Implement a Contract Grading System

Feb. 27, 2023

Flip the traditional grading approach on its head by implementing a contract grading system in your course. As the name states, contract grading is a contract between student and instructor on how grades will be awarded. This system prioritizes students’ labor or effort over abstract “quality” of work.

A UArizona student and instructor discuss a grading contract.


In traditional grading, students receive a letter grade based on the so-called “quality” of work. Traditional grading has many downsides in courses where students are exposed to new experiences and ideas, including:

  • Students can feel timid about trying new ideas or taking risks with their work because it is safer to regurgitate information that pleases the grader
  • Assessment rubrics are often too subjective and can feel abstract and unfair if what separates an “A” from a “B” is one missed comma (for example) 
  • Instructor feedback may not be comprehensive or clear, leaving students feeling uncertain about what they need to improve upon for future assignments 

EVAL 500 Seminar on Identifying & Characterizing Challenges or Problems, developed by Beth Meyerson (adapted from a contract created by Aimee Mapes), implemented an EVAL 500 Grading Contract, where collaboration, feedback, self-reflection, and student effort form the basis of the grading policy. Final letter grades are still assigned in contract grade courses, but how students receive those grades is fundamentally different from conventional grading.


To implement a contract grading system, begin with drafting a policy that students agree to either by virtue of taking the class or by signing and submitting the policy back. 

The contract should include the following elements:

  • Purpose of using a contract over traditional grading. Students may not have taken a course with this kind of grading structure before. Therefore, it is critical to explain why and how this approach is being used.
  • Grade measurement. List out all of the assignments, how they will be assessed (see “Rubrics” below), and how final grades will be determined.
    • If your grade contract allows for missed assignments, consider adding provisions on what kind of assignments can be missed. For example, if you have 4 major assignments and many smaller minor assignments (e.g. discussions), you may not want to allow for any major assignments to be missed. If you do not have this caveat, students could theoretically skip a major assignment with little penalty since they may be allowed 1-2 missed assignments. 
  • Rubrics. While you don’t need to have the assignment rubrics spelled out in their entirety in the contract, reference how assignments will be assessed. Evaluation metrics may include:
    • Timely submissions
    • Assignment meets “minimum requirements”, which are detailed in individual assignment rubrics (e.g. specific length, sources, quotes, structure, etc.)
    • Self-assessment conducted on each assignment
    • One-on-one review conferences completed with the instructor

For recommendations on how to set up the grade book to reflect your specific grade contract, schedule a consultation with a UCATT Instructional Designer

Notes from the Expert

Other things to note

The EVAL 500 contract grading system was created specifically for a writing-intensive graduate-level course. Although contract grading is not limited to writing or writing-intensive courses, some modifications may be necessary for other subject matters. 

Potential Limitations

You may need permission from your department head before implementing a contract grading system. 

Additional Resources