Extra Credit: To Give or not to Give?

One of the first questions a new teacher asks about grades and grading usually has to do with extra credit. It would be nice if there were a universal policy that met all the needs of teachers and students, but that’s not the way it works. Instead, I think each of us needs to establish a policy based on what we’re comfortable with and our personal views about grades and grading.

As you consider an extra credit policy, I’d remind you of some of these questions that we explore in class relative to grading and assigning grades:

  • What does a grade represent? Is it a student’s level of performance relative to a standard? Is it a student’s level of growth or improvement over time? What role does a student’s effort play in a final grade? (This last question, as you might expect, gets us into particularly thorny territory give how challenging it is to measure something like effort.)
  • What role does timing play in evaluating a student’s work and assigning a grade? Is it reasonable to expect all students to achieve a level of mastery at the same time? Or should we build in allowances for students to achieve mastery at different times? (This affects, for instance, a policy where you allow students to re-do or re-submit work when they’re unhappy with the initial grade.)
  • What influence do grades have on a student’s motivation? Should we weigh these factors when considering a final grade?
  • What is the purpose of extra credit? Is to help a student make up lost or missing credit? (If so, might allowing them to re-do or submit late the original work be a better option?) Is it to provide a means for enrichment, allowing students to “go beyond” the minimum expectations? (If so, should extra credit be offered to all students or only to those who are already meeting the minimum?) Or is extra credit merely a form of death-bed repentance that perhaps shouldn’t be offered at all?

Your answers to these questions will, I suggest, influence the policy you adopt towards extra credit. And don’t expect these answers to be firm and unchanging throughout your career; more likely than not, your thinking on these issues will evolve as you gain experience.

Here’s a recent post from Edutopia and a related discussion in the comments thread that highlights some of the philosophical considerations at work behind an extra credit policy; in addition, a number of teachers share their own policies. The discussion might give you some ideas that will be helpful in building your own policy

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