Classroom Credit Crunch


One of the most frequent questions I got from students and parents was  "Do you give extra credit?"  This is another issue I wrestled with early on, but unlike homework, I didn't agonize over it very long.  I quit doing it.


The school I taught at had a culture of "deal making."  If a student wasn't satisfied with their grade - or their parents weren't - the haggling would commence.  Can I do this?  Can my son or daughter do that? Never mind the fact that they hadn't done the work, hadn't studied for tests, didn't submit anything on time and just in general were sloppy, inaccurate and late.  I was supposed to invent something for them to do that was basically free points.  During the last week of every term, it became a feeding frenzy. 


At first, I tried to accommodate people - you know, the old go along to get along routine.  What did it get me?  Usually sloppy, half-assed work thrown on my desk the day before grades were due.  So now I've got another hundred things to grade when things are at their busiest.  Halfway through my first year, I ditched the extra credit routine after learning the following hard lessons.


If a student hasn't turned in their work or has done a lousy job with it, what makes us think that extra credit will be any different, especially if it's something thrown together the last night of the term? Answer - it won't be.


Likewise, if a student knows they can pick up an easy 15-20 points or cut some other kind of deal at the end of the term, what incentive is there to perform well through the whole term.  Answer - none.


How about if a student who has previously been lacking all of a sudden turns in a perfect piece of work? Answer - it probably isn't their work.  Cheating is a huge problem and getting worse.  As I've said before on this site, the only work you can trust for grades is what you see them do.


Do you have time to play detective?  Answer - no.  


I believe that students need to perform well on a consistent basis and demonstrate mastery of the subject as they go. This is especially true in math. Giving out a whole bunch of extra credit points at the end of a term cheapens the grading system and lowers the sense of urgency to get things done.  In the long run, it lowers performance, rewards bad habits and makes the end of the term a living hell for the teacher.


That said, I had other opportunities for students to earn legitimate bonus points throughout the term.  I had bonus questions on every test and usually some weekly bonus activity in class.  I threw out lowest quiz and homework scores.  There were plenty of chances to earn good grades and/or recover from bad ones, but the keys were consistency and quality work.


Teachers have to pick their fights and this was one I chose to take on.  At first, I caught a lot of grief for bucking the tradition of deal making. But I wasn't backing down and I didn't.  Nobody could argue against the points I made up above and after a while, it just went away.  Does that mean the students saw the error of their ways and buckled down?  I'd like to say that happened but it didn't.  They simply quit asking for bailouts.


Every once in a while, the good guys win one.


Si facile, omnes esset facere....Mister L.