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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The Journal of Writing Assessment provides a peer-reviewed forum for the publication of manuscripts from a variety of disciplines and perspectives that address topics in writing assessment. Submissions may investigate such assessment-related topics as grading and response, program assessment, historical perspectives on assessment, assessment theory, and educational measurement as well as other relevant topics. Articles are welcome from a variety of areas including K-12, college classes, large-scale assessment, and noneducational settings. We also welcome book reviews of recent publications related to writing assessment and annotated bibliographies of current issues in writing assessment.

Please refer to the submission guidelines on this page for information for authors and submission guidelines.


A Legacy of Grading Contracts for Composition

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

Openings, Risks, and Antiracist Futures at a Hispanic-Serving Institution

Through a series of narratives, this article highlights the experiences of six faculty who have incorporated varying approaches to labor-based contract grading in their courses at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Each narrative offers a personal illustration of the faculty members' struggles, achievements, and realizations as they have adopted and adapted labor-based contract grading.

Keywords: labor-based assessment, contract grading, narrative, Hispanic-Serving Institution, writing assessment

Enabling Meaningful Labor: Narratives of Participation in a Grading Contract

Grading contracts value labor and make it a central or sole determinant of grades. However, the labor of learning is not all the same; in writing courses, labor includes the work of producing writing, as well as the work of participation in class. This article, authored by a writing instructor and three former undergraduates, reflects on participation labor in a course that used a labor-based grading contract, Teaching Writing. We describe our attitudes and purposes going into the course, make observations about our labor during the class, and offer reflections on the impact of that labor after the class from our various subject positions: Gomes writes about assessing participation in Teaching Writing. Bellati describes how she was able to participate in a community of learners, Hope writes about developing skill around peer feedback, and LaFerriere describes how she was able to learn from peers and develop her knowledge of pedagogy. Our experiences suggest that participation labor in writing classes can be meaningful and that offering many structured options for participation can enable meaningful course engagements. Our narratives also suggest how experiences with contract grading can inform future teaching, learning, and professional activity.

Keywords: participation, meaningful, labor, grading contract, agency, SLAC

Neurodivergence and Intersectionality in Labor-Based Grading Contracts

This article explores how labor-based grading contract (LBGC) systems can be informed by neurodivergence. To date, little research has described how grading contracts impact students of varying neurological abilities. This article addresses this gap by investigating how neurodivergent students experience LBGC systems. Neurodivergent students face increased academic and emotional labor, thus shifting power and ease of access in such contract-grading classrooms to neurotypical students who may be more adept at "performing" academic labor. First, we articulate the ways in which neurodivergence is defined and made invisible, how it manifests in our writing classrooms, and the ways in which our institutions uphold normative conceptions of neurological ability. Second, we illuminate how grading contracts, by altering the activity systems of schooling and writing classrooms, create barriers to accessibility that heighten neurodivergent students' experiences of schooling- and grade-related anxiety. Finally, they offer an ethnographic exploration of ways to unite the socially just aims of LBGC systems with the intersectional lens inherent in a consideration of the neurodivergent student experience.

Keywords: neurodivergence, grading contracts, academic labor, assessment theory, disability studies

Perceptions of Fairness in Summer Bridge Classrooms with Contract Grades

This narrative explains how a summer bridge student turned writing fellow effectively communicated peers' comments about fairness in grading to her former professor as she prepared to teach her summer bridge writing course again. Co-authored by the instructor and undergraduate student, this reflection explores both undergraduate understandings of fairness in the context of contract grading as well as the teacher-student relationship. Both teacher and student advocate for the use of contract grading in summer bridge writing classrooms. However, they argue that systems of grading need to be clarified and contextualized for pre-college students who sometimes express confusion about college standards and/or may overextend lessons learned during their first college course to their fall semester when not all professors will use contract grading.

Keywords: fairness, summer bridge, writing fellows, revision, contract grading

Building Student Agency Through Contract Grading in Technical Communication

The scholarship on contract grading has focused on the impacts in first-year writing, but little work explores how contract grading is used in other writing contexts, specifically technical communication. In fact, a focus on contract grading can align with the social justice turn in technical communication if viewed as a way to enact feminist and antiracist pedagogies. In this reflection, we--an instructor of an introductory technical communication service course and a student who took that class--share our experiences around contract grading. After providing an overview of the course and institutional context, we reflect together on our experiences around student perceptions and attitudes as well as the impact contract grading had on us as teacher and learner. We conclude with lessons learned and how instructors can take up contract grading in their technical communication classrooms. Our goal is to share our experiences that could lead to scholarship on assessment practices in the context of the field's social justice turn.

Keywords: contract grading, technical communication, student agency, social justice, feminism

Engaging in Resistant Genres as Antiracist Teacher Response

This article focuses on teacher response through contract grading and explains how rhetorical genre studies (RGS) offers opportunities to investigate teacher response in antiracist writing assessment ecologies. How do grading contracts change how teachers respond to student writing? How can we better understand teacher response as dynamic genres in antiracist writing assessment ecologies?

Keywords: teacher response, grading contracts, antiracist writing assessment, rhetorical genre studies

Rebuilding Habits: Assessing the Impact of a Hybrid Learning Contract in Online First-Year Composition Courses

This article examines a pilot study of a learning contract in an online first-year writing program. The program uses a master-class model with a shared curriculum and serves more than 3,500 students a semester. In this pilot, we implemented the contract within half of our courses. Our goal was to understand the impact of a learning contract on student retention in our first-year writing courses. We also hoped to determine if the learning contract helped shift student and instructor focus from grades to skill transfer. In this article, we first discuss the process of developing a learning contract, including the challenges of collaborating with faculty to address their needs and concerns; building instructor and instructional designer buy-in; and working through the limitations of the learning management system (LMS) to implement the contract in online courses. Second, we assess the results of the initial pilot to determine whether the contract functioned as we hoped by tracking the differences in retention, pass rates, and grade distributions between learning contract and traditional courses. We also examine survey data from students and faculty to make initial observations about students' and instructors' perceptions of how the learning contract impacted teaching and learning.

Keywords: learning contract, first-year writing, assessment, online writing instruction, writing program faculty development