Teaching, Learning & Assessment

Holistic alignment

ULO assignment guides, rubrics, and threshold concepts

Learning outcomes are only as good as the conversations they generate

Assessing learning outcomes is one of the three pillars of CSUMB's holistic alignment strategy for improving student learning. Read about CSUMB's Assessment Philosophy & Practice.

The CSUMB ULO assignment guides, rubrics, and threshold concepts were informed by the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics and were created by interdisciplinary teams of CSUMB faculty in response to institution-level assessment of student work. Faculty and other campus educators can use these tools to

  • Help students achieve activity, course, and program learning outcomes
  • Develop a shared understanding of CSUMB's ULOs
  • Help students apply and transfer learning across courses and contexts
  • Streamline assessment and grading of student achievement
  • Assess student achievement of course and program learning outcomes
  • If you have questions about any of the ULO guides and rubrics or need support, please contact TLA or the appropriate ULO Coordinator.

    ULO1: Intellectual skills

    • Critical thinking: Patrick Belanger, First Year Seminar & General Education
    • Information Literacy: Sarah Dahlen, Library
    • Quantitative reasoning: Jennifer Clickenbeard, Mathematics & Statistics
    • Written Communication: Nelson Graff, Communication Across the Disciplines
    • Oral communication: Lee Ritscher, Humanities & Communication

    ULO2: Personal, professional, and social responsibility

    • Eric Martin, Service Learning Institute

    ULO3: Integrative learning

    • Amanda Pullum, Social, Behavioral & Global Studies

    ULO4: Specialized knowledge

    College Faculty Associates for Assessment

    • Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences: Fred Vermote, Social, Behavioral, and Global Studies
    • Business: Christina Zhang, Business
    • Education: Ondine Gage, Liberal Studies
    • Health Sciences and Human Services: Eric Martin, Kinesiology
    • Science: Corin Slown, School of Natural Sciences
    • University College: Michelle Lewis, Service Learning Institute
  • Quick start

    • Assignment guides. Use the assignment guides for identifying where more specificity and guidance can be added to assignment prompts to help students understand how to demonstrate their learning and perform their best. Also use the assignment guides to help you think about your unstated expectations and how you will teach your students to meet them.
    • Rubrics. Use the rubrics for creating or improving course- or program-level rubrics to help students understand expectations and to help faculty and other campus educators evaluate student performance. Modifying the ULO rubric descriptors to fit specific course or program contexts is strongly encouraged.
    • Rubrics and grading. The rubrics are developmental in that they describe increasing proficiency over a 4-year undergraduate program. However, the rubrics can be adapted for course-level grading as describe below.
    • Rubric guides. Use the rubric guides for developing a shared understanding of key terms and the distinctions among different levels of proficiency. The guides can be used by instructors to better understand the rubrics and adapt them for their own work with students and by assessment project leaders for professional development and norming sessions.
    • Threshold concepts: Use the threshold concepts to identify where students struggle to learn and can implement approaches to engaging productively with the challenge, such as Reading Apprenticeship routines and strategies
    • Collaborate! Use these tools for peer reviewing your colleague’s assignments, rubrics, and learning activities; it’s more effective, productive, and fun than using them on your own.
    • Support. Do you have questions, want help designing and/or facilitating a workshop, need ideas for aligning program assessment requirements with what you're already doing, or would like individual support? Contact the TLA director, Dan Shapiro: dshapiro@csumb.edu

    Further details

    • The guides and rubrics are not prescriptive. Rather, they are tools educators can use to design or improve context-specific activities and assignments.
    • There is no expectation that a single assignment should explicitly address all questions posed in the assignment guides. Rather, each guide poses questions to help educators make their own decisions about what kinds of prompts to include -- or not to include -- in an assignment. For example, in upper-division courses, there may be tasks students should know to do on their own, without prompting (assuming appropriate and effective scaffolding and prerequisite courses).
    • Similarly, it is not expected that single assignments will always address all components of the rubrics. Faculty and campus educators should focus on those components most relevant to the learning they want students to demonstrate in a manner appropriate for the context of the course and program.
    • The assignment guides, rubrics, and rubric guides provide increasing levels of detail and illustration. The assignment guides are the most general, suggesting basic questions instructors can consider when writing or revising assignment guidelines. The rubrics describe the development of proficiency over a 4-year undergraduate program. The rubric guides define and illustrate key terms in the rubrics and distinguish student work that meets expectations for CSUMB graduates (rubric level 3 or 4) from student work that does not (rubric level 2 or below).
    • The rubrics can be used to assess course and program learning outcomes, although depending on the context modification may be helpful.
    • In many cases courses and programs will have additional learning outcomes and components beyond those in the ULO rubrics. Additional outcomes and components can be added to course- and program-level rubrics.
    • The rubrics can be used for course-level grading of student performance (see below).
    • The guides and rubrics can be used individually or collectively by faculty and other campus educators to create or enhance general education or discipline-specific assignments in curricular and co-curricular contexts. They can also be used for program- and institution-level assessment projects.
  • PCTC template

    The PCTC template was modified from Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) resources which were designed to "help faculty, educational developers and administrators to apply the Transparency Framework (of purpose/task/criteria) in contexts including assignments, curricula, assessment and strategic initiatives, all toward the goal of enhancing student success equitably."

    Creating engaging and transparent assignments that support student achievement of CSUMB Undergraduate Learning Outcomes (ULOs) is a central component of CSUMB's holistic alignment framework. For more information about institution-level assessment for improvement, see CSUMB Assessment Philosophy and Practice.

  • Development

    CSUMB's ULO rubrics were derived from the AAC&U VALUE Rubrics and similarly describe expectations for work produced by undergraduate students over a four-year undergraduate program.

    The assignment guides, rubrics, and rubric guides were developed by the CSUMB ULO Coordinators, Assessment Scholars, and the Director of Communication Across the Disciplines in response to institution-level assessments projects. (For a more detailed description and FAQs, see CSUMB Assessment Philosophy and Practice.)

    A significant finding of the initial assessments was that assignment prompts for the student work were not always aligned to the rubrics. Consequently, for student work that did not meet expectations, it was difficult to know whether that was because students had not yet achieved proficiency or because they were not prompted to demonstrated proficiency. This is a common finding among institutions that have engaged in this kind of assessment work, and a finding highlighted in the AAC&U report, “On Solid Ground: VALUE Report 2017.”

    Standards (ULO1 only)

    The CSUMB Assessment Committee has approved the level 3 rubric descriptors as the expectations for students graduating from CSUMB, as indicated on the Academic Affairs Website. This standard was developed and justified as follows.

    The rubrics for each of the CSUMB Intellectual Skills were derived from the corresponding AAC&U VALUE Rubric, all of which have been validated and describe the development of core competencies over a 4-year undergraduate degree program (AAC&U, 2017; Rhodes & Finley, 2013). AAC&U is explicit in that they make “no attempt to set a specific threshold or target scores for achievement at two- and four-year institutions” (AAC&U, 2017, p. 35), but they do suggest the following standard:

    scores moving from Milestone (3) to Capstone (4) are appropriate for those on the cusp of completing a baccalaureate degree. Indeed, some users have indicated that the Capstone level may be viewed as aspirational for many students, but necessary as a goal to encourage students’ and faculty’s best work.

    Further, the WSCUC 2013 Accreditation Handbook, Revised states, “Standards of performance are best set through internal discussion among faculty and other campus educators” (WSCUC, 2015, p. 31). Consequently, when collaboratively designing the rubrics the Assessment Coordinators and Assessment Scholars wrote level 3 (proficient) descriptors to match work they expected students to be able to produce at graduation, level 1 (beginning) to match work they expected students to be able to produce when they entered the university, and level 2 (developing) to match work that represents an intermediate milestone “that indicates students are moving toward more complex and sophisticated demonstrations of learning” (Rhodes & Finley, 2013 p. 6).

    Adapting the rubrics for grading

    Although rubric levels are developmental, they can be adapted for course-level grading. Adapting the rubrics for course-level grading requires instructors explicitly and clearly communicate to students how rubric scores translate to grades. For example, in a sophomore-level course, for an assignment explicitly aligned the rubric, student work that meets level 2 in all rubric categories might receive a B; student work that meets level 2 in half of the rubric categories and meets level 3 in the remaining might receive a B+; student work that meets level 3 in all rubric categories might receive an A. For a senior-level course, expectations would be higher (e.g. work that meets level 3 in all rubric categories might receive a B, as opposed to an A for a sophomore-level course). Instructors may also wish to add additional performance levels and criteria and/or modify the rubric language (including the level descriptors) for working with student and grading purposes.


    Rhodes, T.L. & FInley, A. (2013). Using the VALUE Rubrics for Improvement of Learning and Authentic Assessment. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

    AAC&U. (2017). On Solid Ground, VALUE Report 2017. Washington D.C.: Association of American Colleges & Universities. Available at https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/FINALFORPUBLICATIONRELEASEONSOLIDGROUND.pdf

    CSUMB Intellectual Skills Assignment Guides and Integrated Rubrics. Available at https://csumb.edu/tla/intellectual-skills-assignment-guides-and-integrated-rubrics

    WSCUC. (2015). Handbook of Accreditation 2013 Revised. Available at https://www.wscuc.org/content/2013-handbook-accreditation

  • Read the ULO assessment reports and suggestions for using results to better facilitate learning.

  • CSUMB's intellectual skills assignment guides, rubrics, and rubric guides; how they were developed; and the results of a faculty engagement study were shared at the Association of American Colleges & Universities 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. and at the WSCUC Academic Resources Conference 2018 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.