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The concept of higher order thinking skills became a major educational agenda item with the 1956 publication of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives.
The simplest thinking skills are learning facts and recall, while higher order skills include critical thinking, analysis and problem solving.
Advocates of traditional education object to elevating HOTS above direct instruction of basic skills. Many forms of education reform, such as inquiry-based science, standards-based mathematics and whole language emphasize HOTS to solve problems and learn, sometimes deliberately omitting direct instruction of traditional methods, facts or knowledge. Critics of standards based assessments which use open-response items which require higher order analysis and writing instead of multiple choice questions point out that this style of testing is even more difficult for students who are behind academically. Indeed, while minorities may lag by 10 to 25 points on standardized percentile rankings, the failure rates of minorites are two to four times the best scoring groups on tests like the WASL. It is debated whether it is correct to raise the importance of teaching process over content.