Specifications Grading
Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time

Foreword by Claudia J. Stanny
Paper: 978 1 62036 242 6 / $29.95
 
Published: October 2014  

Cloth: 978 1 62036 241 9 / $95.00
 
Published: October 2014  

Lib E-Book: 978 1 62036 243 3 / $95.00  
About Library E-Book

Published: March 2015  

E-Book: 978 1 62036 244 0 / $23.99
 
Published: March 2015  

Publisher: Stylus Publishing
184 pp., 6" x 9"
figures & tables
In her latest book Linda Nilson puts forward an innovative but practical and tested approach to grading that can demonstrably raise academic standards, motivate students, tie their achievement of learning outcomes to their course grades, save faculty time and stress, and provide the reliable gauge of student learning that the public and employers are looking for.

She argues that the grading system most commonly in use now is unwieldy, imprecise and unnecessarily complex, involving too many rating levels for too many individual assignments and tests, and based on a hairsplitting point structure that obscures the underlying criteria and encourages students to challenge their grades.

This new specifications grading paradigm restructures assessments to streamline the grading process and greatly reduce grading time, empower students to choose the level of attainment they want to achieve, reduce antagonism between the evaluator and the evaluated, and increase student receptivity to meaningful feedback, thus facilitating the learning process – all while upholding rigor. In addition, specs grading increases students’ motivation to do well by making expectations clear, lowering their stress and giving them agency in determining their course goals.

Among the unique characteristics of the schema, all of which simplify faculty decision making, are the elimination of partial credit, the reliance on a one-level grading rubric and the “bundling” of assignments and tests around learning outcomes. Successfully completing more challenging bundles (or modules) earns a student a higher course grade. Specs grading works equally well in small and large class settings and encourages “authentic assessment.” Used consistently over time, it can restore credibility to grades by demonstrating and making transparent to all stakeholders the learning outcomes that students achieve.

This book features many examples of courses that faculty have adapted to spec grading and lays out the surprisingly simple transition process. It is intended for all members of higher education who teach, whatever the discipline and regardless of rank, as well as those who oversee, train, and advise those who teach.

Specification grading promotes the following values and outcomes. It:

1. Upholds High Academic Standards
2. Reflects Student Attainment of Skills and Knowledge
3. Motivates Students to Learn and to Excel
4. Fosters Higher-Order Cognitive Development and Creativity
5. Discourages Cheating
6. Reduces Student Stress
7. Makes Students Feel Responsible for Their Grades
8. Minimizes Conflict Between Faculty and Students
9. Saves Faculty Time and Is Simple to Administer
10. Makes Expectations Clear and Simplifies Feedback for Improvement
11. Assesses Authentically
12. Achieves High Inter-Rater Agreement

Table of Contents:
FOREWORD
Claudia J. Stanny

PREFACE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

1. THE NEED FOR A NEW GRADING SYSTEM

2. LEARNING OUTCOMES AND COURSE DESIGN

3. LINKING GRADES TO OUTCOMES

4. PASS/FAIL GRADING FOR RIGOR, MOTIVATION, AND
FACULTY PEACE OF MIND

5. ESSENTIALS OF SPECIFICATIONS GRADING

6. CONVERTING SPECS-GRADED STUDENT WORK INTO
FINAL LETTER GRADES

7. EXAMPLES OF SPECS-GRADED COURSE DESIGNS

8. THE MOTIVATIONAL POWER OF SPECS GRADING

9. DEVELOPING A COURSE WITH SPECS GRADING

10. AN EVALUATION OF SPECS GRADING

REFERENCES

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

INDEX


Sample: Preface
Gauging Grades: 15 Minutes with Catherine Ross

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Reviews & Endorsements:
“As an undergraduate, I often thought, ‘After this course is over, I will learn the material,’ feeling that traditional grading got in the way of my learning. Specifications Grading offers a practical alternative that increases student motivation to learn, self-direction, and mastery, while reducing grading time, grade grubbing, and student anger at constructive criticism. With myriad examples throughout, Specs Grading demonstrates how to make grading learning-centered, aligned with student-achieved learning outcomes, and civil.”
- Cynthia G. Desrochers , Professor of Education, Founding Director, Faculty Development Center, California State University, Northridge
“Linda Nilson has created a compelling and inclusive justification for how we got to where we are and what does not work with our current approach to grading. She paints a promising vision for our pathways into a future in which learning can become the real measure of academic currency.”
- Sally M. Johnstone, Vice President for Academic Advancement , Western Governors University
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