What is extra credit?

graphic: Dorothy Weiss

graphic: Dorothy Weiss

A necessary supplement

You walk out of math class, feeling dejected—how could you have ever forgotten how to multiply matrices? A dark cloud looms over you for the rest of your day, as you fret about your potentially poor grade. What am I going to do? you think to yourself. The marking period is about to end … How will I raise my grade? If only there was something to calm your nerves … Something that could help your grade recover from your poor test score…

Thankfully, for many students, there is a way to rescue their grades—extra credit. Many teachers offer students the chance to receive extra credit, such as answering an additional question at the end of a test or making a PowerPoint that expands on a relevant concept introduced in class. Whether it’s a gradesaver or worth just a few points, extra credit can alleviate some of the stress a student feels after a difficult examination or assignment.

Something very similar to grades in the world beyond school is GDP, or Gross Domestic Product. GDP is “an aggregate measure of production equal to the sum of the gross values added of all resident institutional units engaged in production,” according to The Economist. Just as GDP is a good measure of the economic state, grades are, or rather should be, a measure of students’ knowledge. However, neither system accounts for unprecedented situations, which means the measurements lack context. Whether students are undergoing some kind of turmoil at home or just experiencing the everyday stresses of life, they are usually preoccupied; given the circumstances, they will not always perform at their best. A math quiz grade cannot take into account the fact that a student had to unexpectedly take care of a sick sibling or play in a sports match two hours away, circumstances that would leave little time for studying. Teachers must be open and approachable in order for the student to be comfortable enough to admit their challenges and request a little extra help.

Educators are always striving to enhance their lesson plans and present new ideas in a creative, interactive way. While they may be constricted by state-mandated standards or deadlines for AP exams, the ability to break free from the mold comes in the form of assignments that take place out of class. A chemistry teacher may not have time during the limited 180 days of school to assign the classic baking soda volcano project, but students could take it upon themselves to create one out of class, enjoy the experience and clean up the mess in order to receive a couple of points back on a quiz. In these cases, extra credit opportunities allow students to both further their learning and improve their grades.

However, while extra credit is extremely helpful to students, many teachers are reluctant to give out these opportunities. Some refrain from doing so because they believe it causes students to slack off on assignments with the intent of making them up later with additional points. There are also those who say that extra credit poses a problem in the classroom because it gives an unfair advantage to the student receiving it. This philosophy operates under the assumption that every student should have the same opportunities no matter the circumstance.

Sometimes “the same” and “fair” have completely different connotations. Each student walks into class everyday with a completely unique background; thus the teaching techniques and assignments given should be tailored to a learner’s specific needs. Those that hold the power to give such assignments should not disregard the individuality of the student sitting before them. A person is a lot more than some percentages on a transcript—the human spirit is a difficult element to quantify and express in such a brief document as a report card. It is the responsibility of the educators to capture the unseen circumstances with an understanding only they can provide, and more often than not this compassion comes in the form of extra credit. by Henry Bartman and Angela Kim

An unfair advantage

At the end of every marking period, it’s the same routine: some students, relieved at the temporary workload dip, sit back and relax, while others get caught up in a school-wide frenzy and scramble together last-ditch efforts to make the better grade. The number of requests for extra credit assignments—assignments that can boost averages, sometimes as much as full assignments would, but by definition cannot negatively affect grades if students choose not to complete them or perform poorly—drastically increases during this period.

Offering extra credit is potentially harmful because assignments designated as “extra credit” are sometimes worth the same amount of points as a regular assignment. This creates incentives for students to complete extra credit assignments not as “extras” to regular coursework, but instead of regular coursework. Extra credit assignments are optional because they are not essential to the curriculum, which presents the potential for students to forgo essential parts of the curriculum for unnecessary extras without causing a difference in their final grade. In addition to the grade disparity, students still will not understand the basics of the subject. This lack of comprehension is problematic, as many classes at PHS end in standardized statewide or AP exams which test student knowledge of exactly those basics. No one wins when students lack incentive to learn the material.

Grades should reflect students’ effort in completing work and learning material, and points from hasty extra credit at the end of the marking period distort this representation. Furthermore, extra credit is often offered to only some students: either those who approach the teacher about their grades specifically, or those whose grades are suffering. This is not conducive to an environment in which all students are aware of the opportunities to raise their average.

Offering extra credit assignments solely to help students boost their grades could endorse a mindset that pervades PHS already—the idea that grades are so important that students should spend time only on assignments that contribute to raising one’s GPA. At the end of the day, a 0.02% GPA raise and good grades should not take away from the value of learning.

However, many teachers recognize extra credit as an important tool. If these teachers do decide to make extra credit an opportunity for their students, there should be guidelines to make such opportunities effective. These extra credit assignments should be equally challenging if not more difficult than regular assignments with the same point value, helping to ensure that the extra credit assignments do not become substitutes for originally-assigned ones. Challenging extra credit assignments would deter students from choosing the extra option, as it would not be an easier route to a better grade. Also, teachers should only offer extra credit to students who have submitted all of their regular assignments. Regular assignment redos should be students’ first ticket to raising their grades. In the end, teachers should offer an extra credit opportunity to everyone so that students who approach the teachers about grades are not the only ones who can participate in the opportunity. This also makes a teacher’s work easier, allowing them to resolve all grade issues, rather than responding to each student’s extra credit questions individually. It is important for teachers to be sparing in giving extra credit assignments—to earn a good grade, students should need to work hard throughout the entire year. So don’t live for the grade. Don’t depend on extra credit. Remember, “Live to learn, and learn to live.”

Extra credit opportunities are a privilege often misused by both teachers and students. Ultimately, classes without extra credit—or those in which it is assigned modestly and responsibly—provide students with a better, more dependable grading system. This structure encourages them to value honest and diligent effort in producing desirable results. by Caitlin Costa and Madi Norman


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