During your educational journey, there is a high possibility that you will experience at least one class, most likely one that is language or writing, that is graded on the basis of labor. Formally this structure is known as the “labor-based grading contract” or the “Ungrading System”. This system is becoming increasingly popular and is commonly sprinkled throughout college campuses in an attempt to revitalize the standardized understanding of conventional grading systems. 

The labor-based grading contract acts as an agreement between the students and the professor as a means to show how students will be evaluated while taking the course. The contract recognizes labor as the core source of evaluation, rather than the professors’ judgment of quality. This contract excels in highlighting and emphasizing the students’ time and effort rather than the ‘quality’ of their work. Since the judgment of quality in academia is deservingly problematic, labor-based grading also accomplishes the goal of minimizing unfair judgment, anxiety, and insecurity around writing with the intention of creating an environment that can foster growth and improvement. The removal of a typical numerical grading system also produces an environment that can emphasize the student and their writing as a process rather than a function necessary to achieve a certain grade. 

To put it simply, this is done to minimize the emphasis on how you perform against others and to focus on improving yourself. However, labor-based grading is not a system that has been adopted by every classroom let alone by larger-scale, university-wide grading systems. Since this arrangement exists within a dynamic where the majority of your academic performance is still traditionally evaluated, the system itself does not fully achieve its goals. 

Your labor-based grading contract fails as soon as you exit your writing classroom. Other classes you may be taking could be traditionally evaluated and your transcript, which is the framework that comprises all of your classes, is also numerically evaluated. This more often than not creates a dynamic where these classes are held at different levels of priority. As long as there are still classes that are graded numerically based on the judgment of professors, courses which exist in a labor-based environment will not fully be able to shift students’ focus to a content and process-based approach. 

Suppose the basis of a labor-based grading contract is to alleviate pressure from the students, with the addition of conventionally graded classes. As a result, you will more likely synthesize this: Labor-based grading does not evaluate quality numerically, so you can not engage as much with the class, doing minimal work required to be marked as “complete”, so you can pay attention to classes that follow a different pattern. 

This does not mean that the labor-based grading contract system is fundamentally flawed. It means that since labor-based grading exists in a small classroom-to-classroom form, it will not achieve its intended purpose. This failure can make labor-based grading seem like “too much work” or “overcomplicated”. To achieve its full potential, higher education must change the fundamentals of how work and labor are evaluated.