Contract Grading? Really?!

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve known about the concept of contract grading for some time, but have never really seriously considered it.

Then I saw this.

This article explains it quite well.

So, Seriously!?

You are going to ask someone to decide, at the start of term, before they even know what the course is, to commit to a specific grade?


What does this accomplish?
How does THIS make for better learning?
Who does this benefit, really?

Here’s the idea:

In this class, you’ll decide in advance whether you’ll receive an A, a B, or a C. (Lower grades at my discretion.) The requirements for each of these grades follow.

What follows is a kind of rough checklist for what students are expected to do for each of the grades.

Now, I have no problem with the general concept of laying out A-B-C requirements.

I’ve done it myself with individual assignments (by providing ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ requirements – see below), but I would be really reluctant to allow a student to decide in advance that they were not going to try very hard, or to decide that they are not worth an ‘A’ grade – certainly not for an entire course.

Here’s the rationale, according to the author of the post.

I hate grading.

I hate grading too, so I have a variety of tasks that are easy to mark along with a few that take more time. I have NOT given up the responsibility entirely.

It’s not the work that bugs me; it’s the transformation of a complicated, nuanced, and (ideally) supportive relationship into a mercenary transaction.

I’m assuming that “mercenary” means “profit-oriented” in this context.
Wanting to avoid a “profit-oriented” approach in your assessment is a worthy goal.
Really it is.
But avoidance is not the solution.

Don’t run away from the problem.

Create assessments that match your goals as an instructor.
We can do that.
It’s our course.

Moreover, students come to my classes from many different backgrounds and with many different kinds of expertise. I don’t like measuring this wildly varying work according to one simplistic scale.

Yes, they do come from many different backgrounds.
So, deal with it.

Really, if the author wants to move away from ” measuring this wildly varying work according to one simplistic scale”, then it’s the assessment criteria that have to change!


See my presentation from 15 years ago (link below).

Thus, rather than play the role of adversary, which is time-consuming and draining for me, I’ve chosen to spend my energy teaching and to leave the decisions about grades in your hands.

Seriously?! I mean, SERIOUSLY?!

What evidence is there that your students have the first idea what ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ work looks like?

Do you not realize that grading IS PART OF TEACHING?

You’re not grading eggs or meat, folks.

You are ASSESSING people’s learning.
More importantly, you should be assessing people’s competence.
THAT is what grading should be.
If your “grading” is simply profit-oriented and adversarial, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
Don’t make your students do what you don’t want to do.

Really, if the author finds grading to be adversarial, then it’s the assessment criteria that have to change!

They appear to be simply stepping away from the responsibility of assessment entirely. That’s not fair for the students.

Grading should be a measure of how well the learner meets the required criteria.
If you don’t specify those criteria in sufficient detail, you are simply creating a game of chance for your students.

Start by allowing students to re-submit work. If you don’t allow your students to resubmit work once it’s been assessed, then you are creating a high-risk, high-stress situation in an environment that should be anything BUT.

I honestly don’t know where we got this idea that work was only to be submitted once. We’ve been doing this for decades (at least). I understand the need to go on with the content, and I also understand the practical need that instructors have for some predictability in their personal lives, but there isn’t really any evidence that we mark more consistently when we mark all of one assignment at the same time, so that’s not a reason to do it.

In almost everything else we do in the “real world”, we have opportunities to revise our work until it meets the requirements. That’s a BIG part of how we learn. Why do we deny our students that process?

Source: Contract Grading | Selfies, Snapchat, & Cyberbullies

A variation on “contract grading”:

(Note: I am NOT at the University of Calgary anymore. I do not want this presentation to bring them any positive press, as they really had nothing to do with it. In fact, I was given a hard time by my department for how I designed my courses.)

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Contract Grading? Really?! — 2 Comments

  1. I used to allow a redo on every assignment, and even required a redo rather than fail students on an assignment (other than the last one of the quarter), but when my grading load got way over 20 hours a week (not counting the 10 hours a week I could offload to student graders), I had to cut back. I no longer allow students to redo assignments, and have gotten my grading time back down to 20 hours a week.

    • I’d be interested in trying to figure out what the difference is. I have never had more than 5% or so do re-submissions. In my really big classes I ended up having to restrict them to one re-submission per assignment (I had a few who kept resubmitting and ended up way behind), and then I also set a time limit of 2 weeks after the assignment is handed back – again to avoid situations where students fixate on one assignment to the detriment of others.

      In my classes, they also had other options for making up for lost marks, so they had other choices. Perhaps that reduces the # who do re-submissions?

      Another possibility would be to require them to document their re-submission:
      – What did you change?
      – How does that address the issues from the previous submission?
      If nothing else, it should reduce the amount of time you have to spend on the re-submission.

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