Date of Award

Fall 5-1-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

EdD Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Thomas Shea, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Albert Galloway, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Betsy Golden, Ph.D.


critical thinking, 21st century skills, higher order thinking, educational technology, cognitive complexity


The New Jersey Student Learning Standards require higher order thinking skills for 21st Century opportunities in this global workplace. These Life and Career 21st Century standards foster logical reasoning, innovation, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking to effectively position learners for any future employment opportunity that needs to be embedded with fidelity in teacher practice. Global competition, a pandemic, and demand for technological solutions have driven companies to provide content specific platforms to match the request for higher order thinking skills online programs.

Despite the increased fame by private companies, much is left in question to the effectiveness and positive impact to promote higher ordering thinking skill set development. The purpose of this qualitative content analysis study was to describe the level and distribution of cognitive complexity within an online-based program that markets itself as increasing higher order thinking skills among students in Grades K–5. Given the pseudonym of CATSS, the program claims to help students be lifelong learners and critical thinkers. Two coders utilized Hess' Cognitive Rigor Matrix to examine 251 questions from the program following the double-rater read-behind consensus model. These questions aligned with NJSLS for third and fourth English language arts. This study's findings showed that most questions did not place into higher-order thinking cells within Hess' Cognitive Rigor Matrix. Educational stakeholders, including politicians, superintendents, board of education members, principals, district leaders, teachers, and parents, must scrutinize claims and understand if programs can help students become critical thinkers. It is recommended that job-embedded professional development and intentional follow-up be implemented in order to enable teachers to incorporate these practices into their daily lessons. Furthermore, there is a duty by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) to support school districts by partnering to ensure these programs are being used effectively.

Available for download on Saturday, January 31, 2026