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Community Member

Specifications Grading

   I have adopted a specifications grading scheme for all my courses, the particulars of which make it all but impossible for me to use the gradebook options on Canvas. Responses to others' questions about specs grading in this forum don't really help me, either, as my approach differs in some ways from theirs.

   Here's how I do things:

  • Each assignment is accompanied by a list of specifications, which looks for all the world like a kind of binary rubric: an assignment either meets a specification or it does not.
  • An assignment is counted as "satisfactory" only if it meets all the specifications; otherwise it is marked "not yet satisfactory" and handed back to the student for revision.
  • Student may submit revised versions of the assignments multiple times.
  • The final grade in the course is determined by the number and level of assignments completed.

   This system makes no use at all of points or percentages or weights. What I need is a gradebook that allows me to

  • record the assessment of an assignment as "satisfactory" or "not yet satisfactory";
  • keep track of multiple submissions of the same assignment;
  • customize the conditions under which a particular final grade is assigned, having nothing to do with percentages or points.

The gradebook on my institution's previous (Sakai-based) LMS didn't let me do this, either, so I took to keeping my own records in Excel. That old system did at least have an app (called PostEm) that allowed me to upload the entire gradebook as a spreadsheet, but then allowed each student access only to her or his own records.

   Even if it is not possible for Canvas to include an infinitely flexible gradebook, would it be possible to incorporate something like the function of the PostEm app? Then I could at least update students on their current standing in the course.

9 Replies
Community Coach
Community Coach

 @robert_kirkman , welcome to the Canvas Community! Your grading method is unique, but I wonder if there might be a way to make it work in Canvas. 

Record the assessment of an assignment as "satisfactory" or "not yet satisfactory;"

Canvas doesn't use these words, but it does have a "complete" and "incomplete" option that could probably work for you. I couldn't find a lot of information about this in Guides, but on this guide - How do I add or edit details in an assignment? - you can see how to set your assignment up using this grading type.

Keep track of multiple submissions of the same assignment;

I'm not sure what you're looking for for this. Canvas does keep track of different submissions made to the same assignment, it just doesn't show up directly in the Gradebook. You can see all submissions for each assignment in Speedgrader. 

Customize the conditions under which a particular final grade is assigned, having nothing to do with percentages or points.

Depending on how you wanted to set things up you could have all of your assignments worth whatever number of points you wanted - 1, 0, whatever, but make sure to check the box that the grade doesn't count towards the final course grade. See this guide for how to do this - How do I exclude an assignment from the course's final grades?  You could then have another assignment and this one assignment would be labeled as "final course grade." On this assignment you - at the end of the semester, or whenever you assign grades, could go in and assign a course grade. This way the only "grade" that would count is the one you manually input based on the previous work in the course. 

Thoughts? Do you think this might work?


Community Participant

I really want to give this a shot but I can't seem to find a way to do specifications grading within Canvas ... or ... at least in a way that makes sense and is seamless. The only things I can think of ... 

  1. Mastery ... which really is not grading per se, but it in the spirit of specs 
  2. Incomplete/Complete ... and coding these by levels, leaving the scored assignments as ungraded but replicating as incomplete/complete ... but again, really does not get to specs. This is a bit of what Kona suggested.
  3. Student surveys ... having students indicate their specs progress at points during the semester ... checking or confirming it with a letter grade 

Would really like to find a way to experiment with this in Summer. I tried specs for +/- on letter grades this term, and it was a disaster. 

Regarding multiple submissions, what I mean is that students can revise and resubmit a particular assignment, usually not more than twice, and I need to have some record of their history of submissions.

My current approach is to have a separate page in the Excel spreadsheet I use as a gradebook for each assignment that may be resubmitted, with each resubmission recorded in a separate column.

If I had the possibility of uploading a spreadsheet to Canvas so that each student could see only her or his own row, they could see their history of submissions, too. This was the case with my institutions previous LMS.

Community Participant

I know this is an old post, so I'm not sure how the response will go, but I am new to Canvas and also use specifications grading. I am having a lot of difficulty figuring out how to implement a specs system on Canvas, especially for do-overs. I use an "If then" system. If a student meets certain requirements, then a grade appears (Mastery, Proficiency). If not, then they either get a grade of Developing or Inadequate, in which case they can revise and resubmit. I do not see that Canvas will allow this. The grading schemes seem very outdated and limiting. 

Community Champion

 @subrudvi ‌ Sorry for resurrecting an old post, but could you expand on what you meant when you said " I tried specs for +/- on letter grades this term, and it was a disaster."  What about it didn't work? 

I'm interested in building specs grading into a couple of the courses I support, but I haven't started thinking through the logistics of how it would work with the gradebook. 

Community Participant

Thank you for posting this question. I've decided to start using Specifications/Contract grading as well, and the Canvas gradebook and grading schemes are driving me CRAZY. I want to do the same thing---completely eliminate numerical grading of any kind (points, percentages, or letter grades). I plan to use a similar 3-category system (Pass, Needs Revision, or Missing). I tried to create a new course grading scheme and while I can create these categories in place of the letter grades, they still have to be yoked to percentages. 

The problem of resubmission  without losing earlier submission for comparison is also frustrating. The only option I can think of are to download all the submissions and somehow keep track of them--a nightmarish prospect.

Have you found any solutions since your post? 

Community Participant

I sure haven't. I've been wrestling with this for years. I created my own grading scheme, but since it is still based on percentages, that's what studenst focus on. I'd switched to complete/incomplete grades, but can't do that for quizzes and surveys at all. It's frustrating to want to improve your class and break the cycle of working for a grade only to be thwarted by Canvas itself.

Community Participant

I was just reading about specifications grading today and my first thought was it would be a nightmare in the Canvas gradebook.  I can only hope that Canvas can make the gradebook flexible enough to encompass spec grading at some point.  As Suzanne said, it's frustrating to find an interesting teaching idea, and one that has been around for half a decade, and then be thwarted by the Canvas gradebook.  The only thing I can think of is to have some documents like Robert Talbert (see "Specifications grading: We may have a winner " available so students can keep track of where they are.

Community Member

I switched to specifications grading in my courses a year ago and as others have mentioned, students misread the information on Canvas. I have set up my assignment categories so that "final grade" is worth 100% of the points. I typically have four specifications categories with 0/1/2/5/6 ratings on mastery assessments (5 required for credit), 0,1,2,3 for daily contributions, and other categories such as writing assignments, homework reports, and final portfolio. In the first two categories, it would be great to have a count of scores above a certain benchmark or a count of each score number instead of an average. Now my university has adopted Drop Out Detective which does not work with my system at all. Still Canvas plays an important role in communicating with my students, uploading work, and allowing them to notify me of any omissions I may have made.