Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Specs grading?

Curious to know if anyone out there has experimented with what Linda Nilson is calling "specs grading"? It seems to be a combination of mastery grading, a pass-fail only system, and grading that reflects accumulated knowledge. I'm intrigued and would be interested to hear directly about instructor experiences with this.


  1. Whatever you call it (we don't call it "specs grading" at Alverno College we've had a non-graded ability-based curriculum in which students receive narrative feedback based on course and program learning outcomes. The outcomes incorporate mastery of eight core abilities in the curriculum. We've been doing this since the early 70's. Our students are all women, forty percent minority, and 70 percent or more are the first in their families to attend college. The curriculum is organized around levels of ability development, and students self-assess their development in relation to criteria and outcomes in every course. So, yes, it is both workable and very effective.

    1. I forgot to mention that I've been teaching philosophy at Alverno for 25 years. I'd be happy to share information about how it works if anyone is interested.

  2. This sounds like the kind of grading that I have used at continuation high schools. Students are given a contract with learning objectives. The grade or amount of credits earned is based on how many of those objectives are met. This system motivates students who up to that point had failed high school for years. I introduced this grading system to a science department that had a 40% fail rate. It dropped to 16%. It is motivating extrinsically because it creates a success contract that clearly matches a grade to learning objectives. It is intrinsically motivating because the student can visually see himself obtaining skills or knowledge that he did not have.


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