Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Study Shows Promise of Grade Contracts for Improved Learning


Contracts are meant to hold people accountable, including college students who sign contracts for admission into school, financial aid and housing. How about also using contracts to hold college students accountable for their grades?

Two Western Illinois University psychology professors and researchers did just that in a behavioral research study.

Assistant Professor Dana Lindemann and Associate Professor Colin Harbke assigned 40 freshmen introductory psychology students to a traditional or an experimental contract grading system. The experimental group signed individual contracts at the beginning of the semester. Terms of the contract included choosing their coursework from a variety of assignments, grading their exams and assignments as pass or fail, requiring that each student master 85 percent of the material to receive a passing grade and allowing students to correct and resubmit their assignments one time in order to earn a passing grade.

The study, “Use of Contract Grading to Improve Grades Among College Freshman in Introductory Psychology,” was published by SAGE Open

A Jan. 12, 2012 publisher’s news release was picked up by more than 250 national outlets, including Psych Central, the Internet’s largest independent mental health and psychology network. It also was featured as the “Study of the Day” in the Feb. 21 edition of The Atlantic.

Lindemann and Harbke support using contract grading in contemporary college classrooms, based on their results. Contract graded students were one-third as likely to fail or withdraw from the course, three times more likely to earn an “A” grade and were more likely to perceive a high degree of control over their grade. They also rated their effort, instructor and course more favorably.

"Students indicated higher ratings for working hard for their grade, enjoying the course format and for enhancing independent thinking," wrote Lindemann and Harbke. "Contract graded students may be more motivated to perform well."

Because the assignments are graded on a pass-fail basis, there is more emphasis on a full understanding of the material instead of just partial understanding. Minimal changes to the pre-existing material were required to implement contract grading, they added.