Assessment of Specifications Grading in an Undergraduate Dietetics Course

Published:August 30, 2019DOI:


      Assessing student learning is an integral component of teaching undergraduate dietetics students. Traditional grading can be cumbersome for instructors, encouraging extrinsic motivation for students and hindering clear understanding of whether students have met course learning outcomes. Specifications grading is a reimagined assessment paradigm that empowers both students and instructors to focus on achievement of learning objectives. This report examines the deployment of specifications grading in an undergraduate dietetics course, using qualitative methods to determine the impact on students’ learning and experiences. Employing specifications grading may help dietetics educators foster self-regulation and mastery learning for students, as well as increase grading transparency.

      Key Words

      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access

      SNEB Member Login

      SNEB Members, full access to the journal is a member benefit. Login via the SNEB Website to access all journal content and features.


      Subscribe to Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Hutchings P
        • Huber MT
        • Ciccone A
        Institutional Integration and Impact.
        Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA2011
        • Davidson C
        How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux.
        Basic Books, New York2017
        • Ball S
        Foucault Power Education.
        Routledge, London2013
        • Rojstaczer S
        • Healy C
        Where A is ordinary: The evolution of American college and university grading, 1940–2009.
        Teach Coll Rec. 2012; 114: 1-23
        • Hiller TB
        • Hietapelto AB
        Contract grading: encouraging commitment to the learning process through voice in the evaluation process.
        J Manag Educ. 2001; 25: 660-684
        • Lindemann DF
        • Harbke CR
        Use of contract grading to improve grades among college freshmen in introductory psychology.
        SAGE Open. 2011; 1: 1-7
        • Nilson LB
        • Stanny CJ
        Specifications Grading: Restoring Rigor, Motivating Students, and Saving Faculty Time.
        Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA2015
      1. Berrett D. The day the purpose of college changed. Chronicle of Higher Education. January 26, 2015. Accessed August 21, 2019.

        • Newfield C
        The Great Mistake How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them.
        John Hopkins University, Baltimore2016
        • LeJeune N
        Contract grading with mastery learning in CS 1.
        J Comput Sci Coll. 2010; 26: 149-156
        • Sadler DR
        Interpretations of criteria‐based assessment and grading inhigher education.
        Assess Eval High Educ. 2005; 30: 175-194
        • Rovics H
        Contract grading in the college classroom.
        Trans Anal J. 1981; 11: 254-255
        • Potts G
        A Simple. Alternative to grading.
        Inquiry. 2010; 15: 29-42
        • Schinske J
        • Tanner K
        Teaching more by grading less (or differently).
        Cell Biol Educ. 2014; 13: 159-166
        • Docan TN
        Positive and negative incentives in the classroom: an analysis of grading systems and student motivation.
        J Scholarsh Teach Learn. 2006; 6: 21-40
        • Gordon ME
        • Fay CH
        The effects of grading and teaching practices on students’ perceptions of grading fairness.
        Coll Teach. 2010; 58: 93-98
        • Hassencahl F
        Contract grading in the classroom.
        Improv Coll Univ Teach. 1979; 27: 30-33
        • Josten D
        Motivation through mastery learning.
        NADE Dig. 2006; 2: 50-55
        • Reichart N
        Practice makes Perfect: contracting quantity and quality.
        Teach Engl Two Year Coll. 2003; 31: 60-68
        • Danielewicz J
        • Elbow P
        A unilateral grading contract to improve learning and teaching.
        Coll Compos Commun. 2009; 61: 244-268
        • Shor I
        Critical pedagogy: too big to fail.
        J Basic Writ. 2009; 28: 6-25
        • Pulfrey C
        • Darnon C
        • Butera F
        Autonomy and task performance: explaining the impact of grades on intrinsic motivation.
        J Educ Psychol. 2013; 105: 39-57
        • Shim S
        • Ryan A
        Changes in self-efficacy, challenge avoidance, and intrinsic value in response to grades: the role of achievement goals.
        J Exp Educ. 2005; 73: 333-349
        • Chulkov DV
        Student response to grading incentives: evidence from college economics courses.
        J Instr Psychol. 2006; 33: 206-211
        • Saldana J
        The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers.
        3rd ed. SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA2015
        • Ryan RM
        • Deci EL
        Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions.
        Contemp Educ Psychol. 2000; 25: 54-67
        • Paff LA
        Does grading encourage participation? Evidence & implications.
        Coll Teach. 2015; 63: 135-145
        • Winkelmes M-A
        Transparency in learning and teaching: faculty and students benefit directly from a shared focus on learning and teaching processes.
        NEA High Educ Adv. 2013; 30: 6-9
        • Tippin GK
        • Lafreniere KD
        • Page S
        Student perception of academic grading: personality, academic orientation, and effort.
        Act Learn High Educ. 2012; 13: 51-61
        • Labaree D
        Public goods, private goods: the struggle over educational goals.
        Am Educ Res J. 1997; 34: 39-81
        • White C
        • Fantone J
        Pass-fail grading: laying the foundation for self-regulated learning.
        Adv Health Sci Educ. 2010; 15: 469-477
        • Wiggins GP
        Understanding by Design/Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.
        Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, VA1998
        • Blackstone B
        • Oldmixon E
        Specifications grading in political science.
        J Polit Sci Educ. 2019; 15: 191-205
        • Williams K
        Specifications-based grading in an introduction to proofs course.
        PRIMUS. 2018; 28: 128-142