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Feedback and Grading: Contract Grading


Contract grading is an assessment method that emphasizes collaboration between students and instructors to establish clear, transparent criteria for course outcomes and grades. This approach involves creating a formal agreement (or contract) at the beginning of the course that specifies the tasks, level of work, and behaviors a student must complete to achieve a particular grade. Contracts often delineate expectations for different grade levels, allowing students to choose a path that aligns with their goals and commitments outside of the classroom.

This method fosters student autonomy, accountability, and personalization of the learning experience, as students can make informed decisions about their workload and educational objectives. Moreover, contract grading can reduce anxiety and competition among students by clarifying expectations and minimizing subjective evaluations. It shifts the focus from earning grades to learning and mastering content, promoting a more intrinsic motivation toward education. While implementing contract grading requires upfront effort in terms of communication and agreement on expectations, it ultimately leads to a more student-centered learning environment that supports diverse learning styles and paces.


Implementing contract grading in a course requires thoughtful planning and a clear communication strategy to ensure that both instructors and students understand the system and its benefits. Here are several steps and strategies faculty members can use to begin integrating contract grading into their teaching:

  • Understand the Concept: Before implementing contract grading, faculty should thoroughly understand its philosophy and mechanics. This may involve researching existing literature, attending workshops, or consulting with colleagues who have experience with this grading method.
  • Develop Clear Learning Objectives: Identify and clearly define the learning objectives of the course. These objectives will be the foundation for the contract, outlining what students need to achieve to meet different grade requirements.
  • Create Detailed Contracts: Design a contract that specifies the requirements for each grade level. This should include not only the assignments and tests but also class participation, meeting deadlines, and any other expectations relevant to the course. The contract should be as specific as possible to avoid ambiguities and ensure fairness.
  • Offer Choices: Provide students with options where possible. For instance, allow them to choose among different assignments or projects that can demonstrate their mastery of the course content. This choice can engage students more deeply as they tailor their learning experience to their interests and strengths.
  • Communicate with Students: Introduce contract grading at the beginning of the term during the first class or through the syllabus. Explain the rationale behind contract grading, how it works, and its benefits. Allow time for questions and discussion to ensure students feel comfortable and understand the system.
  • Facilitate Contract Negotiation: Allow students to negotiate some elements of the contract if appropriate. This could involve setting personal goals or adjusting certain requirements based on individual circumstances, promoting a more personalized learning environment.
  • Provide Continuous Feedback: Because contract grading emphasizes learning and improvement, provide ongoing feedback throughout the course. This helps students understand where they stand relative to their contract and what they need to do to meet or exceed their chosen grade expectations.
  • Encourage Reflection: Incorporate reflective assignments that prompt students to consider their learning progress and any adjustments they might need to make to meet their contract terms. Reflection can help students internalize learning and take responsibility for their educational outcomes.
  • Evaluate and Adjust: At the end of the course, evaluate the effectiveness of contract grading. Consider student feedback, learning outcomes, and your observations to refine the contracts for future iterations of the course.
  • Stay Flexible and Supportive: Be prepared to make reasonable adjustments as needed. The goal of contract grading is to support student learning, so remaining flexible and supportive, particularly as students and faculty adapt to a new system, is crucial.


What is Contract Grading? - University of Nebraska-Lincoln Center for Transformative Teaching
Contract grading is a type of standards-based grading that incorporates the use of a contract between the student and the instructor on what must be completed and to what level of mastery to earn a specific grade in the course.This resource outlines the benefits and challenges of this approach along with instructions and examples.

A Student Perspective on Contract Grading - Insight: A Journal of Scholarly Writing
Contract grading offers a safe and unique learning opportunity for students who otherwise, like me, get caught up in the intricacies of rubric requirements and possible teacher biases. I learned to stop thinking about my writing in terms of what my professor would want to read, and instead I began writing what I wanted to write.

Labor-Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom - Asao B. Inoue
In the second edition of Labor-Based Grading Contracts, Asao B. Inoue refines his exploration of labor-based grading contracts in the writing classroom. Drawing on antiracist teaching practices, he argues that labor-based grading contracts offer a compassionate approach that is strongly grounded in social justice work. Updated with a new foreword and revised chapters, the book offers a meditation on how Inoue’s use of Freirean problem-posing led him to experiment with grading contracts. The result is a robust Marxian theory of labor that considers Hannah Arendt’s theory of labor-work-action and Barbara Adam’s concept of “timescapes.” The heart of the book details the theoretical and practical ways labor-based grading contracts can be used and assessed for effectiveness in classrooms and programs. Inoue concludes his exploration of labor-based grading by moving outside the classroom, considering how assessing writing in the socially just ways he offers in the book may provide a way to address the violence and discord seen in the world today.

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  • Last Updated: May 2, 2024 1:40 PM
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