M-A, like many high schools, offers extra credit in nearly every class. In theory, extra credit extends an extra learning opportunity for a limited amount of additional credit. However, many believe a problem arises with how often extra credit is used. Others assert that in limited doses, extra credit is justified.
Administrative Vice Principal Karl Losekoot shared, “You don’t want to invalidate the normal work of the class and create extra credit that is fluff.” There is no extra credit policy at M-A, so this is something that teachers must take into consideration when assigning extra credit. Losekoot says not only can the extra credit invalidate the normal work, but students may begin to rely on the extra credit for their grades.
Western Civilization and World Studies teacher at M-A, Linda Shloss, argued her personal opinion. “The reason I give so little extra credit is because I see that students will try to use it to boost their grade, when if they just did the homework to begin with that would be even better.” She says “I don’t like giving too much extra credit because students use it as a crutch.” She feels students begin to rely on extra credit as opposed to doing their normal work.
This is a problem that Losekoot acknowledges, as well as the fact that sometimes extra credit is assigned that doesn’t really reflect learning. According to Losekoot, “a grade should reflect a student’s understanding of the core content of the course.” This would go without saying, yet many students have had experiences with earning extra credit that had nothing to do with the course material.
One sophomore who wishes to remain anonymous spoke about an extra credit project assigned at the end of the first semester of a science class. The assignment was to stuff and sew a mole. There was also a writing piece to go with it, but the main part of the project was to craft a stuffed animal. “Essentially it was an art project for extra credit,” said the student. He also said it took him nearly 6 hours to complete and he believes that this time consuming extra credit assignment that supplied little to no learning value. This student was one of the many who completed the assignment, despite his feeling that it lacked learning. The project was worth a significant amount of credit, and was assigned at the end of the semester to act as an extra grade boost for students who wanted to improve their grades going into finals week.
Another sophomore that wished to remain anonymous stated, “For history, my teacher assigns podcasts that are pretty much unrelated to subject we’re talking about.” He believes that while he has learned a little bit from them, they are not really related to the subject of the class. According to this student, most of his peers in this class do the extra credit podcast assignments only for the extra credit, not to learn.
Sophomore Rohan Chilukuri is one such student who has done many of the the podcasts. He said it has boosted his grade by “five percent.” He said, “You just listen to some things and answer questions,” and that he didn’t learn anything.
Many feel that if the assignments do not reflect learning, students will use the assignments to boost their grades, and the other course work will be invalidated.
There are also examples of extra credit that do not necessarily reflect learning, but are nevertheless considered constructive. During the M-A Canned Food Drive, many teachers assigned extra credit for going canning; community service does not direct enable learning the course material, but it is still considered a valuable thing.
Losekoot believes there are two sides to look at: “We’re trying to feed people, we’re trying to do something that’s really important, but is probably not something we should be giving extra credit for. We want students to be doing that out of the goodness of their heart, not just for extra credit.” He shared that community service should be done to help the community, not one’s grade.
Many feel that to do it for the extra credit is selfish, and defeats the purpose of the service. However, Losekoot acknowledges that there are also benefits for the canning extra credit. He stated, “If I can offer one percentage point or half a percentage point of extra credit, and that motivates us to get more food to feed more people, I don’t know that I would say that that is such a bad thing.” There is certainly a tradeoff, and we must wonder whether M-A would have had the same success with the canned food drive if it hadn’t been for the extra credit?
Michael Amoroso, leadership teacher, is one of the main organizers of the canned food drive. He said, “I strongly believe the students at Menlo-Atherton will always be successful in the Canned Food Drive, regardless of extra credit.” According to Amoroso, it is the principle that is important.
“You are serving the community whether you bring in 30,000 pounds of food, or over 110,000 pounds of food like [we did] this year.” He said that though he has never offered extra credit for canning, he understands why teachers would do so. However he noted, “We should all be doing this out of the kindness of our hearts, not to watch your grade rise .001 percent.”
AP Literature teacher Lisa Otsuka does not offer extra credit during the Canned Food Drive. “I don’t assign anything that is not related to the curriculum,” no matter what. Otsuka doesn’t think that students should need extra credit to go canning, and that despite not offering credit, that didn’t stop her third period class. “They brought in the most cans this year and had zero credit for that.” This suggests that perhaps offering extra credit for canning or any other community service is not needed.
Some believe extra credit should be no more than an extended learning opportunity. Others feel that as a grade booster, it can sometimes invalidate normal course work. Overall, extra credit is a complex topic and in itself it is not a bad practice. However, considering that there is no extra credit policy at M-A, it is up to the teachers to decide how much extra credit to assign, and what kind.