(589g) Specifications Grading: Simplify and Save Time

Pascal, J., University of Connecticut
Wagstrom, K., University of Connecticut
Arguably one of the most tedious and time consuming responsibilities of faculty members, especially in large enrollment courses, is grading. Specifications grading has been touted as an effective method to not only improve grading efficiency and timeliness of feedback, but also student motivation and ownership of learning (Nilson, 2014). This simple grading approach is based on the principle of pass/fail grades with assessments linked to learning outcomes grouped within those required to earn a certain grade. Thus, students can choose from the very beginning of a course which assessments they want to complete in order to earn a particular grade. To earn higher final grades, students must complete assessments that demonstrate higher levels of content mastery. This grading method requires instructors to provide transparent specifications up front, and students must complete work at a minimum standard of B- to earn credit for assessments. They are typically given a token that allows them the opportunity to revise an assignment or submit late work.

The specifications grading approach was implemented in two semesters of a large undergraduate research course and a co-instructed chemical engineering senior laboratory course, both had a variety of individual and group assessments. The grading scheme was explained to the students on the first day of both courses along with a due date matrix for assessments. From the instructors’ perspectives, specifications grading saved a significant amount of time compared to traditional grading approaches. The student evaluations of teaching after the first semester indicated mixed feelings regarding the grading scheme. Based on this feedback, the instructors made the motivation for using specifications grading more transparent and provided handouts with checklists to the students during the second semester offering of the course. Details of the implementation of this grading scheme in the laboratory course and in a large research group will be discussed as well as qualitative student survey responses and suggestions for future improvements.

Nilson, Linda B. Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC, 2014.