Grading on Spec

Regarding Amanda’s last post about specifications grading, I’ve been using variations on this method for over a decade. It’s reassuring to know that it now has a name. A few thoughts:

I find grading on spec to be the most useful for my reading responses. For these assignments, I use a simple 2 X 2 rubric.

Reading Response Rubric

Full credit on both criteria translates into “satisfactory” or “meets expectations.” I don’t waste time on potentially-biased interpretations of the quality of students’ work. For students, it should be quite clear from the assignment’s directions, exemplar, and rubric what is needed to earn full credit. If students choose not to make use of these resources, it’s not my problem.

When I first adopted this system, students could earn an “exceeds expectations” grade on the reading responses, but too many students thought their writing was exceptional when it was actually quite mediocre, so I abandoned it. The most academically-talented students seem to generate the same high-quality writing whether or not there is a third level for the assignment’s grade.

Because there is a reading response that can be submitted for nearly every class period, students have dozens of chances over the semester to learn what constitutes a satisfactory piece of writing. The high frequency also allows for redemption and flexibility — students have multiple opportunities to earn full credit and they can choose which reading responses to complete.

Bundling is in a sense obviated by computing final course grades on a 1,000 point scale. Each type of assignment is worth a particular number of points; for example, reading responses are 20 points each, five short essays are 50 points each, and so on. The total number of points that can be earned from all of the assignments actually exceeds the number of points needed to earn an A. The end result is that many students end up exerting more effort over the semester than they would with a smaller number of assessments that correspond to fixed percentages of the final grade.

2 Replies to “Grading on Spec”

  1. I set up my rubrics directly on Canvas, my university’s online LMS. Points from the rubrics are automatically tabulated and show up in the Canvas gradebook. In the past though I have created tables in Microsoft word, printed them out, checked the appropriate boxes, and that gives me the total points earned by a student for an assignment.

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