Giving (Extra) Credit Where It’s Due

Stuyvesant students consume extra credit like it’s candy, but is there a downside to the sugar high?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As the semester draws to a close and teachers prepare to submit final grades, many students have scrambled to find ways to bring up their GPAs. Events that offer extra credit, such as the International Women’s Day Run and the Earth Day Fair, have attracted crowds of students who desire bonus points on tests or homework grades. The skyrocketing levels of participation in different extra credit opportunities have raised concerns within the Stuyvesant community about how and to whom extra credit points should be given.

Many students are disheartened by the fact that extra credit is only offered by certain teachers, skewing some classes’ averages higher than those of other sections. “A lot of students just need ways to boost their grades, so extra credit should be available in every class,” freshman Sienna Hwang said. In classes where teachers do not offer extra credit, students may feel that they are at a disadvantage in attaining high scores when compared to students in classes where extra credit is given. On the other side of the spectrum, excessive amounts of extra credit may lead to the discrediting of artificially high grades that have benefited from grade inflation.

The desire for the standardization of extra credit practices is complicated by the fact that overarching extra credit systems are not feasible for all teachers. “I feel like extra credit is very teacher-dependent, and it’s unique to each class because one point for one class may have a way bigger impact on your grade than in another, so I think teachers should have the power to control [how points are given],” sophomore Oleksandr Kurtianyk explained. Nevertheless, Kurtianyk believes that teachers who do offer bonus points should be transparent about how much extra credit each assignment will receive. “There should be limitations so we don’t get [an extra] one-third [of a point] for hours spent completing a task, especially when a teacher promises a ‘substantial’ amount. Some form of minimum should be set—maybe like a suggestion.” Such practices would allow for more equitable implementation of extra credit, allowing students attending the same event for extra credit in different classes to earn the same number of points.

Social studies teacher Mordecai Moore explained why he is a strong supporter of extra credit. Moore said, “When you do my extra credit, you are telling me, ‘Mr. Moore, you did not give me enough work. I want more work. Please give me more work.’ And I oblige.” Moore does not believe that his extra credit assignments place an extra burden on students; instead, they are a form of furthering their understanding of the history they are learning. Moore also believes that his extra credit system addresses Kurtianyk’s concern about the ratio of work put in to points earned. “In the homework extra credit [assignments that I offer], the more challenging the worksheet, the more points it is [worth]. If I think it’s both more challenging and more time-consuming, if it takes more analytical ability, there will be more extra credit for that,” Moore elaborated. In this way, Moore’s extra credit is not only a tool for learning history but also a motivator to invest more time in the subject, helping students perform better on tests and assignments.

Still, the contexts in which extra credit is offered by teachers are not always as pedagogical in nature. “I think [extra credit] can be like a double-edged sword,” freshman Lauren Zagarov said. “[In] some instances, it’s beneficial because there’s an actual reason [for teachers wanting to boost class averages], like [if] people completely bombed a test or quiz. [...] There’s also the other side of it, where extra credit is just: ‘Oh, who can go to this event? Because I want you to go to the event.’” From Zagarov’s perspective, teachers who desire students’ attendance at a certain event irrelevant to the class material should not leverage the incentive of extra credit in the first place. When too many teachers offer extra credit, and their students flood an event looking for points, those who are actually interested in the event’s subject matter may be deprived of a spot or have their experiences at the event degraded by bustling, disruptive crowds.

Unlike Zagarov, social studies teacher Brad Badgley believes that offering extra credit can be antithetical to the learning process. Badgley does not offer opportunities to earn extra credit on his tests, nor does he curve test grades. “Over the course of the term, students should be engaged with all of the material. They shouldn’t [complete assignments at half-effort] and then ask to make up for it with extra credit,” Badgley explained. He is cognizant that it is the desire for high averages that drives students to request extra credit opportunities, but he believes that this motivating factor should show up in students’ regular coursework, too. For example, it could translate into extra effort put into studying for a test or completing a project. “It is positive to focus on grades. There should be standards and rewards for students because Stuy students work so hard, and there has to be some incentive for them,” Badgley pointed out. For him, these rewards don’t have to come in the form of bonus points; they can be reflected in a higher test grade or participation grade.

Senior Hannah Riegel pointed out that the usage of extra credit and other forms of grade inflation is intrinsically related to students’ ability to perform well. “I understand the rationale that there’s a division of responsibility between the student and the teacher. In that, the teacher needs to teach the material, and the students need to learn the material and be willing to study for the tests,” Riegel said. “So, if the whole class does badly on a test, that is probably an indication that the teacher didn’t live up to their burden, and that’s when I think extra credit is useful,” Riegel said. Still, she acknowledges the validity of the argument that extra credit can serve as a band-aid over a bullet wound, distracting from larger underlying issues in the classroom setting. “I can understand why teachers are hesitant to grant extra credit because they don’t really address the root problem, which is that the students aren’t learning,” Riegel elaborated. While extra credit can provide students with a grade cushion in subjects they are struggling in, teachers should make sure to distinguish between the bonus points and the actual understanding of the material in students’ averages.

Stuyvesant’s culture cultivates an overwhelming focus on grades, but extra credit doesn’t always reduce academic stress. It can prove to be a burden, another task that must be completed, especially when students already feel there are too few hours in the day. The granting of these optional assignments only emphasizes the idea that students must constantly be doing more and more to maximize their grades at any cost. Some give up sleep for extra credit points and feel that missing an opportunity to raise their grade is a personal failure. Bonus points can be a gift, but students should think about what they have to sacrifice in order to receive them.