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Cecropia

Ethics of offering extra credit to bring up a grade

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My son is pulling a C+ in Spanish II (Breaking the Barrier).  We started it over the summer, and he'll be finished at the end of the fall semester.  How do you feel about offering extra credit towards the end of a course when the grade is apparent, intended solely to give a student the opportunity to get past a certain threshold?  Is it ethical?  With this course, I'm talking about an end-of-the-year project opportunity that's mainly in English, such as a relevant research essay, an oral presentation, a display, etc. -- something he can do well but wouldn't demonstrate actual mastery of the language.

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Traditional schools offer extra credit, so I don't know why you couldn't.  I'd lean toward something that was directly reinforcing his language learning. How about watching a Spanish language film (with subtitles, if needed) or learning a song in Spanish? Duolingo has stories and podcasts that would work for extra credit.  Basically you're offering extra practice - not busywork - that will count towards his grade.  

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I like @shinyhappypeople's idea.

 Or redoing certain tests/assignments to improve his grade on them  (perhaps 1/2 credit so if he got a 70 on a test, he could improve his grade up to a 85). 

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As shinyhappypeople points out, traditional schools offer extra credit opportunities all the time.  There is nothing unethical about it, unless you think that traditional schools are being unethical too.

ETA: You could also simply add assignments, like projects.  They don't have to be for extra credit.  I will say that the two projects that my son did for his French course last year were probably the best part of the class.

The other question I have is how is the course being graded?  Does he get points for participation/homework completion, or is everything graded?  Can he get partial credit, or is credit all or nothing?  Does he get graded on work that is intended for practice or just assessments after he has engaged in appropriate practice?  Does he get marked down for late work?  Are there a lot of low point value assignments where points are taken off in increments of one?  And most important: How does his grade align with what you know to be true about his achievement?

Edited by EKS
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I offer small amounts of extra credit in my class - generally enough to replace one of the weekly quiz grades or bump up a test grade by a few points, so it accommodates students having a bad day or brain glitch on a test, but doesn't cover for a semester of not doing the work - over the course of the class it would be less than 1/2 of a point on the final grade, so it would only help a student who was VERY close to the next higher grade.  

For my extra credit work, they have to learn something - research a disease related to a topic we're learning about, watch several videos with animations of a process and describe them, etc.  I could also see a place for retesting or applying knowledge in a different context.  In other words, the extra credit has to meet a legitimate learning objective (ie they may not have known 5 points worth of topic X on the quiz, but they now know about topic Y).  

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I agree it's ethical.  When I was taking AP calculus BC, my classmates and I were sort of flailing, so our teacher gave us extra assignments and take home exams, probably for more practice, but I suspect also to boost our grades a bit.  It worked.  Many of us got 5s on the exam.  

If you want to feel more comfortable with offering EC, make sure it addresses whatever deficiencies he's showing in his Spanish.  Better for the EC to help improve his skills as well as his grade.  

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I think it's ethical.  Unless the problem is a lack of effort or study, I often let a child retry for half points or even throw out the grade and redo the unit completely because obviously the information hasn't been learned or rewrite the paper.  However, I only allow this when whatever is done leads to greater and deeper knowledge, because then the higher grade represents greater knowledge.   I would not do a paper in English for Spanish.  I might, though, assign extra study on Duolingo and give points for time spent.  If the low grades came on learning tenses or irregular verbs, I might have the student restudy and take another exam to replace the grade.  Except in cases of a child unwilling to put in effort (and I did have one child like that when he was in ninth grade), any extra work that leads to better knowledge meets my goals of education.  I also give 10-20% participation credit for wilingly and completely doing all homework and willingly correcting errors.

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Agreed with all the above advice. Adding a project is fine. Letting him get partial credit for corrections or retakes is fine. I actually would go farther and say that I think it's okay to have him redo it and keep studying until he brings the grade up, regardless of how you decide to mark it out and regardless of how long or how many times it takes. The primary problem I see with doing something like that is that I don't think it's conducive to learning or mastery to repeat the same tests over and over and you may or may not be equipped to create new ones.

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9 hours ago, EKS said:

The other question I have is how is the course being graded?  Does he get points for participation/homework completion, or is everything graded?  Can he get partial credit, or is credit all or nothing?  Does he get graded on work that is intended for practice or just assessments after he has engaged in appropriate practice?  Does he get marked down for late work?  Are there a lot of low point value assignments where points are taken off in increments of one?  And most important: How does his grade align with what you know to be true about his achievement?

I'm just grading homework and tests; there is no participation grade.  I give 1/2 credit on questions when I can.  I grade work that is intended for practice -- otherwise there would only be the chapter tests.  I don't mark down for late work, but that hasn't been an issue.  Yes, there are low point value assignments where full points are taken off.  In terms of speaking and writing Spanish with fluency, I think the grade is pretty accurate.  In terms of the daily effort he's putting into it, I'd honestly put him at a B level.

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5 hours ago, freesia said:

I might, though, assign extra study on Duolingo and give points for time spent.

He has been working for about 20 minutes on Duolingo every other day to try and reinforce his knowledge; I suppose I could give him participation credit for that, but I think it is more on the Spanish I level than Spanish II.

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10 minutes ago, Cecropia said:

I'm just grading homework and tests; there is no participation grade.  I give 1/2 credit on questions when I can.  I grade work that is intended for practice -- otherwise there would only be the chapter tests.  I don't mark down for late work, but that hasn't been an issue.  Yes, there are low point value assignments where full points are taken off.  In terms of speaking and writing Spanish with fluency, I think the grade is pretty accurate.  In terms of the daily effort he's putting into it, I'd honestly put him at a B level.

It's totally legit to include "participation" in your grading rubric.  Really.  

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It's possible you may be grading more harshly than a regular classroom teacher would.  High school and college instructors usually give some credit for participating and often grade daily assignments strictly on completion, since the students are just starting to work with the material and don't fully understand it yet.  

As for Duolingo, yes, you should count that.  He's working with the language, which increases fluency.  It's important to review!

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10 hours ago, Cecropia said:

I'm just grading homework and tests; there is no participation grade.  I give 1/2 credit on questions when I can.  I grade work that is intended for practice -- otherwise there would only be the chapter tests.  I don't mark down for late work, but that hasn't been an issue.  Yes, there are low point value assignments where full points are taken off.  In terms of speaking and writing Spanish with fluency, I think the grade is pretty accurate.  In terms of the daily effort he's putting into it, I'd honestly put him at a B level.

It sounds like his grade might be deflated, for lack of a better term.  Some ideas:

Have him correct the work that is intended for practice, and then give him 100%.  

Give him points for participation (listening and speaking).

Stop giving low point value assignments where only whole points are taken off (one mistake will put a 4 point assignment into the C range).  

Give him assignments outside of what the class offers that he is allowed to rework to 100% or that are experiential and that he gets 100% on if he participates fully.

Make sure he is truly ready for tests before he takes them.

Make sure your grading is giving appropriate weight to different sorts of mistakes.  I had a very long conversation with my son's veteran French II teacher (who gave the least inflated grades in the school) about how she graded grammatical mistakes versus vocabulary mistakes.  A vocabulary error got just a smidge off (so far less than half points) but a grammar error was considered much more serious (note that she also graded homework on completion).

In addition, the goal of Spanish II isn't to be able to speak and write fluently.  Your assessment of his grade as being accurate is against a standard that lies well above the goals of the class.  

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1 hour ago, EKS said:

In addition, the goal of Spanish II isn't to be able to speak and write fluently.  Your assessment of his grade as being accurate is against a standard that lies well above the goals of the class.  

By "fluency," I mean on a Spanish II level.  I don't think I'm communicating very well here about his current abilities or my expectations.  I probably sound like a drill sargeant about this grade, but it's really just a check-the-box course as ds' future plans don't involve going to a university.  He took Spanish I through BJU Press last year (completely independent of me) and struggled as well, but ended the year with a B-.  We engaged a tutor through italki for 10+ lessons towards the end of the school year, but that experience didn't help ds much.

Can you please tell me what the goal of Spanish II is if it's not being able to read, write, and speak on a Spanish II level?  I don't think he would get by very well if he were magically plopped down into a Spanish-speaking country at this moment (I just asked him his opinion, and he vehemently agreed).

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I never had a high school or college language course that was just doing translations from the textbook and taking tests. There was always a conversational and cultural study component. I don't see it as extra credit to do likewise as a homeschooler. 

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Yeah, I've literally never heard of a language class at the basic level that didn't include a participation grade of some kind. I know that we all tend to look down on "participation" grades, but for a foreign language, they actually matter. Yes, in a homeschool context, assuming a kid who isn't defiant, that's a given 100%. But it doesn't mean they should lose it just because they're homeschooled and do the work. That makes no sense.

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On 11/12/2019 at 8:52 AM, Cecropia said:

Can you please tell me what the goal of Spanish II is if it's not being able to read, write, and speak on a Spanish II level?  I don't think he would get by very well if he were magically plopped down into a Spanish-speaking country at this moment (I just asked him his opinion, and he vehemently agreed).

I was responding to your original statement about fluency that didn't have the Spanish II qualifier.  That said, I don't think that a person in Spanish II, even at the end of the year, is going to be able to do much beyond extremely basic communication.  

My son spent two years in one on one lessons with a foreign language tutor who had previously taught at the college level at an Ivy caliber school.  She said that it was astounding how little students knew even after taking an AP class (which was essentially required for admission)--the vast majority placed into the first (or, rarely, second) semester.

Another data point--I took two semesters of Japanese as an adult, which would be equivalent to two years of high school Japanese, at a well ranked state flagship.  I got solid As, and the professor loved me.  I was anything but fluent on any level.  I couldn't understand Japanese people speaking Japanese.  I couldn't read without literally transliterating words written in Japanese characters into the English alphabet first.  If I had been plunked into Japan and actually had to speak and understand Japanese to function, it would have been a disaster.

Edited by EKS
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Seconding what EKS said. I think that we tend to think of foreign language as being a stepping ladder a little like math. You can't realistically understand algebra without understanding arithmetic, or multiplication without addition - it builds on itself to a large extent. And there is a sort of accepted definition of what "Spanish I" and "Spanish II" on a high school level will generally have covered.

But I think foreign language skills are so much more circular. When I came back from China, I took a Chinese class to try and keep my (relatively low level of) fluency up. The teacher loved me because I was the only one in class who would talk. People in the class were like, what the heck, how do you ramble on in Chinese like that or understand the video or whatever. But then came the tests - they all passed and I failed. The skills for the tests were totally different from the skills for chatting.

My point is just that I think with foreign language that anything that's bringing up a student's confidence and fluency is fine. A whole course that was just learning to implement the Spanish of Spanish I and II would be a useful way to spend time (and fine to give some sort of credit for) because passing the test and using the language in the wild are different skills. And I would fully expect a student taking the second year of a language to have to practice the skills from the previous level routinely and to even have that incorporated into the coursework would be fine.

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Is there a reason you are moving so fast?  I've read a lot of threads about Breaking the Barrier, and from everything I have read, it moves FAST and covers a lot.  Several threads suggested that Breaking the Barrier 1-3 actually cover 4 years of Spanish material.

In the original post you say you started "over the summer" and will finish at the end of the fall term.  That sounds like less than a full school year to me to cover what is probably actually more than one full credit of language learning.

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How are you calculating grades? Just the tests? I teach Spanish  in a hybrid school. I do 20% Tests, 20% Quizzes, 20% class participation, 20% homework, and 20% midterm/final.  Also, keep in mind Breaking the Barrier is very advanced. Breaking the Barrier 1-3 = 4 years of high school Spanish. I am working through BtB with my own dd and she finished BtB 1 in October and now we are working on BtB 2 (this year is Spanish 2 for her). You do not need to finish BtB 2 for Spanish 2.

All that said, I would definitely take homework, effort, and projects as a part of the total grade. I wouldn't even see a project as extra credit, I would see it as a part of the course. 

Edited by ByGrace3
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I agree with what's been said- glancing through it.  It is interesting because both my kids took Spanish at the high school- one teacher offered extra credit, the other nothing at all- she was a very strict teacher.  I think most teachers offer something in regards to extra credit though- and I've never heard of a teacher offering too much extra credit either.

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5 hours ago, wendyroo said:

Is there a reason you are moving so fast?  I've read a lot of threads about Breaking the Barrier, and from everything I have read, it moves FAST and covers a lot.  Several threads suggested that Breaking the Barrier 1-3 actually cover 4 years of Spanish material.

In the original post you say you started "over the summer" and will finish at the end of the fall term.  That sounds like less than a full school year to me to cover what is probably actually more than one full credit of language learning.

I didn't know that about Breaking the Barrier.  Ds was fed up with his Spanish I experience and wanted to try something else in a different format, so this was just one of the options I gave him to choose from.  When he was struggling toward the beginning, we offered to change courses, but he wanted to stick with this one over the alternatives.  We started in mid-May and have been working on it pretty intensively, because the goal (his as well as mine) was to be "done with languages" by the spring semester.  Things are a little odd this year because he is taking DE classes and I have had to shift some of our at-home courses to accommodate.  We will be close, but I see we'll still have a couple of weeks to finish after our winter break.

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34 minutes ago, ByGrace3 said:

How are you calculating grades? Just the tests? I teach Spanish  in a hybrid school. I do 20% Tests, 20% Quizzes, 20% class participation, 20% homework, and 20% midterm/final.  Also, keep in mind Breaking the Barrier is very advanced. Breaking the Barrier 1-3 = 4 years of high school Spanish. I am working through BtB with my own dd and she finished BtB 1 in October and now we are working on BtB 2 (this year is Spanish 2 for her). You do not need to finish BtB 2 for Spanish 2.

All that said, I would definitely take homework, effort, and projects as a part of the total grade. I wouldn't even see a project as extra credit, I would see it as a part of the course. 

I was mainly calculating his grade from the homework and the two forms of chapter tests (one in the book, one loose) that were included in the course, but based on the feedback here I will definitely add a participation grade.  I'm also interested in giving him the option of a creative final project.  There aren't really quizzes in this course.  The last chapter ends in two review tests that I was going to give the same weight as the other tests.  There weren't notes from the publisher on other ideas of things to do, and it was frustrating to plan the course at first because there was no suggested schedule and a lack of guidance in general.  When ds started struggling, I added in duolingo practice and online resources (mainly videos) to help with grammar concepts.

I'd like to thank everyone for responding (graciously!) -- sometimes I still feel like a newbie even though I suppose I'm a veteran homeschooler by now.  My own limited experiences with foreign language classes were not very good, and my dh actually continued taking advanced French courses in college as electives, but neither of us could recognize that we were approaching this course the wrong way with ds.

Getting away from our specific situation, I still feel like the original question of offering extra credit hasn't really been answered.  Is it ethical when it is offered on the fly, at the end of a course as a response to low grades, with the intention of raising the course grade?

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Yes, but there should be a reasonable limit to how much it is worth.  IMHO, extra credit that raises a grade from C+ to B- would be fine.  C+ to B would be too much.

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1 hour ago, Cecropia said:

Getting away from our specific situation, I still feel like the original question of offering extra credit hasn't really been answered.  Is it ethical when it is offered on the fly, at the end of a course as a response to low grades, with the intention of raising the course grade?

 

I've seen public school teachers do the same thing (and I'd venture to say that they have "planned" extra credit options built in because they've learned over the years that some students need it. From that vantage point, I don't see the point in "penalizing" a homeschool child because it's our first time teaching that grade or subject. Penalizing by not offering the same types of opportunities other similar courses might give for achieving a decent grade I mean.)

I personally like to see the extra credit relate to the subject and be something that helps the student learn something--whether they re-read chapters and retake tests to solidify information, or do special reports, do something extra like your son is doing with duolingo, etc... (At my daughter's CC, there are a lot of teachers that will give a few points of extra credit to get students to do things that are beneficial to them--like go to the library or go to the open house where all the clubs have tables etc... I don't mind a LITTLE of that, but for enough extra credit to raise the grade and offered in a situation like you are describing, I think it should be "meaningful" extra credit, if that makes sense.)

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One kind of project my dd has had to do since French 2 is something like a power point travel project.  She has to chose a place and then write sentences to go with pictures.  Then she has to present it orally.  I think she's also done one on how to cook a grilled cheese sandwich.  You could do something like that.

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In my experience, school teachers do offer extra credit on the fly, or after seeing that their class struggled when they didn't fully expect them to.

I can understand if someone individually objects to doing this... I do think if a teacher has taught the class many times in the same environment then it's fine to have things really set in stone. But most of the time, there are variables that teachers don't anticipate - new textbooks that are easier or harder, new assignments that turn out to be more challenging, students who were supposed to have covered previous material but didn't, situations with bad weather or traumatizing local events or the like that mess with the flow of school and throw everything off... lots of things can happen. Most teachers do respond to the class and the situation as it arises and do modify their plans in all kinds of ways - including by deciding to offer extra credit or test retakes that they didn't originally intend. Changing the whole format or grading scale in a set class is unfair to the students... but these sorts of changes are common. I don't see it as unethical at all.

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I want to add a thought... when a student fails (or, in this case, gets a mediocre grade), I think the teacher has to ask themselves a question. Who is at fault? The teacher or the student. There's not a single answer to this, of course. Sometimes it's absolutely the student or mostly the student. However, teachers should be asking themselves this question all the time. Good teachers DO ask themselves this question. And if the answer is the teacher, at least partially, then I think the teacher owes it to the students to make amends and not punish them for a failure of instruction or environment. Sometimes that means tossing out a test that they realize they'd inadequately prepared the students for. Sometimes it means redoing a lesson or teaching material in a new way. Sometimes it means giving students a shot at extra credit or a test retake. I think it really depends on what the teacher sees. I've totally been in this sort of situation in the classroom and at home with my own kids. If you reflect and think, I should have done this differently, then I think the ethical thing to do is to give students another shot in some form.

So I guess the question is, did your ds just not succeed at Spanish or did you and the choice of text fail him in some part by not offering adequate support? And if the answer is at least in part yes (and it sounds like maybe it is), then I think it would be unethical not to offer some form of extra credit. And that's in addition to the fact that I really think the most fair grading system would include participation and at least a little bit of culture for any beginning foreign language course.

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16 hours ago, Farrar said:

I want to add a thought... when a student fails (or, in this case, gets a mediocre grade), I think the teacher has to ask themselves a question. Who is at fault? The teacher or the student. There's not a single answer to this, of course.

 

Yes! As a homeschool parent, I always felt I should take this into consideration for high school. The learning environment is very different and there were definitely times when I felt there would have been an advantage to have an in person teacher to interact with and ask questions etc..., or an in person teacher who knew more about a subject than I did (if my student and I are basically learning together, that's not the same thing as having a teacher who studied that area etc...) 

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1 hour ago, MerryAtHope said:

 

Yes! As a homeschool parent, I always felt I should take this into consideration for high school. The learning environment is very different and there were definitely times when I felt there would have been an advantage to have an in person teacher to interact with and ask questions etc..., or an in person teacher who knew more about a subject than I did (if my student and I are basically learning together, that's not the same thing as having a teacher who studied that area etc...) 

Right. Sometimes for high school, I'm learning alongside the kids in some ways. If they struggle, then we struggle together and that's okay. We work until the work has reached a level of mastery, time, and production that satisfies me. And maybe at that point there's a test. But not until we're there. I think this is something being lost these days - which is maybe just the trends of homeschooling - but it's okay to be learning alongside or not that far ahead of your kid and tweaking as you go as a result. But even when that's not the case - there were times I thought I'd taught something well in school, only to realize when the tests came back that I hadn't. When students fail when they're putting their best foot forward, it's often a sign to back up.

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I don't think it's a problem to offer extra credit. I would only do it for a child who was working but needed something to bring the grade up a bit. I would not allow extra credit for a child who slacked off all semester and then realized their grade was bad. In your case, I would do it. A student very close to a higher grade would be given an opportunity to bring the grade up by every public school teacher I know.

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16 minutes ago, mom2scouts said:

 A student very close to a higher grade would be given an opportunity to bring the grade up by every public school teacher I know.

^^ This. A public school teacher I know gives extra credit for wearing a collared shirt to the final. Nothing academic about it.

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Not to beat a dead horse toooo much, but....

DS14 is taking a new language at his private high school this year. They had to pick any topic related to the country and write an (English) paper, and prepare a poster, then do a presentation. About two weeks before it was due, the teacher offered an extra 5% to anyone who signed up that day to present a week early. She also suggested that bringing a country-related treat to share would not go amiss. Because he had actually started early and was almost done, DS signed up. It turned out that he got 100% on this project (without the food). So I asked him about the 5%. The teacher told him he can apply it to anything he wants. Of course I’m thinking, capitalize! Put it towards what’s worth the most! I was thinking it must be the final. No, this project was worth the most.

This kid has learned more of this language since September than 4+ years of French. He is enjoying the class. He is enjoying learning a language. When he picked this class, some of his grandparents suggested it was a poor choice, because it isn’t “useful”. And I said, taking more classes in a language you do not enjoy is even less useful. 

DS14 is thrilled that he is doing so well in a language class. And I think his teacher and school are pretty smart. Let’s face it, parents are not paying for their kids to go to this school to learn a language. In the eyes of DS14, language requirements are a necessary evil to graduate. But to make success in a language class possible? That has done so much for him. I would compare it to all those kids who learn that they “can’t do math”. To experience success has such long term effects.

So I guess it depends on the goals for the class. If it’s fluency, I don’t think two non-immersive years of classes are going to do it. However, learning some phrases, sentence structure, grammar, and culture is possible. And learning to learn a language! So very hard!

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On 11/11/2019 at 1:07 PM, EKS said:

As shinyhappypeople points out, traditional schools offer extra credit opportunities all the time.  There is nothing unethical about it, unless you think that traditional schools are being unethical too.


I don't have an opinion on what the OP should do, I'm too new to homeschooling to do so, but before I became a homeschooling mom, I was a public high school teacher, and I'm still a private school parent, and none of the schools I've been affiliated with allow extra credit.  It is considered unethical, and has been for quite a while.  

Reteach/reassess is not, and including projects that are easier to balance harder tests is not, so if being like traditional schools was important (I'm not saying it is or should be), then I'd lean towards one of those. 

On 11/11/2019 at 1:07 PM, EKS said:

ETA: You could also simply add assignments, like projects.  They don't have to be for extra credit.  I will say that the two projects that my son did for his French course last year were probably the best part of the class.

The other question I have is how is the course being graded?  Does he get points for participation/homework completion, or is everything graded?  Can he get partial credit, or is credit all or nothing?  Does he get graded on work that is intended for practice or just assessments after he has engaged in appropriate practice?  Does he get marked down for late work?  Are there a lot of low point value assignments where points are taken off in increments of one?  And most important: How does his grade align with what you know to be true about his achievement?

 

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23 minutes ago, CuriousMomof3 said:

I don't have an opinion on what the OP should do, I'm too new to homeschooling to do so, but before I became a homeschooling mom, I was a public high school teacher, and I'm still a private school parent, and none of the schools I've been affiliated with allow extra credit.  It is considered unethical, and has been for quite a while.  

Interesting.  The private and public high schools my kids attended/are attending both allow it, the CC they both attended allows it, the college my older son attended allows it, and both schools I attended for grad school allow it.  Not every instructor offers extra credit opportunities, but at least one instructor in each place has.

What I've never seen is an instructor offering extra credit to an individual student as a means to bring up their grade (of course, it might have happened, and I just didn't see it).  It was always planned opportunities that were given to the entire class, and it was always something that would further their knowledge of the subject matter.  That said, I did have issues with the extra credit assignments for one of the CC courses my son took.  Both required substantial travel time to complete, and one required a $50 fee as well.  IMO there should have been options that did not require those things.

So, IMO, in order for extra credit to be ethical, it must further students' knowledge/mastery of the subject matter, be offered to the entire class, and not have barriers to completion like transportation or cost.

Edited by EKS
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Every school my child has attended offered extra credit options in just about every class, so it was not unusual to have a grade of 105 out of 100. My kid even got a 120% for one assignment. Even at the charter school that did not use a standard grading scale (they used "beginning", "approaching" or "meeting" learning goals ) they had lots of optional opportunities for kids to show how they were meeting the goals. 

I think it would be unethical if the grading opportunities were unequally available, or favored those who could buy their way to a better grade because their parents could afford better supplies etc.

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