"Revolutionary" Professors Allow Students To Pick Their Own Grades

Authored by William Nardi via The College Fix,

‘Contract grading’ billed as revolutionary education practice

A literature class at Davidson College this fall will use “contract grading,” allowing students to pick ahead of time their grade for the class and the workload they need to complete to earn it.

The offer is posed by Professor Melissa Gonzalez for her Introduction to Spanish Literatures and Cultures course, SPA 270, at the private liberal arts college in Davidson, North Carolina.

She is one of several professors across the nation who allow this pick-your-own grade method, billed as a way to eliminate the student-professor power differential and give students control of their education. But critics contend it is just another example of how colleges coddle students from the harsh realities of the real world, which includes competition and goal expectations.

As for Gonzalez, she argues there is “a strong pedagogical rationale for contract grading” in an Aug. 1 email to students obtained by The College Fix. “It can help students focus on learning more than on grades, and therefore make more progress in their learning, with less anxiety.”

Gonzalez did not respond to repeated email requests for comment from The College Fix.

“I aim to foster classroom environments that are radically democratic and empower intellectual risk-taking,” Gonzalez states in her profile on the school’s website.

In her email, Gonzalez urged her former students to sign up for SPA 270, indicating that only two students have enrolled thus far and the class is in danger of being canceled.

“I want to make sure you know about some important innovations I am introducing in the course [contract grading] so that you can decide today or as soon as possible whether you want to take SPA 270 in Fall 2018. If you do, please use ADD/DROP as soon as possible to add it, or the course will have to be cancelled,” she wrote.

Gonzalez is a Hispanic Studies professor who also teaches in the Gender and Sexuality Studies department. In her email, she told students they could “sign a contract indicating the work that they will do in order to earn that grade.”

“At the end of the semester, if the student completed the specific work they said they would, at the satisfactory level, they receive the grade they planned to receive,” her email states.

To support her claim that contract grading improves the academic experience for students, Gonzalez cites a 2009 research paper by scholars Peter Elbow and Jane Danielewicz.

“The contract helps strip away the mystification of institutional and cultural power in the everyday grades we give in our writing courses,” according to the research paper.

“Using the contract method over time has allowed us to see to the root of our discomfort: conventional grading rests on two principles that are patently false: that professionals in our field have common standards for grading, and that the ‘quality’ of a multidimensional product can be fairly or accurately represented with a conventional one-dimensional grade. In the absence of genuinely common standards or a valid way to represent quality, every grade masks the play of hidden biases inherent in readers and a host of other a priori power differentials,” it adds.

In their paper, Elbow and Danielewicz also contend that contract grading is “used frequently, but discussed rarely. A Google search reveals a surprisingly large number of teachers who use some form of learning contract in various disciplines for diverse goals.”

Along with her email, Gonzalez attached two contract grading templates designed by other professors who also use the method: Cathy Davidson of CUNY and fellow Davidson College Professor Mark Sample.

Davidson, in a blog post on the grading method, refers to it as “an act of community.”

Contract grading has also been referred to as “specs grading” in a 2016 op-ed in Inside Higher Ed by Linda Nilson, director of the office of teaching effectiveness and innovation at Clemson University. She explains that “course grades are based on the bundles of assignments and tests that students complete at a pass/satisfactory level.”

“Bundles that require more work, more challenging work or both earn students higher grades. No more points to painstakingly allocate and haggle over with students. By choosing the bundle they want to complete, students select the final grade they want to earn, taking into account their motivation, time available, grade point needs and commitment,” Nilson stated.

“If a student chooses a C because that’s all he or she needs in your course, you can respect that. Under such conditions, students are often more motivated to learn because they have a sense of choice, volition, self-determination and responsibility for their grade, as well as less grade anxiety.”

But not all students are convinced it’s a good idea, including Davidson College senior Kenny Xu, who is majoring in mathematics.

“It degrades trust in your achievement by outside authorities, including employers, grad schools, scholarships etc.,” he told The College Fix.

“Imagine if an employer saw that you got an A not because you were truly one of the best in the class but because you fulfilled some requirement YOU personally set. Would he really trust that A? I think not.”

“Colleges are increasingly viewing themselves as a support system rather than an institution of learning,” Xu added.

“Learning is not supposed to be easy, or comfortable. Excellence requires that you step out of your comfort zone and compete. Colleges are becoming shelters, which is not what this country nor what this generation needs.”



MrAToZ MasterPo Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:46 Permalink

So when they graduate and apply for a job, they get to pick their salary, hours, raises and bonuses? Businesses and society profit from the innovations that pour forth from the person that gave himself an A? It was so easy, why didn't we all see this before?

As for traditional learning not being applicable to the real world? When did this happen? Sorry but no sale.

"In the land of the lepers the man with the most fingers is king."

Make no mistake about it, we are in the land of lepers.

In reply to by MasterPo

Umh chubbar Thu, 08/09/2018 - 20:59 Permalink

I really hated bosses that wanted me to write my own evaluation. It's one of those sneaky tricks that makes it easier for the boss that doesn't really know what you do. Then one year the light bulb shone brightly and my evaluations basically said I walked on water and showed other how from then on.

In reply to by chubbar

Endgame Napoleon JimmyJones Fri, 08/10/2018 - 09:06 Permalink

Tell the diversity-conscious 98% youth-gang temp agency chicks, with about 2 years worth of job experience and 2 years worth of life experience, to haughtily cull resumes from people like Tom Wolfe, who majored in American Studies at an Ivy League university. They—the Ivy League universities—started the “Studies” degree trend. Despite the hype on anything labeled Millennial, eliminating the emphasis on grades is no new trend, either. All my life, I have heard people in education talk about failed experiments in changing the way grading is done in universities. The system of zero grades was tried way back in the Seventies. Due to human nature, they went back to the old ways. 

In reply to by JimmyJones

Adahy P-51 Stiletto Fri, 08/10/2018 - 02:40 Permalink

Mind blown!  Barely..uh..even..uh..speaking..uh..any language..UH..at all.
All the Uh...uh...uh... at some point in my mind changed seamlessly into a primal 'Ooh-ooh-oooo' and I could no longer even try to follow what was trying to be communicated.  Maybe Jane Goodall could translate.
Why are they being rewarded for this?  Just wild.

In reply to by P-51 Stiletto

Arrowflinger True Blue Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:57 Permalink

Better than that, consider the Vogtle nuke plant fiasco. Just yesterday another $1.1 BILLION was added to an already doubled cost and the disaster is 5 years behind schedule.

Supposedly an 8 hour cessation of work happened, blamed on inefficiencies, but drug use seems to have been in play.

Southern Company refuses to accept responsibility and the citizens are precharged for financing including advance profits.

The incompretence is stunning. South Carolina citizens are getting $billions back but Georgians have to keep paying, except  for refunds of $75.


In reply to by True Blue

Omen IV True Blue Thu, 08/09/2018 - 20:22 Permalink

The "Spanish" Engineering Professor promoting the "new" engineering technique - was instrumental in getting the project approved / getting the spanish general contractor / who hired the spanish subs / who hired the spanish engineering  managers / who hired the spanish workers / who got approval at each stage of the completion of the bridge from spanish government inspectors / who used testing companies that were spanish...................


and the Bridge fell down!


Affirmative action at its best

In reply to by True Blue

Never_Guess nmewn Thu, 08/09/2018 - 20:58 Permalink

Everything that i wanted to say has already been said on this thread. but I will just say this -


A POX on the college deans AND their families for supporting smut like this while profiting of of the debt enslavement of their student body! They are just as bad as the bankers imho. Send your kids to community college, they will thank you in 5 years.

In reply to by nmewn

Arrowflinger TeamDepends Thu, 08/09/2018 - 19:34 Permalink

This is a perfect Crony Cut setup. Professors get outsized salaries fueled by nondischargeable student loan debt of say $80,000. Professors get lauded for graduating "superior" student. Student gets job based upon academic credentials, which are so "stellar" his lack of ability goes unchallenged. Co-workers get subjugated. Customers pay top dollar for services they didn'the get but that cannot be the prima Donna's fault.

The public gets to bear the cost of the socialized education, malinvestment, and possibly injury or death at the hands of these idiots.

In reply to by TeamDepends

Omen IV Arrowflinger Thu, 08/09/2018 - 20:32 Permalink

a project that took two guys 50 years ago without the computer power to work with  now takes 8

happening everywhere - NYC Bus accidents  - fault of drivers  -  has sky rocketed to 15,000 /yr from nominal 15 years ago as diversity requirements mean low IQ have to have a quota -  same problem in subway with overshooting platforms and neglect of signals


dangerous - random risk

In reply to by Arrowflinger

Umh Omen IV Thu, 08/09/2018 - 21:34 Permalink

If it's like the places I know about. They picked the brains of the 2 guys and created batch oriented computer systems that the 2 guys oversaw. Then the 2 guys retired and were replaced by people that sort of knew what was going on. Then they decided they needed an online interactive computer system. The current 4 guys really couldn't help the IT people because they did not actually know what the existing batch oriented system did, but they did want an online interactive system. They received an online interactive system that let them change any data on the fly and proceeded to make changes that they reversed frequently to see if the most recent change was the problem. Somewhere along the line 3 guys were reclassified into IT laison positions and spent so much time in meetings that 4 more people were hired to interactively change the data that they didn't understand so it was not reliable information. And of course with 7 workers they needed a manager.

In reply to by Omen IV

NVTRIC Umh Thu, 08/09/2018 - 23:18 Permalink

Every fucking local government in the United States.

But instead of helping, the citizens see the weakness, seize upon it, and extort public dollars with cronyism, nepotism and lawlessness.

We get the government we deserve.  I see lots of posting and good ideas, few in the trenches trying to save their small towns.

Game over man! Game Over!

RIP Bill Paxton

In reply to by Umh