3 Steps to Eliminate Fs…NO Extra Credit Required

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

“Um, Ms. Smith, is there some extra credit I can do to bring my grade up?”

Such an annoying question, right?  And yet, many teachers succumb.  They find or create something the student can do to earn a few extra points. Especially when those points are the difference between and F and a D.

No teacher wants her students to fail. 

But how did we get here in the first place?

There is no reason for students to earn Fs—or even Ds in a class.  I mean , really, why do kids ever fail a class? 

Is it truly because they are not capable? 

If that’s the case, then there’s a system problem — a need for interventions, guidance,etc. 

But, for the most part, any student sitting in your classroom is capable of earning a passing grade and of mastering what is deemed ESSENTIAL for the course.

They may not all excel, but they can and should all pass… And extra credit need not play any role.

Here are 3 steps to take to eliminate Fs—with no extra credit!

1) MAKE 50 the lowest possible grade.

If you haven’t already, do not give scores lower than 50.  Or, if you prefer, use a 0-50 point scale. 

That simply keeps the grading scale aligned. 

The zero-100 scale is flawed:

A= 90-100 (10 point range)

B=80-89 (9 point range)

C= 70-79 (9 point range_

D= 60-69 (9 point range)

F= 0-59 (59 point range)

(See Monte Syrie’s discussion of the harmfulness of this scale here.)

Of course, if you want to keep the 0-100, that’s fine, but only if you insist on  multiple retakes until the student reaches the desired level of proficiency. (See #3 Below)

2. Replace or weigh grades over time.

Have you heard the one about the parachute operator?  Let’s say you’re going skydiving and you have your choice of two instructors to jump with you.  They both received a B in parachute opening.  Instructor Jamie did really well at the beginning of class, folding the parachute correctly and doing well on quizzes about the parachute. As time went by, his grades dropped when it became clear that he couldn’t open the parachute quickly. Instructor Jody did really poorly on those early folding and multiple choice quizzes, but toward the end of the course could demonstrate her proficiency in opening the darn thing. Both averaged a B.  Which one do you choose?

In my work, we’ve used a Decaying Average so that the later grades carry more weight.  There are other options, including a Power Law or Replacing Grades.  Erin Werra describes all three better than I can in this post.

2) Allow retakes. 

Better yet, insist on retakes below a certain score.   You can apply this to everyone so that anyone with X score has to retake it.  You can also  allow students to individually determine their lowest acceptable grade—with your blessing and, perhaps, with a parent notification form.

This is a shift and there will be grumbling from students (who might prefer to just ask for that dreaded extra credit later.)

Here’s a script:

In this class, it’s not okay to fail.  We are working on very important skills and concepts. I wouldn’t be doing my job if any of you failed. 

However, you all come to this class with different levels of skill, enthusiasm, etc.  So, while it would be great if everyone got an A, that might not be reasonable —or even in your best interests if you need to conserve time and effort for some other classes.

Therefore, I want everyone to share with me your highest desired grade, the lowest you can deal with and your expectation ( a best case scenario, a worst-case scenario and a realistic expectation). 

I’d also like you to share why you have this grade goal.  Might be something like:

  • This subject comes easily to me.  I think this class should be an “easy A” for me and will help boost my GPA
  • This subject has always been a struggle for me.  I know I can do the work with effort and I’d be okay with a C range grade.
  • I like this subject and can do the work, but I have to give more effort to some other, tougher classes. So while I think I could get an A, I’ll be satisfied in the B range.

As your teacher, I simply cannot accept Ds and Fs. Luckily for you, we have a retake policy in this class.  Anyone who scores below our Desired Level of Proficiency on a major assessment will have the opportunity to earn the DLP by retaking or redoing some or all of the assessment (or an alternate assessment). I have some guidelines about when, where and how that will happen.

EXTRA CREDIT Is just that..

It’s extra…beyond…unnecessary.

Don’t do it! Don’t have them do some throwaway extra something that neither of you cares about.  Instead, have them prove that they can do what’s necessary.

Listen, extra credit is additional time, work and energy for you and for your students.  So are retakes.  Which one makes more sense?

How to Incorporate Retake Tickets in Your Classroom

In theory, most educators likely agree with the philosophy behind Mastery Learning—that there are specific standards that matter most in each course and that our goal is to make sure that each student truly masters, or reaches proficiency, on those standards.

Yet, once we move the the details of how it works, sticking points arise.

In my experience, one of the biggest was coming to agreement on the idea of “sufficient opportunity to demonstrate proficiency”. Teachers, understandably, worried about the following:

1. If students know that they can keep trying, they won’t put effort in the first time around. i.e, they won’t study hard for test on Tuesday, knowing they can just make it up on Friday.

2. Teachers will be inundated with creating multiple versions of tests in order to allow for retakes and THEN, they will have to correct all of those.

Here’s how I would address those reasonable concerns. (I would love to hear others’ thoughts.)

I do think the first concern is somewhat unfounded. Most students don’t want to keep taking the same, or similar, assessments over and over again. However, we do want to make sure that retakes aren’t just for getting a better grade, but are an opportunity to show mastery of important standards.
Therefore, I recommend using a RETAKE TICKET.

Here’s WHY:

a. It puts ownership on the student. As she reflects on her learning, she has to articulate where she’s having trouble and what she, in partnership with the teacher, can do about it.

b. It connects teacher, student and parent. Including space for parent comments and not just a signature brings the parent into the conversation about the student’s learning.

The second concern, the one that reasonably worries about teachers’ time to create additional assessments, is valid. Here are my thoughts:

1. Only have students redo work that was sub-par. If a test was designed to assess proficiency on standards 1, 2, and 3 and the student demonstrated proficiency in standards 1 and 2, then he/she now only needs to demonstrate proficiency on that 3rd standard.

2. Use the same test. At my children’s school, students are required to do “test corrections” after math assessments. It’s a wonderful practice because it forces students to reflect on what they know and don’t, where and why they made errors, and how to come at a problem differently in order to solve it correctly. Currently, “test corrections” is its own grading category, counting for far less than assessments in calculating a final grade. I would recommend simply replacing assessment grades when test corrections show proficiency.

3. Put a “hold” on the grade. Make it clear that the original assessment grade will be adjusted once the student demonstrates proficiency. That might be done via test corrections or at the next point of assessment.

A couple of other points about retakes. I know some teachers and schools set a cut-off grade for retakes. For example, a student who scores an 80 or better cannot retake the test. I don’t get this. Yes, we want to avoid grade-grubbing (and in my perfect world, we wouldn’t use traditional grades), but if a student wants to go deeper, self-correct, get better—then by all means let him or her. In using the retake sheet and comments, we can see if the student’s motives are about true learning. If not, that’s fodder for a conversation—but not a reason to not allow.

Also, I can hear teachers saying, What about the kid who always needs a retake? Well, this is the same problem you would have if you didn’t allow retakes—the kid who is failing class. It’s time for a conversation with student, parent and, perhaps, a learning specialist to begin to figure out why the student is either not learning or not performing.

Really, these are just steps along the way to shifting mindsets—of students and educators. Mastery learning is a mindset, not just a set of strategies that tinker around the edges of the old system. However, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And using retake sheets is as good a step as any.

P.S. Another way to shift the burden from teachers to students is to have students self-assess. That’s another post 🙂