Have you ever gotten back a grade in college and been confused, because you put in more work than your grade shows?
This is a question Dr. Rachael Hannah (See Insert) from the University of Alaska at Anchorage has spent much of her career thinking about. Because grades are the currency for success both in and beyond academia and grade inflation continues to rise, understanding how to make grading and expectations equitable is important to help students navigate the education landscape of the 21st Century. In her seminar talk to the ROSE Network, she introduced the idea -- borrowed from the humanities-- of giving her science students what she calls "Contract Grading". Contract Grading functions like a semester-long rubric, where meeting certain assignments and expectations guarantees the students the corresponding grade on the contact. According to recent research (some of which is featured in the picture below), Grading Contracts in the sciences have shown promising affects on reducing DFW rates (DFW rates are the percent of students who receive D's, F's, or withdraw from a course -- it's often the metric of instructional success as DFW students cannot progress through their major). This, Dr. Hannah posits, is precisely why its such a useful tool for building an inclusive classroom environment -- it levels the academic playing field for those who may not know the unwritten expectations of doing well in college.
Aisha O'Connor, Michelle Curtis, and Sarah Shainker were biology graduate students who came out to support the ROSE Network seminar. "I was interested in the topic because I want to teach someday," Michelle Curtis said. Like many in the audience, Michelle, Aisha and Sarah didn't know about Contract Grading. Aisha reflected, "I didn't get the vibe in undergrad that people cared about how courses were graded. It's quite nice to see, really." As someone who sees teaching in her future, Sarah added, "Contract Grading seems better [than traditional grading] because clear expectations are important for students. Grades can be scary if you try hard but don't know what you will be graded. It really takes the mystery out." As for Dr. Hannah, she says there is one more benefit for contract grading: for the instructor-- it's less work.