The use of extra credit can be an effective teaching and learning tool in any content area classroom, but only if the extra credit is used in the correct manner.
Generally, extra credit is offered to those students who want to bring up a GPA. Poor performance on a heavily weighted test or a paper or a project may have dropped a student's overall grade. The opportunity for extra credit may be a motivational tool or a way to correct a misjudgment or miscommunication. However, if used incorrectly or inequitably, extra credit can also be a point of contention and a headache for the teacher. Therefore, a teacher should take time to look at an offer for extra credit critically and consider the implications it may have for grading and assessment.
Pros of Using Extra Credit
An extra credit assignment may provide students with an incentive to go above and beyond the class material. If it is used to enhance lessons, the offer for extra credit can help deepen the learning for students. It can also help struggling students by providing them with additional learning opportunities while allowing them a means to increase their grade. The extra credit may mirror the original assignment, be an alternative test, paper or project. There may be a section of an assessment that can be taken again or the student may suggest an alternative assignment.
Extra credit may also be in the form of revision. The process of revision, especially in writing assignments, can be used as a way to teach students to reflect on their progress and abilities in writing and take steps to strengthen it. Revision may serve to establish conferences to receive highly beneficial one-on-one attention. Rather than design new extra credit opportunities, a teacher should consider how he or she can reinforce the skills to improve student performance on a previously graded assignment.
Another method for extra credit is to give students a bonus question(s) on a quiz or test. There may be an option to answer an additional essay question or solve an additional word problem.
If extra credit is allowed, teachers may adopt the kinds of the assignments that are voluntary extra credit must still be assessed just as rigorously as the assessments for regular coursework. Perhaps there are extra credit opportunities that allow students to try extended activities such as inquiry projects based on questions, problems, or scenarios. Students may choose to volunteer in the school community or in the community at large. By allowing the student the opportunity to choose how they will earn extra credit points could be a way to give them control over their academic achievement.
After checking school policy, if you wish to offer extra credit in your class, you will need to make sure of the following:
- Do connect your extra credit to other lessons in class or to classroom pertinent current events.
- Do provide the same extra credit opportunities to all students.
- Do consider your grading time when assigning extra credit.
- Do make extra credit assignments interesting and pertinent for students.
- Do tell your students when you assign extra credit how much it will be worth and how you will grade it.
- Do make sure that you are not outweighing your required assignments with points for extra credit.
- Do set a clear deadline for when extra credit is due.
Cons of Using Extra Credit
On the other hand, too many opportunities for extra credit in a course could result in an imbalance in grading. Extra credit assignments could outweigh the required assignments, and the result could mean that a student would pass a course without meeting all the standards. Extra credit that is graded for a “completion” grade can skew an overall grade.
In the same vein, some educators believe that extra credit reduces the importance of curriculum assessments by providing students with a way to circumvent the curriculum. These students could avoid requirements by still have the ability to increase their grade. Moreover, an extra credit assignment could boost a GPA, but obscure a student's actual academic ability.
There are also some schools that have a no extra credit rule in their policy handbook. There are some districts that want to eliminate the extra work a teacher has to do after assigning extra credit. Some general rules to consider are:
- Do not create extra credit assignments that are unconnected to your curriculum or standards.
- Do not grade each student's extra credit using different standards.
- Do not create so much extra credit that students are able to pass without completing the required work.
- Do not make spur of the moment extra credit opportunities that are not equally available to all students.
- Do not allow 'busy work' like copying from a book to be extra credit
- Do not allow students to turn in late extra credit as this is just an accounting nightmare.
- Do not create extra credit assignments that the educational value is not equivalent to the student or teacher effort involved.