There were only two weeks remaining before the final exam when several students in one of my classes asked about doing extra credit work to bring up their grade. The possibility was then discussed with my class, and there seemed to be wide support for it. I like to think of myself as flexible and willing to accommodate most reasonable requests, so I told my students they could do critical reviews of relevant journal articles, to be submitted no later than the final exam. Evidently the level of grade anxiety was higher than I had imagined, because on exam day 68 reviews, all neatly typed with articles attached, were placed before me.

In grading these reviews I came upon the dilemma of trying to decide how many "B"s equal an "A". When a student with a "B" average does several extra-credit papers, also of "B" level work, does that student now get an "A" for the course? If the answer is yes, then the grade reflects the student’s effort more than it does his or her quality of work. Perhaps this is appropriate. After all, there probably was more learning taking place.

In discussing this concept with some colleagues, I found support for the idea of extra credit work but little consensus on the formula. In fact, the more discussion there was, the further away the answer seemed to be. Such questions as how many "C"s make an "A", and how many "D"s make a "B" only complicated things. Someone suggested that if enough "B"s can result in an "A", and enough "C"s can result in a "B", then it should be possible to have enough "D"s to get an "A"? I didn't even mention the long paper which earned a "B" versus the short paper which earned an "A". The only thing for certain to come from all of this was something I already knew -- that being flexible can cause more problems than it solves.

I still prefer being flexible because I know how frustrating inflexibility can be. And yet I understand why some prefer to take the easy way out and be inflexible. You inflexible people have my understanding but not my respect.

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