Making Grade Contracts Effective
Whether grade contracts are effective depends on the teacher and the student involved. If a teacher pulls the contracts out at the beginning of the year, doesn't give students the details of the type of effort a specific grade would entail, and then never refers to them again, the effect will most likely be minimal. To make grade contracts more effective, a teacher should provide students with as much information as possible about what would be required of them for each grade.
Many teachers who use grade contracts have found that they work best when they are used for individual assignments. For example, if you were assigning a research project, you could give your students a list of what would be required to earn an A,B, or C. Obviously you would not allow a student to strive for a D or an F as both of these are below average and failing. However, you could still show the students what would result in either of these grades. After the students have had some time to look over the grade requirements, they can then decide, or "contract," to earn a specific grade.
Disadvantages of Grade Contracts
An argument against grade contracts is that all students should be striving for an A. Therefore, allowing students to choose to earn a B or C would be letting them give less effort than they might otherwise have given. On the flip side, some teachers feel that by putting the control in each student's hands, they are receiving better work than they otherwise would. As a teacher, you should consider the makeup of your class and realize that for some students this might in fact give them permission to do less. At the same time, other students who feel disempowered by grading and assessments might gain the incentive and control they need through grade contracts and make a better grade.
In the end, grade contracts will not be for all teachers in all situations. However, they can be an effective tool and should be considered when you feel they would be help the most students achieve.