The efficacy of traditional letter or numerical grading for composition classes has been questioned for decades, but still, most instructors use conventional grading systems in their writing classes. This article outlines a century-long history of research and experimentation, focusing on the use of grading contracts in composition courses to increase grading consistency, incentivize more effective writing approaches, break down problematic classroom power dynamics, reward improvement, reduce race or gender bias, and encourage self-directed learning. Most scholarship on grading contracts in composition focuses on individual case studies of particular contract implementations, but recent turns toward more comparative, large-scale studies indicate the potential of the field to better understand the usefulness of grading contracts. Existing research demonstrates the promise of grading contracts to create more egalitarian classrooms in which students assume more ownership of their work, provided instructors embrace the opportunities for class discussion and negotiation that contracts afford. No contract is one-size-fits-all, so instructors can use the examples outlined in this history to craft grading contracts that make the most sense for their goals and instructional pedagogy.
Keywords: grading contracts, literature review, learning contracts, alternative approaches, grades