What We are Learning about K-12 Students’ Critical Thinking Mindset

Enthusiastic students running down school hallway

The Importance of having a critical thinking mindset

More than training skills only, education for critical thinking demands nurturing a critical thinking mindset in children of all ages. The mindset portion of the EDUCATE INSIGHT assessments addresses this vital dimension–a person’s consistent internal motivation to think critically when faced with problems to solve, ideas to evaluate, or decisions to make. 1

These attitudes, inclinations, or habits of mind are dimensions of one’s personality and motivational style, which relate to how likely a person is to approach decision-making contexts or problem-solving situations by engaging their reasoning skills.

Comparison of EDUCATE INSIGHT thinking mindset metrics by grade level

Table comparing K-2, 3-5,6-8,9-12 grde students scores on thinking mindset metrics

The EDUCATE INSIGHT Mindset instruments include assessments for kindergarten through 2nd (primary), grades 3-5 (upper elementary), and grades 6-12 for middle school and secondary students.2 At the K-2 level the instrument is a 25-item survey that employs a dichotomous response format, agree or disagree. The instruments for grades 3-5 and grades 6-12 employ a four-point Likert type scale ranging through agree strongly, agree, disagree or disagree strongly. 

The K-2 instrument reports scores on four dispositional dimensions: Learning Orientation, Creative Problem Solving, Mental Focus, and Cognitive Integrity. Scholarly Rigor is added as a fifth metric on the 3-5 and 6-12 grade instruments.3

EDUCATE INSIGHT Mindset Metrics Grades 3 to 5

Scores in the upper half of the range (above 30) indicate evidence for the disposition being present and are desired. For example, Figure 4 shows the distribution of scores for a group of 168 children in the 4th grade.

Most children in this sample had a positive Learning Orientation and demonstrated Cognitive Integrity.  Creative Problem Solving and Mental Focus scores ranged across a broader continuum.

Creative Problem Solving, as measured here, is the habit or tendency of approaching problem solving with innovative or original ideas and solutions; toward feeling imaginative, ingenious, original and able to solve difficult problems; toward engaging in activities such as puzzles, games of strategy; and toward striving to understand the underlying function of objects. Creative problem solving is highly desirable in today’s workforce. Many children in this very young group demonstrate this mindset attribute. If it diminishes over the course of their education, one will naturally wish to investigate why.

Going forward

Now that the assessment instruments are available for the entire K-12 educational spectrum, research on the development of critical thinking and numeracy skills and mindset attributes can be studied in greater detail. We anticipate that, as happened at the college and graduate professional school levels, equipped with these assessments, educators will significantly advance our understandings of effective pedagogies and the interrelationships in children of thinking skills, mindset attributes, and educational achievement. 

What the critical thinking data tell us


This post was excerpted and edited from the 2020 white paper by Peter A. Facione, Ph.D., Noreen C. Facione Ph.D., and Carol Ann Gittens, Ph.D., “What Critical Thinking Data Tells Us,” Click on the title to download the full PDF.  



1 Facione, P., Facione, N., & Giancarlo (Gittens), C. (2000). The disposition toward critical thinking: Its character, measurement and relationship to critical thinking skill. Informal Logic, 20, 61–84. Giancarlo (Gittens), C. A., Blohm, S. W., & Urdan, T. (2004). Assessing secondary students’ disposition toward critical thinking: Development of the California Measure of Mental Motivation. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 64, 347–364. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0013164403258464.

2 K-12 EDUCATE INSIGHT Thinking Mindset and Reasoning Skills Assessments, Gittens and Facione, published by Insight Assessment. 2018, 2015, 2010, 2005.

3 Giancarlo-Gittens, C. A. (2010). Assessing critical thinking dispositions in an era of high stakes standardized testing. In J. Sobocan & L. Groarke (Eds.), Critical thinking, education and assessment (pp. 17–34). London, Ontario: The University of Western Ontario-Althouse Press. Giancarlo (Gittens), et al., 2004 op cit.

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