Intellectual skills guides and rubrics

CSUMB's intellectual skills assignment guides, rubrics, and rubric guides were created to help students develop, apply, transfer, and demonstrate critical thinking, information literacy, quantitative reasoning, written communication, and oral communication skills across curricular and co-curricular contexts. These developmental 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, with level 3 of the rubric describing expectations for a CSUMB graduate.

Each set of guides and rubrics were designed for one of three assignment types: quantitative reasoning, written communication, or oral communication. Critical thinking and information literacy questions and criteria are integrated into each. The trio of documents for each assignment type provides 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 integrated rubrics describe what student work looks like at increasing levels of student competency. The rubric guides define and illustrate key terms in the rubrics and distinguish student work that does and does not meet degree-level proficiency.

To help students develop, apply, transfer, and demonstrate the intellectual skills, CSUMB is also developing a pedagogy grounded in threshold concepts, Reading Apprenticeship, and teaching for transfer.

Intellectual skills assignment guides, rubrics, and rubric guides

Links go to Google Docs that can be downloaded in multiple formats (updated Jan. 2018).

Using the guides and rubrics

The guides and rubrics can be used individually or collectively by 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.

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).

The rubrics are intended to provide language instructors can selectively choose and adapt for their own assignments and rubrics. Like the guides, there is no expectation that an assignment should be aligned to a rubric in its entirety or word-for-word. Modifying rubric category labels and descriptors to fit particular course and program contexts is encouraged.

The rubric levels are developmental, but can be adapted for course-level grading. The rubrics define expectations for student development over a four-year undergraduate program. 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). 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.

The rubric guides define key terms and illustrate distinctions among the different rubric levels. The guides can be used by instructors to better understand the rubrics and adapt them for their own work with students. They can also be used by assessment project leaders for training and norming sessions.


The assignment guides, rubrics, and rubric guides were developed by the CSUMB Intellectual Skills Coordinators, Assessment Scholars, and the Director of Communication Across the Disciplines in response to CSUMB's institution-level assessments of the intellectual skills. (For a comprehensive description of the development of these guides and rubrics and FAQs, see Supporting Student Achievement of the Intellectual Skills at CSUMB.)

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 not always clear 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 campuses that have engaged in this kind of assessment work, and a finding highlighted in the AAC&U report, “On Solid Ground: VALUE Report 2017.”

In response to this and other insights about the connections among the different intellectual skills, critical thinking and information literacy criteria were integrated with quantitative reasoning, written communication, and oral communication criteria. The new "integrated" rubrics were then used in summer 2017 to assess all of the intellectual skills and then the rubrics were revised again. At the same time, the rubric guides were developed to foster shared understanding of the intellectual skills, their expected development in undergraduate students, and expectations for CSUMB graduates.


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). The CSUMB Assessment Committee has approved the level 3 descriptors as the expectations for students graduating from CSUMB, as indicated on the Academic Affairs Website.


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

CSUMB Intellectual Skills Assignment Guides and Integrated Rubrics. Available at

WSCUC. (2015). Handbook of Accreditation 2013 Revised. Available at

2018 AAC&U presentation

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. For more information, see the presentation abstract and handout.

Comments, questions, feedback?

We would appreciate hearing from you! Please send any comments, questions, or feedback to or the TLA Director, Dan Shapiro, at

TLA Assessment Support Homepage