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An Integrated Mixed-Methods Study of Contract Grading’s Impact on Students’ Perceptions of Stress, Self-Worth Protection Behaviors, and Academic Performance in High School English Courses.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Emily Watson
Publication date8/11/2021
Number of pages215
Awarding Institution
Award date8/09/2021
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Background. Contract grading is a holistic assessment approach for learning and grading in which students participate in the assessment process by choosing their desired effort and outcome.
Aims. This thesis sought to understand the impact of contract grading on high schoolers’ (grades 9-12) perceptions of stress, self-worth protection behaviors, achievement motivation, and academic performance.
Sample. Participants were 439 young people (ages 13-19), including 284 returning students and 155 first-year students, completing a high-stakes writing assessment in their English course.
Method. The integrated mixed-methods study followed an explanatory sequential design: interviews with 40 adolescents from all grade levels and course types explained the findings of matched-pairs quantitative data generated from four psychometrically sound scales.
Academic Stress. The contract significantly reduced evaluative threat by clarifying expectations. Consequently, compared to their prior experience with or expectations for the task, adolescents perceived workload demands as significantly less stressful and threatening under the contract.
Self-Worth Protection Behaviors. Adolescents reported significantly less fear of failure and social comparison. The qualitative data revealed that the contract oriented them to achieve success, rather than avoid failure.
Academic Achievement. 90% (n=390) of participants fulfilled the contract to earn either an A or B, including 94% of returning students and 83% of first-year students. Students with prior experience were 19% more likely to earn an A and 16% more likely to earn a B under the contract compared to conventional grading practices. Overall, 97% (n=421) earned a passing grade on the assessment.
Contribution. The findings of this thesis make a significant contribution, revealing that contract grading reduced secondary students’ perceptions of stress and evaluative threat, oriented them toward success, and improved academic performance. This leads to a call to action for secondary teachers to implement contract grading to foster psycho-emotionally healthy learning environments.