Specifications Grading

At the BCCE there will be two sessions for the Using Specifications Grading to Assess Learning Outcomes in Chemistry symposium.  Joshua Ring (Lenoir-Rhyne University, 2013 cCWCS ALOC Workshop in Charlotte) has implemented it in his organic chemistry. (C&EN News (October 24, 2016 - Vol. 94 Issue 42; http://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i42/CEN-talks-Joshua-Ring-organic.html), ConfChem 2016 (http://confchem.ccce.divched.org) and J. Chem. Educ. 2017, 94, 2005−2006). He described how he applied specifications grading to a 1st semester organic chemistry course.  The choice to use an alternative grading method arose from the concern that giving partial credit in grading lead to partial understanding of topics that left students unprepared for the second semester. 

In specifications grading, specific assessable concepts and skills are chosen as required objectives for the course.  The course is then structured around these objectives.  The students are given benchmarks to achieve.  After presentation and practice of the material, they are assessed on these learning outcomes.  Course grades are then based on how many of these outcomes are passed. Passing of an outcome depends on mastery of the concept or skill.  Specifications grading was originally developed by Linda Nilson at Clemson.

The method was implemented by dividing the material into essential and general learning outcomes.  See Tables 1 and 2 for the outcomes chosen.  After a topic had

Table 1. Essential Learning Outcomes

1. Drawing Lewis Dot Structures

2. Interconverting Lewis Dot Structures, condensed formulas, and line-angle structures

3. Using basic nomenclature

4. Identifying and explaining charge stability

5. Drawing Reaction Mechanisms (Acid-Base, Substitution, Addition, Elimination)

6. Predicting reactive sites (Nucleophiles, Electrophiles, Acids, and Bases)

  Table 2. Categories of General Learning Outcomes

1-5 Involve Conformations, Chirality, Relationships, and Advanced Nomenclature I

6-10 Involve Drawing Mechanisms, Predicting Products, and Identifying Reagents for Acid-Base, Substitution, and Elimination Reactions

11-13 Involve Drawing Mechanisms, Predicting Products, and Identifying Reagents for Addition Reactions

14-15 Involve Biochemical Application and Introductory Multistep Retrosynthesis*

 *(The last two General Outcomes were given as small-group take-home evaluations)

been covered over two to three class periods, students were given a five question test taking 10 – 12 minutes.  No partial credit was given.  Answers were either completely correct or incorrect.  To pass an outcome, a score of 4 out of 5 was required.  Students could retake up to six tests during each of three retake periods over the course of the semester. For the final exam, one hour was a cumulative test while for the second hour, students were able to retake unpassed tests.

No student could pass the course without passing all six essential outcomes and at least four general outcomes. Passing those outcomes earned a D-. With each subsequent passed outcome, the grade improved by about 1/3 of a letter grade. There were fifteen total general outcomes.

The scores on test questions between the class assessed by specifications grading and previous classes were compared.  After regrading test questions from earlier classes for pass/fail with no partial credit, the specifications grading group had performed better.  Using specifications grading, it appeared that students would be better prepared for the 2nd semester.



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