My Current Grading Contract

Contract Grading

Professor Hurley

This course uses a form of grading called contract grading. There are no points or letter grades in this course, aside from the final letter grade you earn at the end. The premise of contract grading is that if you do the work required to earn a B, you will see enormous gains in your learning. Traditional grading systems encourage you to work for “points,” as if learning were a game whose goal was to get a certain grade. Contract grading redirects your focus on the process of learning. Contract grading provides you with reassurance that if you complete all of the assigned work to the best of your abilities, you will earn at least a B. This can free you up to focus on your learning, not your grade.

To Pass

There are a few things I expect of everyone who passes my class. I expect you to attend class regularly (no more than 5 absences for the semester), complete all essays and most of your other work, and submit a passing essay at the end of the semester that shows your learning. I expect you to possess enough fluency in English to comprehend college-level texts and to express yourself clearly in writing. I do allow and encourage you to revise essays that are not up to standard, and I’m happy to help you with these revisions. However, if after revising with my help, your work is still not meeting the standards, you will not pass the class.

To Earn a B

You will earn a B in the class if you complete all of the work in the class (including the reading) with sincere effort and on time. This means reading and annotating your texts for every class session; submitting all homework, quizzes, and essays; and making revisions to your work if I ask you to. To earn a B, I expect you to come to class regularly (not missing more than 3 classes in a semester) and to be fully present in class without turning your attention to electronic devices.

To Earn an A

You will earn an A in the class if you do all of what is required for a B and show excellence in your work. To earn an A, I ask that you put extra effort into your learning process and submit writing that goes above and beyond the minimum requirements. Some features I look for in A work include:

* Strong critical thinking, including the ability to understand and respond to other views

* Writing that shows critical reading and careful rereading

* Ideas that are uniquely your own, not just repeated from class discussions

* Taking risks in your writing (trying a new technique or a more challenging approach)

* Clear sentences, careful proofreading, and well-integrated quotes

I also ask that you stretch yourself in class discussions. If participating is hard for you, try to confront that fear with small steps such as asking questions. If participating is easy for you, try to hold back more and listen to others.

To increase your chances of earning an A, I suggest that you meet with me after I give you back your first essay to check in about your goals for learning.

Early Semester Check-In

Around Week 5 of the semester, I’ll ask you to complete a written self-evaluation in the form of a letter addressed to me. In this letter, you’ll tell me how you are doing in the class, in terms of your effort, annotations of readings, completion of work, essay writing, and participation. You are also welcome to share any struggles you’re experiencing in the class. I’ll respond with my feedback.

Final Assessment

At the end of the course, you’ll have an opportunity to present your argument for what grade your have earned in the class and why, using concrete evidence. I can’t guarantee that I’ll agree with your assessment, but I encourage you to make the best argument you can, based specifically on the criteria set out in the syllabus.

9 thoughts on “My Current Grading Contract”

  • That’s a wonderful work. I hope sharing our expectations to children first will help them to do still better.

  • I have used a version of this method many times in my teaching. Sometimes I used a written narrative assignment to have students defend what grade they should receive on an assignment. I taught Technology and Pre-Engineering and the critical thinking is difficult to assess. If they could articulate the processes they went through that led to their outcome, and it showed that they understood the concepts, they could justify an A. I found that many judged themselves to harshly, while others were not honest with the effort and understanding they gained from the project or activity.

    I never used the NO GRADE approach on a long term grading scheme, but I love the creativity and enjoyed the response of your student.

    Kudos for your ingenuity and simplistic approach!

  • Thank you for sharing this resource! I am a junior faculty member getting increasingly exhausted by grading. I’ve recently started to “ungrade” my assignments for equity and my own teaching well being and would like to use contract grading for my courses as a whole next semester. Question: do you give students any guidelines for receiving below passing grades? I am wondering if you make any distinction between F, D, C at the end or if you have thoughts on the lowest grade a student can receive at the end. I know our 0-100 scale is biased toward failing grades already — do you have any work arounds here?

    • Hi Crystal, I usually specify that if students miss any major assignments or miss several minor assignments, they will receive a not-passing grade of D or F. Typically I usually give a D when I am giving a non-passing grade because an F feels too discouraging, like a slap in the face. I would only give an F for someone who does no work or who plagiarized. Feel free to email me at to discuss in more depth.

  • Since this is called a “grading contract” do students fill out a contract for the grade they plan to earn and turn it in at the beginning of the semester?

    Similar to you I have set up self-evaluation and reflection in my courses where I do not grade or give points, but give feedback and keep track of attendance, the assignments they complete, etc. I really like the idea of stating everyone can earn a B–something I haven’t said and will definitely steal this from you.

    Do you use the grading tool in Canvas or just delete it so students do not view it? This is what I have done but always freaks them out because they are so used to seeing their points/grades from other classes. Instead I keep notes on everything and invite them to email me, meet with me to talk about how they are doing in class. Students fill out an exit sheet every other week where they are discussing professionalism, participation, preparation, etc. Just curious what you are doing on Canvas for grades? I know you are checking in with students at midterm (I do the same) but are you doing exit sheets or anything else to check in with students often? Thank you!

    • Hi Deanna, No, the contract is simply the syllabus itself. I did also make a video where I explain the grading system and the why behind it. I use the grading tool in Canvas only to the extent that I mark assignments complete or incomplete. An incomplete is followed by a note to the student giving my feedback and asking for a revision. This is how I keep track of students who need to work more on things. It’s not a perfect system because some students do freak out when they see an “incomplete,” but I try to explain early in the semester that this is not a “black mark,” but just an indication that they need to follow up with me about something or work more on an assignment. Still, the system is flawed because some students fail to check their grades or feedback on Canvas. It’s really not an easy way to work, but I do prefer it to traditional grading and the large majority of the students LOVE this system.

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