Post from Elisabeth Gareis: Benchmark-Milestone-Capstone

The following is a post from Elisabeth Gareis, Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies at Baruch College. She can be reached at

Critical Thinking-Benchmark Level 1: “Specific position is stated, but is simplistic and obvious.”

Critical Thinking-Capstone Level 4: “Specific position is imaginative, taking into account the complexities of an issue. Limits of position are acknowledged. Others’ points of view are synthesized within position.”

These quotes are the AACU Critical Thinking VALUE Rubric, one of 15 AACU rubrics, designed to measure learning outcomes in higher education ( I recently participated in calibration scoring of three rubrics. The assignment was to score nine student essays, about three pages each. The allotted time for the nine samples was 4 hours.

The essays in the Level 3-4 range were all excellent. I have to admit that most of my students couldn’t compete. A current student, for example (let’s call him Joaquin) submitted a paper last week that was so elementary, it would have received zeros or ones on the critical-thinking as well as other rubrics (including written communication). Turns out the student arrived in the United States from Latin America at age 12 and, according to him, ³never really learned how to write.²

Scoring the rubrics reminded me of the results of a study on learning outcomes in higher education. The study ( showed that more than a third of students in the United States show no significant improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and communication skills-even after four years of college.

I know we could help students like Joaquin, but would need time. Time to diagnose, work with him on multiple drafts, and provide individualized feedback. Standardized rubrics could help students and instructors keep the eye on the prize. At 28 students per class and as many as four classes per semester, however, the 27-minute allotment of the AACU for one paper would amount to more than 50 hours of reading and scoring alone. And that’s just the first draft of the paper.

To be effective, I believe this level of diligence is required. But the current course load conditions at the College make it impossible to do justice to it all: our students, scholarship, and service. The faculty at Baruch is exceptionally devoted. With decent workloads, we could make a true difference in our students’ lives . . . and raise Baruch’s national ranking in the process.

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3 Responses to Post from Elisabeth Gareis: Benchmark-Milestone-Capstone

  1. Arthur Lewin says:

    Some students are poor writers because they have not written much. The first thing these students must do is practice their writing. For the others here is an idea.

    Have the students read a number of essays at each of the four levels along with a written critique of each essay. Then for their next writing assignment give them an essay that has been given a low grade and ask them to write a critique. Grade them on their ability to effectively critique essays. In other words instead of just writing, have the students write about writing. This might yield exponential results.

  2. Elisabeth Gareis says:

    This is an excellent idea, Arthur. Worth a try.

  3. Amy Trautwein says:

    I have been wanting to experiment with the sort of task Arther describes. This coming semester, I’d like to have students take turns posting summaries and analyses of the lecture materials and readings, and then have other students provide feedback as to the clarity, accuracy, and so on of the posts. My hope is both to have a dynamic study resource for the students and to improve their skills both by practice and by reflecting on what does and does not work in communicating with their peers.

    If anyone has run similar experiments in their own classes, or has any resources to recommend on implementing these assignments, I’d love to hear about it! I am considering the Turnitin PeerMark system.

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