Talking about extra credit can create heated arguments among college instructors. However, regardless of where you stand, it’s worth a few minutes to review both sides of this sometimes touchy subject.
College instructors who favor extra credit tend to want to mitigate some of the potentially unfair subjectivity inherent in grading. Below are some of the rationales for adopting this policy.
- We are all imperfect graders, so allowing extra credit is only fair.
- Learning is a construct, and there is no perfect measure. Therefore, extra credit evens the playing field.
- Students’ performance can be affected by myriad circumstances or “contaminants” thwarting accurate grading (a severe headache, family problems, unclear instructions, distractions while taking an exam). When such issues are outside students’ control, their grade may not accurately reflect their grasp of the material, so allowing a do-over or extra credit makes sense.
- Extra credit can provide an opportunity to revise work, an excellent learning tool.
Nevertheless, instructors who do offer extra credit often attach strict constraints, such as the following:
- not offering extra credit at the end of a term
- accepting extra credit only if a student has completed all required work
- never using extra credit to save a student from failing a course
- agreeing to extra credit only in areas in which a student has demonstrated weakness
- requiring all revised work to include a mega-cognitive self-analysis of the previous work and where it went wrong
- refusing to accept late work and instead allowing students who have missed an assignment to complete another similar assignment that will earn some but not all of the credit from the missed assignment
Instructors who do not offer extra credit seem want to instill in students responsibility for their actions and performance while honoring the students who have done their work adequately. Some of their reasons for eschewing extra credit are listed below:
- Students who request extra credit often do so at the end of the semester after they realize their semester-long lackluster performance will lead to a poor final grade. Offering such extra credit does a disservice to those students who have played by the rules, making the policy unfair.
- Extra credit that replaces missing work reinforces poor work habits and will not benefit the student in the long term.
- Extra credit often turns out to be an alternative to an assignment a student simply did not want to complete, encouraging the “student-as-client” ideology.
- Teachers (especially writing teachers) are already burdened with grading and do not have the time to allow students to make up for earlier weak performances.
- Students in trouble should be encouraged to get help rather than ask to do more work.
Where do you fall on the extra credit question? Write us—we’d love to hear your thoughts!