Gamified/Additive Grading Benefits At-Risk Students

This Points-Based grading strategy is a smart alternative to Minimum F and Traditional “A” through “F” grading systems

Unlike the Traditional “A” through “F” Subtractive Grading System – where you start a term with 100% and progressively lose points – with Gamified/Additive Grading you start with zero points and work your way up.

What is Gamified/Additive grading?

Gamified or Additive Grading is like a video game where points are awarded/added for completing challenges (assignments) or mastering a skill set (exams). It is aligned with gamification in learning where students are required to navigate their way through multiple challenges or master the material in order to succeed. Also referred to as backwards or reverse grading, Gamified/Additive Grading is merit-based, unlike Traditional “A” through “F” Grading, which is demerit-based.

Additive Grading has been used at the college level for some time. In most cases, professors encouraged students to resubmit work and retake exams until mastery was demonstrated. The popularity of video games encouraged gamification in the classroom and the adoption of an Additive/Points-Based Grading System followed naturally.

Gamified/Additive Grading develops self-directed learners, since students are able to pick and choose which learning activities they will engage with. It encourages academic risk-taking, as there is nothing to lose. Zeros do not hurt a student’s grade; the student is not penalized if they receive a zero, they just don’t advance.

My experience with Additive grading

Frustrated with the 50% Minimum F Grading System I encountered at my last teaching position at the largest Title I school in Nevada, I conceived a Points-Based Grading System and received permission from my principal to implement it during the 2nd Semester of the 2016 school year. During that year, I was completing a Master’s Degree in Urban Leadership Development through the University of Nevada – Las Vegas in order to qualify for my school administration credentials. When I presented the results of this experiment to district administrators in May 2016, I learned that the practice of Additive Grading was already being utilized on a limited basis.

How my system worked

During the 1st and 2nd Quarters of the school year, the Minimum F Policy was in place in my average-level World History classes. During the 3rd Quarter, I implemented my Points-Based Grading System. I sent a letter of explanation home to inform parents, which I also posted on my school website.

Point Scale

  • 100 = D
  • 200 = C
  • 300 = B
  • 400 = A

A total of 820 points were available

  • Exams ranged from 40-50 points.
  • Open-note quizzes were 10-20 points.
  • Notebook checks ranged from 20-50 points.
  • Group activities averaged at 20 points.
  • Reading guides were between 30-50 points.
  • Short writing prompts and document analysis averaged at 5 points.
  • A Document-Based Question (DBQ) Essay was worth 50 points.
  • A resume from an Enlightenment-era person was worth 50 points.
  • There were 65 possible points for participation, which was basically contributing to class discussions.

Since I had a comprehensive website dedicated to my class, students who did not show up for a single day during the quarter could have accumulated enough points to get at least a “C” grade. A motivated student could potentially fail every exam and still earn an “A” in the class. Conversely, a student who tests well and knows the material could pass the class without completing many assignments.

Grade averages

1st Quarter (Minimum F) = 70.6%

2nd Quarter (Minimum F) = 70.3%

3rd Quarter (Points-Based) = 77.2%

4th Quarter (Points-Based) = 78.4%

Grade breakdowns for the 140 students who attended both semesters

Semester 1:

  • A = 4  –  3%
  • B = 12 – 8.5%
  • C = 46 – 33%
  • D = 64 – 45.5%
  • F = 14 – 10%

Semester 2:

  • A = 25 – 18%
  • B = 30 – 21.5%
  • C = 47 – 33.5%
  • D = 31 – 22%
  • F = 7    –  5%

With the Minimum F System during 1st Semester, 11.5% of the students had an “A” or “B” grade and 55% of the students had a “D” or “F” grade. During the 2nd Semester – using Points-Based Grading – 39.5% of the students had an “A” or “B” grade and only 27% of the students had a “D” or “F”. The “C” grades were basically the same. With Points-Based Grading, students were motivated to work for a higher grade, and they had a clear path to do so. Under the Minimum F System, less than half the students had the motivation to achieve a grade higher than a “D”.

In examining the “F” grades, of the 14 students who received an “F” for the 1st Semester, ten students raised their grades (one to a “B”, three to a “C”, and six to a “D”), and four students received an “F” for both semesters. During the 2nd Semester, three students who had a “D” during 1st Semester dropped down to an “F”.

Student opinions

I created an anonymous survey that received 74 responses to the following questions.

How did you like the Points-Based System compared to the Minimum F System?

  • Loved it = 27%
  • Liked it = 45%
  • No opinion = 16%
  • Disliked it = 4%
  • Hated it = 8%

To what degree did the Points-Based System motivate you to complete more assignments?

  • Highly motivated = 35%
  • Somewhat motivated = 45%
  • It had no effect = 14%
  • Somewhat less motivated = 1%
  • Totally less motivated = 5%.

Final Analysis

The majority of students who responded to the survey preferred my Points-Based System over the Minimum F System (72%) and were more motivated (80%). I had zero parent complaints, and the improvement in overall grades was clearly documented.

Statistical Analysis (for math geeks)

I asked a colleague to analyze the results of my grading experiment, and he conducted a few paired-samples t-tests to determine significant differences in the mean scores between quarters. The Cohen’s d effect size between Quarters 1 and 2 was 0.05% = no statistical or practical difference. However, the Cohen’s d effect between Quarters 1 and 3 and Quarters 2 and 3 were 0.68% (75th percentile) and 0.81% (79th percentile) respectively, indicating statistical and large practical differences between quarters.

Selecting the best grading system

During most of my career, I taught Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) World History at nationally-ranked magnet high schools. In those classes, the Traditional “A” through “F” Grading System worked great. Even students in average-level classes at these school were fine with the Traditional Grading System. Whether it was AP, Honors, or Average, about 2% (three students out of 150-180 total students) failed each semester. When I transferred to an at-risk comprehensive high school, it was a different situation. Even with the Minimum F System, about 10% of the students in average-level classes failed for the semester. Clearly, Minimum F Grading was not the solution.

Gamified/Additive Grading forces students to take ownership of their academic progress. Standard 4: Indicators 2 and 3 (Teacher Instructional Practice Standards and Indicators) the rubric used to evaluate teachers in our school district states, “The teacher structures opportunities for self-monitored learning for all students” and “The teacher supports all students to take actions based on the students’ own self-monitoring processes.” This is the opposite of the Minimum F Policy, which only requires students to figure out how many assignments need to be completed in order raise their grade from 50% to 60%. 

With my Points-Based/Additive Grading System, students took responsibility for their own success – or failure. As noted, I had over 800 available points, and students only needed to earn 400 points for an “A”. Rather than figuring what few assignments were needed to pass with a Minimum F, students had to decide which options to pursue in order to get the grade they wanted. There were students who struggled to get a “B” with the Minimum F System, but earned an “A” with the Additive System. As noted, ten students who failed the previous semester got a “D” grade when my Points-Based System was instituted. In addition, many “D” students worked their way up to a “C” grade or above.

Points-Based Grading provides options. Students who struggle with exams can focus on project-based activities. Students who test well can accrue points easily. Motivated students can push through until they earn the 400 points needed to get their “A”. At the end of the semester, students are proud of what they accomplished under the Gamified/Additive Grading System, rather than arrogant about gaming the Minimum F System.

I urge teachers, administrators, and school districts to consider the Gamified/Additive Grading System. It is a vast improvement over 50% Minimum F Grading and a sensible option to Traditional “A” through “F” Grading.

(C) Joyce O’Day 2023. All Rights Reserved.

AI was NOT used for the creation of this article.

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