Girl solving mathematical additionIn general, students love extra credit. For some, it’s an opportunity to make up for a missed assignment or a poor test grade. For others, notably the high-achievers, it’s an opportunity to excel at the highest level. However, is extra credit a strategy that is genuinely in your students’ best interests? Before you offer your next set of bonus points, consider the pros and cons of giving your students opportunities for extra credit.

The Pros of Offering Students Bonus Points

  • Serves as an extra opportunity to raise a grade at the end of a marketing period.
  • Helps students compensate for one poor test or project grade.
  • Motivates students to put in un-required but beneficial additional work effort.
  • Proactively helps students maintain high grades, in case they earn a below-average project or test score later in the marking period.
  • When used to enhance lessons, it can help deepen conceptual learning and theory understanding.
  • Provides additional practice opportunities for students struggling with a concept.
  • When offered as an opportunity to revise an assignment, it gives students motivation to understand where their work didn’t meet expectations, and learn the value of additional effort.
  • When designed as an extra-curricular engagement opportunity, students may benefit from volunteer work or event participation in which they may not have otherwise engaged.

The Cons of Offering Students Extra Credit

  • Believing there will be a future opportunity to earn points back, students may knowingly skip or underperform on an assignment, or not prepare thoroughly enough for a test.
  • Credit given for non-academic accomplishments, such as winning a game, may not offer all students a fair and equitable chance to earn bonus points.
  • If you give students too many extra credit opportunities, it may create an imbalance in grading, which could enable a student to pass a course even if he/she has not met all of the necessary learning standards.
  • When given as a “completion” grade, extra credit can unfairly skew a student’s overall course grade.
  • It may create more work for teachers, which could take away from planning curriculum that will benefit all students equally.

If you choose to offer your students extra credit, follow these best practices:

  • Confirm if your school district maintains a specific extra credit policy, and adhere to its requirements.
  • Align extra credit opportunities with classroom lessons to reinforce learning objectives, rather than awarding bonus points for non-academic initiatives, such as cleaning the classroom or participating in spirit days or busywork, such as recopying an essay.
  • Set defined deadlines for extra credit work.
  • Ensure extra credit assignments will not create exorbitant time pressures on you.
  • Ensure that all students have equitable access to extra credit opportunities.
  • Grade all extra credit assignments using the same standards and grading rubric for all students.
  • Set clear expectations for extra credit assignments, including what students are expected to produce, and how you will determine points earned.
  • Ensure you are not outweighing overall requirement points with bonus scores.

Remember that your ultimate goal as an educator is to produce high academic outcomes and to prepare your students for the future. Fostering creative ways to reinforce learning objectives can keep students engaged and motivated, and teach them valuable lessons about effort and responsibility. Just be sure you are not offering extra credit opportunities that are not equitable or tied to academic learning to keep students just as focused on their education as you are.

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