Equitable Grading: The Power of Points
Many teachers use some version of points in their grading system. Points may be given for assignments and assessments, extra credit, behavior, participation, and/or motivation. Most of us probably had teachers who used points in the classrooms we grew up in.
The downside to using points is that they can turn into a commodity that students use to get a grade, rather than an accurate representation of a student’s knowledge. Students may ask how to earn a few more points to get from an 87% to a 90%, but none would ask for those three points to move from an 84% to 87%. However, as long as the point increase is accompanied by an increase in learning, shouldn’t all increases be considered valuable?
Redos and Retakes
All of us have taught a lesson that did not go the way we’d hoped, only to get to try again the next period or the next day. What if our students stopped us and said, “Sorry, you can’t teach that to us again, you taught it yesterday!”
It is true that the world has timelines, but it also gives grace for learning. The ability to redo something happens all the time in our students’ lives. (Retaking a driving test is perhaps the most important retake our students will have in their adolescence! When our children don’t do a good enough job cleaning their room we don’t say “You got one chance to clean it!” We say, “Go back and do it until it is done correctly.” They – and us – get redos every day, when the first effort wasn’t successful.
If the goal of a class is to impart knowledge to a student, then when the student demonstrates that knowledge must be flexible. The ability for students to try again to show their understanding of the content taught shows we value their learning, more than our timeline. Furthermore, if the students can represent full knowledge of course standards, they should earn 100% of the points available. Removing an artificial celling (i.e., student can only earn 80% of the original total may reward a student for persisting, but it also punishes them for not learning as fast as others. Why do we want to do that?
Retakes and redos as mandatory practices in classrooms provide an equal opportunity to all students to show what they have come to understand as a result of our instruction and purposeful tasks in the classroom. If a student has a history of low success in school, providing multiple opportunities to be successful breaks a cycle of low achievement. It tells the student the game is not won at halftime, but at the end – and that adjustments can be made along the way. We also send the message to the students “I will not let you fail!” We continue to push the students to learn the critical information that we have determined is worthy of their time and effort.
Extra Credit Points
By definition, extra credit points are not required. This means that is some extreme cases, the points may not even be related to the standards being taught in the course (extra points for bringing in supplies or cleaning the board.) Extra credit exacerbates school as a game. If the purpose is for your students to know and understand a set of standards and content, then providing extra credit does not move a student toward more knowledge, it makes a grade currency that some students look to collect.
Extra credit can also undermine the desired outcomes of student learning. Students who play the point chasing game can give less effort to important key learning only to “make up” points with less critical knowledge. If the extra credit points are tied tightly to the learning of the course, then shouldn’t they be available to all students, not just those who have the knowledge of how to navigate the educational system. If the work is important, require it; if it is not, don’t include it in the grade.
Curious to learn more? Education Week Article: “No. You Can’t Do Extra Credit.” https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-no-you-cant-do-extra-credit/2014/12