of reasoning. Similarly, assessing student work by how.....

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