The answer to the question above is obviously no.
I'd like to tell you that every grade, on every report card, from every class, is a true reflection of what the student knows. I'd like to tell you that every grade is earned with hard work and dedication from both the student and the educator.
The reality is that students are coming home with report cards that are not a clear reflection of their abilities. Take for example, the teacher who gives students daily points for coming to class prepared. Without multiplying a single number, writing a complete sentence, or identifying a planet, the student has already earned daily points for being responsible. Now, do I want students to come to class prepared and to be responsible? Of course I do. I also want my students grades to be a reflection of what they know.
Lets talk about extra credit while we are at it. I have seen teachers give extra credit for bringing in Kleenex, participating in spirit week, or attending a sporting event. I remember my favorite high school teacher of all time giving me extra credit every week for wearing the school colors on Fridays.
The moment we teachers allow these things to creep into our grade books, our grades become invalid. I must confess, that I too have fallen into the trap of giving students credit for things that were not aligned to my math standards. It's easy to do when you feel the pressure to pass students, or because it's the student who really worked hard for you, and you tried to find an excuse to bump him or her up a letter grade...or two.
What's the solution? I never want this blog just to become a rant about things in education that annoy me or frustrate me. I always want to do my best to offer a solution. That being said, I know I do not have all the answers, and there may be times when I ask you for the answers. So, what's the solution? Lets look at a couple of options.
1) Since we all want students to come to class prepared and ready to learn, we need to add a section to our report card called "life skills". In this section we can mark a students grade based on preparedness, organization, behavior, participation, and other similar skills. By separating life skills from subject skills, it would actually place greater emphasis on both sets of skills without letting one directly effect the grade of the other. I recommend you check out Dr. Marzano's book on formative assessment and standards-based grading.
2) Find another way to reward students for coming to class prepared or participating in school events. There are all sorts of books out there that will help teachers think of ways to reward students for meeting and exceeding expectations. Fred Jones offers many ideas on the topic.
3) Instead of extra credit, how about replacement assignments. A replacement assignment is an assignment that matches the skills of an assignment the student did not master earlier in the grading period. Then, instead of the students just trying to get points to make a certain grade, they are providing the teacher with evidence they have mastered a standard they struggled with earlier.
It has been said that grades are the biggest lies in education, and it is time we started telling the truth.