Appendix 2: Example criteria for the evaluation and grading of a CURE

Notes to instructor:

Philosophy: One of the goals of this project is to help you develop as an independent professional and [scientist]. To that end, a number of activities are meant to encourage you to structure your own experience and learning. This includes the use of a discussion board, the workbook activities, the development of your own learning goals, and the development of your meeting agendas. Other components of this structure are the all-important peer-reviews, which will give you an opportunity to give feedback to your classmates and reflect upon your own work.

Structure: My approach to grading this project will emphasize personal responsibility and metacognition. This will involve several components:

  • An individual-grade component and a group-grade component
  • Clear rubrics for specific assignments
  • Peer-evaluations and self-evaluations independent of my assessment
  • Grading for genuine quality work on a check/check plus/check minus basis
  • A contract grading approach

Commitment: In general, I define genuine quality work as fulfilling the following requirements:

  • Did you follow the process laid out in the prompt/explanations in good faith?
  • Did you complete the activity in its entirety?
  • Did you reflect on this work? Are you engaged in the activity? Did you think through it and demonstrate that thinking to your reader(s)?
  • Did you complete the work on time?
  • Was the work completed taking into account the following elements of professional good practices: inclusivity, working well with others, integrity, demonstrated critical thinking, proper analytical reasoning, and clear communication of your results?

Rationale of contract grading: In my experience teaching, I have repeatedly confronted the fact that students often care deeply about their grades, sometimes to the detriment of the learning experience itself. This is not to blame you. I understand that there can be a lot of pressure to get high grades to be competitive for scholarships, on applications, and for yourself. I also know that the standardized testing approach of our K-12 education system has emphasized this way of thinking. However, I am MUCH MORE interested in your learning than your grade. I care a lot about your knowledge and skills acquisition. I would like to free you from the pressure of thinking about every assignment in terms of a grade and instead help you focus on what you are gaining from that assignment. Grading does not reflect the way (for the most part) you will be evaluated in your professional careers in which peer-evaluations, client feedback, the completions of deliverables, and your standing in the profession/institution play a big role. Contract grading is more analogous to a professional evaluation than a grade. It also encourages you to take responsibility for your learning.

Evaluation method: You will obtain a grade for the project component of this class based on the contract spelled out below, which lists the requirements to obtain a grade and penalties for not fulfilling the terms of your contract. Every assignment linked to the project in the CURE (except the final paper; see below) will be assigned one of four qualifiers: unsatisfactory, check minus, check, or check plus:

  • Check plus: given to work that goes above and beyond the requirements spelled out in the prompt and other documents associated with the project. This is an evaluation that reflects extraordinary work. What qualifies as extraordinary work will be highlighted in rubrics.
  • Check: given to work that meets the requirements of genuine quality work. This is an expression of the accomplishment of good work that you should be proud of.
  • Check minus: given to work that attempted to meet the requirements of the assignment but did not quite succeed. This reflects work that should be extensively revised and needs some reflection but does show engagement with the material and willingness to complete the tasks.
  • Unsatisfactory: given to assignments that do not meet the requirements for genuine quality work including assignments not turned in, turned in too late, plagiarized assignments (note that any student code of conduct issue will also be referred to the appropriate university-wide process), and superficial work that does not meet the requirements of the prompt.

Late penalty: Deadlines are meaningful in academic and professional work, just like they are in the real world. Not meeting a deadline can impact others. Indeed, in this project it will, because you are working with others. If your lateness on an assignment delays the work of your group, you will earn an unsatisfactory for this assignment. If your lateness does not delay your group, you will earn a check minus on the assignment. Note that the late policy of the class as a whole also applies. This means that qualifying events will be excused and that I am always open to discussing your personal situation. Communication is key. Talk to me ahead of the deadline if you will not meet it (and note that “ahead of the deadline” doesn’t mean the night before except in emergency situations—come talk to me sooner rather than later).

Contracts: Contract grading is not an opportunity to not complete the work. To fulfill ANY grade contract (i.e. earn a passing grade on the project), a student must fulfill all of the following tasks:

  • Announce in writing to the professor (by email) the contract you are pursuing by [DATE] at [TIME].
  • Come to class prepared to discuss the project, its progress, your writing, and scaffolding assignments.
  • Participate actively and inclusively in group meetings, the discussion board, and the group reviews.
  • Meet with me (during office hours or another scheduled time) at least once around [week 6-8 of the semester] to check you are on-track to meet your contract requirements and discuss any concerns you have about it. You are responsible for scheduling this meeting with me by email at least a week in advance.
  • Contribute significantly to the final manuscript produced by the group turned in at the end of the semester.

“A, B, and C contracts”

The table below shows how many checks you need to earn for each type of activity to satisfy the requirements of each contract. At the bottom of the table, the number of check pluses expected from you for each contract (on any of the activities) is also showed. Note that the explicit mention that you should not obtain any “unsatisfactory” is also spelled out.

Expectations for group contracts

Number of tasks across categories of assignments that should receive a check to fulfill an A, B, or C contract
Tasks Total A contract B contract C contract
Group input, RCR training, Learning goals ALL ALL ALL
Tutorials 8 7 6 5
Scaffolding activities 7 6 5 4
Group meetings 9 8 7 6
Meeting agendas 7 6 5 4
Deliverables 8 6 5 4
Peer-reviews 8 7 6 5
Reflection workbook 3 3 2 2
Chalkboard Presentation 1 1 1 1
Manuscript 1 1 1 1
Discussion board 3 3 2 2
Group reviews 3 3 3 3
Check+ earned 11 7 4
Unsatisfactory grades received 0 0 0
  • Lettered goal above you do not fulfill will earn you penalties against your contract.
  • Every check plus you get beyond the required number above compensates for a check minus.


“D” and “E” grades:

You cannot and should not be aiming for a D or E in a class (obviously). However, I reserve the right to award such a grade (D or E) should you fail to meet your contractual obligations specified above in a systematic way. If you demonstrate minimal effort or achievement in fulfilling your contract, you will earn a D. If you do not turn in enough satisfactory work to satisfy the spirit (see section on genuine satisfactory work above) of the project in addition to the letter of the contract, you will earn an E.


Percentage grade: The reality of the university system is that your contract will be converted to a numerical grade (as a percentage) at the end of the semester:

Correspondence between contract grade and percentage grade for the course

Letter grades for each contract correspond to the standard grading scheme of the university
Contract grade Percentage
A 93
B 83
C 73
D 63
E 53

Contract tracking and adjustment: I encourage you to keep track of your performance throughout the semester (I will as well) to be able to tell where you stand at all times. You will make an appointment to talk to me about your progress on your contract about halfway through the semester (see above). This will also be an opportunity to request a change in contract (up or down).

Note on contract choice: You will NOT be judged for the choice of contract you make. In the words of Cathy Davidson: “If you complete the work you contracted for, you get the grade. Done. I respect the student who only needs a C, who has other obligations that preclude doing all of the requirements to earn an A in the course, and who contracts for the C and carries out the contract perfectly. This is another one of those major life skills: taking responsibility for your own workflow.” There is no penalty whatsoever for choosing a particular contract. You can always earn a higher grade then the contract grade based on your achievements.