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Extra What!

I try to prepare myself and my students every semester for SBG (Standards Based Grading). I explain it multiple times. I send home letters explaining the process and why I do it. I tell my students that they need to be retesting along the way. I also tell my students that they need to do the daily suggested assignments (homework) even though I won’t grade it. I stress to them that they need to do it to solidify the learning that took place in class not because I randomly give them points or check the work. (I don’t check homework. I’ll know if they do it on the Assessment.)

This all sounds good in theory, but here is what happens every semester:

1. I receive the following email in varying forms from varying parents:
My son is typically an a or high B student, so we are a little disturbed by this grade.
(He has a 65% in an Honors class.)

2. A student cries when I hand out progress reports. Yes, every semester. (I’ve never made an F before.)

I know with SBG comes some learning curve for the students. They have to understand the necessity of retesting material. They need to see that retesting will bring an immediate improvement in their grade. The first time they retest I normally let them stand by me as I type the new grade into the computer and watch the magic happen as the grade is updated. I’ve seen grades jump several points with one retest.

I emailed the mother back with a beautiful explanation of SBG and why I do it. I also gave my class a little pep talk and explanation of SBG again. It included the following:

There are many reasons I use this method, but the main reason is to make sure that a student masters the necessary skills to be successful on the End of Course test for this class. It is also to catch any gaps in learning and correct it. I do not want to punish a student with a grade because it takes him or her longer to master a skill. I also don’t want to inflate a student’s grade with frivolous extra credit, grades that do not directly relate to the standards, or busy work. Students earn good grades in my class by learning the material and not by completing work. My students in the past have been very successful with Standards Based Grading.

And then the unthinkable happened… A sweet, innocent girl raised her hand and asked, “Do you give extra credit?”

This is the part where my head exploded. I tried my best to regain composure. “Extra what?!” I then spent the next 10 minutes calling them point chasers. They have been trained to chase after a set number of points so that they can get their precious A. (My precious…   ) They do not earn it by demonstrating knowledge. They earn it by bringing in tissues, hand sanitizer, or bleach wipes for extra credit. Yes this is endorsed at my school as acceptable. (Can you say: “Pat, I would like to buy an A.”)

They write extra credit reports on famous math people (we all know they print them off the internet). No! I’m putting an end to it. You will earn your A in my class through hard work and demonstrating proficiency on the standards. You will not get it for your ability to copy homework. You will not get it by persuading your parents to do the poster project for you. You will not get it by doing some random puzzle or Sudoku. You will earn it!

Categories: General
  1. September 1, 2010 at 2:17 am

    “No extra credit” is a good idea. It doesn’t have much to do with SBG, other than that reassessment reduces the pressure for students to ask for extra credit.

    Actually, I take that back. Extra credit is a good idea, if it is the only way to get from an A to an A+. That is, if it really is extra, and not a replacement for showing mastery.

    • September 1, 2010 at 10:59 am

      @gasstationw My only concern is with a student earning a grade by doing ‘extra’ work and not showing mastery of the standards. When I put an A on the report card, I want it to say that student has a mastery of Algebra II at an A level. If I look in the gradebook and a student has not retested every assessment possible to raise his or her grade, then I have a hard time giving extra credit. They haven’t done the basics required for the class. I have a teacher friend who says, “You have to have credit before you can have extra credit.”

      Having said that, I can see giving student who have retested everything and have nothing left to show mastery on an extra project to help with their grade if necessary. This would have to be a csse by case basis and not a blanket offer to all students.

      • September 2, 2010 at 1:24 am

        Yes, your second paragraph is the point I was trying to make. The usual description of the SBG system concentrates a lot of extra effort on getting the kids up to “mastery” but provides little attention for the students who have reached it. As the father of a kid who is usually at the top of his class and bored, I really appreciate the “extra credit” assignments that give him a chance to learn something new. As an example, last year his Algebra 2 teacher let him go to the library to research Simplex tableaux, then present the ideas to the class. His A+ grade was not going to change as a result of this extra credit, but it motivated him to learn something rather than just playing with his calculator during class.

  2. September 1, 2010 at 9:44 pm

    Don’t even start to argue semantics. Extra credit is bull shit the way students think of it, which is what matters. They want to accumulate silly unrelated points to make up for not knowing something. Don’t allow it.

    Also, thank you for sticking it to it with the “Usually B” student and his parent, who we all know should be getting D’s anyways. They need to learn to learn, or college is going to be a single semester of drunken haze. Great post, fantastic work. Keep it up.

    • September 2, 2010 at 1:36 am

      @Shawn Cornally Thanks for the comment. I have to say I really do agree and often need the support. I tend to be a people pleaser and having been in SBG land for a little over a year now, I tend to bend a little too easily. I do hate extra credit. It makes my skin crawl. Thanks for the encouragement! I need it.

  3. September 2, 2010 at 4:55 am

    Hi Amber – thanks for blogging about your SBG experiences – you and a number of other teacher bloggers have convinced me that this is the way to go. I have decided to implement that with my adapted math 9 class and I am both excited and a bit apprehensive. The main issue I am currently struggling with is related to how I will come up with the mark for the report card. Just curious, are your mastery points averaged together and translated into the overall grade or do you do something else? I’m considering with my group to actually engage in conversation with each of the students using their current mastery level information and decide on a mark, though I still have a few more days to decide before presenting this to the kids. Great post – thanks for sharing 🙂

    • September 2, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      I average the Standard grades and count them as 70% of the overall grade for the six weeks. The other 30% breaks down this way: 15% classwork / projects, 15% Summative Assessment. You could break it down anyway you wanted to though. The Summative Assessment is an end of the 6 weeks, multiple choice test that models our state mandated test. Good luck!

  4. Betsy Gilbert
    September 3, 2010 at 1:16 am


    I am really loving the SBG so far! It is a lot of work for me but I definitely can see patterns that I never noticed before. I also have received a few e-mails and calls but for the most part I think my students get the idea. Are all of them following through with the retests, of course not but the opportunity is there….they have to grab it. I ran across this equation the other day and spent probably 30 minutes sermonizing on it with my class.

    P = f( A + M + O)
    Performance is a function of ability plus motivation plus opportunity!
    They have the opportunity, most of them have the ability if they have enough motivation!

    • September 4, 2010 at 1:01 am

      @Betsy Gilbert I love the equation. Not all my student retest either. I normally send home a progress report at the 3 week mark and that wakes some of them up. I think the second six weeks is always better than the first. The students have to learn that the point is to learn the material. For a select few students I may even allow them to go back and retest first six weeks material even after the end of the six weeks. I do this if it looks like the student is going to fail and there is no other way. I don’t advertise this.

      SBG is a lot of work. I have found some tricks that help. When I make out an assessment I come up with extra problems and put them on notecards. When a student comes to retest I whip out a couple of the notecards and they have instant problems. I keep a master answer key of all the notecards and let my student worker mark them right or wrong. This tends to help, but I am constantly updating grades in the gradebook.

      I’m so glad you love SBG. It is my passion (as if you can’t tell 🙂

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