No Extra Credit: Grading Epiphany 2

It’s been a few weeks since we posted - I guess our #summerbreaklife is in full force. But today I’m back with another installment in some posts I’m writing about my grading approach or philosophy.

Last time, I wrote about my first big Grading Epiphany: Don’t include student behavior in grades. That epiphany has probably had the biggest impact on my actual grading practices, and I continue to work on faithfully adhering to it.

Today, I’m tackling a time-honored tradition in secondary classrooms: the practice of giving out extra credit points to enable students to raise their grade.

I will say that even from the beginning, I never gave out a lot of extra credit in my classes. To me, it always seemed like extra work; it was already all I could do to get my regular lessons planned and executed, without having to come up with other stuff for my students to do to recover points.

But after diving into the world of standards-based grading, I came to realize just how inane the practice of giving extra credit really is.

Once you accept the notion that a grade should reflect students’ skills and knowledge on the standards you’ve identified for your course, the work you ask your students to do becomes very purposeful. Suddenly, everything you design relates directly to a standard of some kind. It just has to, once you’ve made this mind-shift.

The next logical leap to make is this: if a student needs to recover points because their work on a required assignment was inadequate or incomplete, the appropriate course of action is to have the student re-do or complete that assignment. Assuming that your assignments are designed with the standards in mind, the only way for a student to demonstrate proficiency is to have another crack at that assignment (or perhaps a slight variation on the original assignment, in some cases).

This leap is really freeing, or at least it was for me. I now had a very easy reply when students asked for extra credit: “I don’t offer extra credit, but you can always re-work and re-submit one of your other pieces!”

Students are often frustrated by this, especially at first. Most kids don’t want to revisit work they consider “finished.” But clearly there’s a valuable habit for them to practice here: when their work misses the mark, is insufficient in some way, it’s worth their time and effort to apply themselves and do it right.

And here’s the best part about this epiphany: you can implement it right away. You don’t need any fanfare, you don’t need to wait until the start of a new school year or grading period - you just… stop offering extra credit. (Unless you’ve rigidly codified your use of extra credit in your syllabus, in which case, you may need to wait until the start of the next grading period to make an amendment.)

It’s a beautiful thing. No longer do you need to photocopy extra worksheets for students. No longer will you need to check those things off in the gradebook, and decide how many points they’re worth, and wonder if they’re skewing a student’s grade too far off the mark.

While it’s a simple fix, it goes a long way toward ensuring the accuracy of your grades, and that is a wonderful change. Trust me.   

I've mentioned this book before, but if you want to dive into the practical aspects of changing the way you grade, I'd highly recommend Ken O'Connor's A Repair Kit for Grading. It's just the best.

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Erin DickeyComment