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Extra Credit: Grade-Grubbing or Acts-of-Desperation?

Extra Credit: Grade-Grubbing or Acts-of-Desperation?

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The school year is four days old, I’ve seen each of my classes twice, and already I’ve received an email from a parent asking about extra credit. My extra credit policy has evolved quite a bit over the years, usually in response to how students use or abuse it. A few years ago, frustrated with what I saw as either grade-grubbing (“I HAVE to have an A!”) or acts of desperation (“I HAVE to pass this class!”), I designed a new extra credit policy. My goal was that extra credit would reward students for engaging in activities that contributed to the development of their reading/writing/communication skills, but couldn’t be used to make up for assigned work that had not been done. I wouldn’t accept extra credit if a student had any missing assignments. You can see my new policy here: http://bit.ly/1nnRtQs.

As much as my students insisted that they needed extra credit, very few of them took me up on this new policy. My guess is that they didn’t really want to work that hard; they just wanted an easy way to boost their grade. So in a way, my policy worked. Grades need to be accurate reflections of a student’s performance, right? Extra credit often inflates grades, making it look like a student has performed better than he/she has. So should we even offer extra credit?

This year I am teaching all advanced-level English 8 classes. In my experience, these are the students who seek extra credit because the straight-A-4.0 is their goal. While we would all love our students to strive for good grades, I am much more interested in whether or not they are eager to learn, striving to improve their skills. Does offering extra credit just encourage grade-grubbing?  I’m considering not offering extra credit at all this year, communicating to my students (and their parents) the importance of doing their very best on all assignments and not using extra credit to make up for what is an accurate reflection of their abilities.

What do you think? What is your extra credit policy?


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Terri J Tomassi's picture
Terri J Tomassi
Teacher - Gifted and 4th Grade

I grade for mastery and my grades reflect the level of understanding I have evidence for. I don't give extra credit and my homework only counts for 3% of a grade. Homework can move a child up...but it can't move a child's grade down. No extra credit for me...just credit towards assessments they do. :)

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Thanks for your perspective, Terri! Your system sounds right-on, especially at the elementary level. I think extra credit may be more of an issue at the secondary level, when parents and students start to really focus on grades. Do you agree? I'm curious to hear from others at all grade levels about that.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Extra credit is tricky. Sometimes I find that students want to make up for the fact that they didn't understand something well the first time around. In that case I find I'm better served by having them redo the initial work to reflect that new understanding. If they're trying to make up for a simple lack of effort earlier in the term, I'm more likely to ask them to do some reflection on the choices they made that led to a less-than-desired grade.

Now, however, I teach in an ungraded graduate environment so this is a non-isse. I'm constantly amazed at how far above and beyond our students go- particularly considering that there's no "A" to be gained from it.

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Alex Shevrin's picture
Alex Shevrin
Teacher/leader & techie at independent, alternative, therapeutic high school

I appreciate the consideration of how extra credit adds to or detracts from the integrity of your assessment systems. I would want to offer one other perspective as someone who works with primarily"at risk" students. If extra credit is offered for things that may require time, money, or transportation outside of the school day - how are we as teachers ensuring that all students have the opportunity to access those things? If we offer extra credit only to those who have the time (rather than taking care of siblings or their own children, or working one or more jobs to support their families), money (students whose family can afford allowance or disposable income), or transportation (students without resources to get around town) -if we only offer extra credit if the student can ensure access to those things, then we create an inequitable situation in our classes.

I wonder if a different way to frame extra credit could be students who take on extra responsibilities in class: peer mentoring, helping with class tasks, being kind and supportive to others - valuing their contribution to the community. But then we run into a similar problem - students with learning differences who take longer to complete their basic class expectations might not be able to access opportunities to do "extra."

I'd be curious what others think about how we make extra credit something that all students can access equally.

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Terri J Tomassi's picture
Terri J Tomassi
Teacher - Gifted and 4th Grade

Alex, you bring up some strong points. I have noticed that students who do extra credit are the ones that have more parent support or time to complete. I had not considered that before.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Ouch, you are so right, Alex. In fact, when I have wanted my students to participate in something, but I couldn't require it because it took place outside of school, I have offered it as extra credit (for instance, seeing an author at a book store). When students said they couldn't go, I would say it wasn't required, so that's OK. I have, though, always offered other ways to earn extra credit that didn't call for outside support, but you're right that it's usually going to be those with home support who will more often take advantage of those options.

The more we talk about this, the more inclined I am to just stop offering extra credit entirely. So often it's the parents who push the kids to ask me for it (often the parents just email me directly, asking for it -- gotta get that grade up), and it isn't about skill building or extended learning at all. It's just about grades.

This reminds me of the issue of how rewarding kids can decrease the value of a task (like prizes for reading can take away the inherent pleasure of reading) -- if I reward them with extra credit, do they become less likely to go to author events in the future?

HR's picture

As a first-year teacher, I feel overwhelmed by how much grading goes on, but it's also something I can do well. Once the kids are gone for the week, I can sit down and reflect on how each class has performed, based on their work. So often I assign homework and work to students who are wasting class time, but few turn the work in. I would not recommend improvising assignments or grading, but in my case, since I track everything well and have still much to learn, I make certain assignments I do not need to grade (for example: a one paragraph response when I am already grading their essays) extra credit. But I DO NOT SELL EXTRA CREDIT AS A REASON TO WORK. Extra credit is a way to reward students who are taking initiative in their work ethic, even though they know the little things might not provide a big extrinsic reward. If I were to do the week over again, I would remind the students of the assigned work and mention that it would be extra credit. But I would only do so in a way that prevents them from sacrificing main work for the extra credit.

Mr.Skipper's picture
Mr.Skipper
7th Grade Writing

I've been teaching for 21 years. I used to give extra credit to boost grades, but then quit when students were looking to replace zeros. I'd say, "Why ask for extra credit when you didn't do the regular credit?"

Now, instead of extra credit, students do extra assignments in order to learn whatever it is that is causing their grades to suffer.

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Good point, Mr. Skipper -- I think it's important to consider the purpose of the work. Is the extra credit something easy that allows them to have a higher grade that may not be an accurate representation of their work/ability? Or is the extra work a valuable exercise that improves their skills? I'm curious -- when you say your students do extra assignments, are they assignments you give them? Or are they able to choose their own extra credit to improve their skills?

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