A grading contract is an agreement that student and teacher enter into at the start of a course, which states that if the student meets certain specific criteria, he or she will earn a corresponding grade. Grading contracts focus on course content, and how the course overall (and/or each individual assignment) will be evaluated and weighted/graded.

With contract grading students are, in essence responsible for their own grades. Student earns the grade they choose by virtue of completing specific assignments or meeting explicit objectives – not on the instructor’s evaluation of their work per se.

Though it was introduced perhaps 30 years ago, contract grading has recently grown increasingly popular among (mostly) high school and university educators and students alike. There are two primary reasons for this trend. First, contract grading helps streamline the grading process and the questions and issues of subjectivity that go with it. Second, contract grading is increasingly perceived as facilitating both better teaching and better learning.

Among its advantages, contract grading can stimulate learners to take a more active role in the learning process. And because the requirements for a desired grade or concrete, it could support learners to manage their time more effectively. It can also (hopefully) motivate learners to do more than the minimum it takes to get by in a class. Further, it should help minimize the amount of post-grade complaints that faculty receive.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of contract grading is that it takes the sense of peer competition out of the learning experience. Students are competing with themselves, not with fellow students. No student’s grade is dependent on the relative performance of others.

In this sense, contract grading can be seen as “more fair” than more subjective and/or competitive grading models. It also puts the teacher more in the role of a facilitator or “resource person,” and less in the “powerful” role of a pedagogue who must be pleased or manipulated.

On the minus side, contract grading can mean more work for instructors, who not only have to create and manage the contracts but also grade all the assignments. This drawback has limited the use of contract grading in large classes. Grading contracts also inherently take some of the flexibility out of both grading/evaluation by educators and work production by learners.

However, some proponents of contract grading feel that it provides an opportunity to individualize instruction. Provided contracts are flexible (and teachers have the time and inclination to give the necessary individual attention), students can chart their own path to the goal of a specific grade while still demonstrating the essential skills required of all learners in the course.

Here are some examples of grading contracts:

  • A “hybrid” grading contract used in writing courses by Jane Danielewicz and Peter Elbow. This model has a subject, evaluative element that separates ‘B’ students from ‘A’ students.
  • A grading contract for ninth-graders. This model has wide applicability to tutoring scenarios where grading per se may not be applicable.
  • A grading contract for English writing at Salt Lake Community College. This model could help motivate writing students in tutoring as well as traditional and online classroom scenarios.
  • Some educators use grading contracts for individual assignments.

Do you have experiences – pro or con — with contract grading? Please comment and share your experiences.

Featured image courtesy of Partner In Education.

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