The Price of Grades

In the past couple of weeks, RHS has become the epicenter of an extra-credit controversy that has managed to grab national attention. The affair began when RHS parent Colette Tretola spoke up at a Board of Education meeting regarding extra credit that was awarded to students who purchased a $20 fundraiser ticket. Earlier that week, her daughter was refused a work-based extra credit opportunity. Tretola was outraged as she shared her perception that the school prioritizes monetary contributions over effort, creating a system of indulgences corrupting what should be a meritocratic institution. As the story spread, things quickly spiraled out of control.  

Parents immediately took to the Facebook group Ridgewood Moms and Dads and shared their opinions on the matter. One parent wrote, “If this is [moving] C’s to B’s in every class, or even a large portion of them, then this practice actually is tipping the scales in a large way for students who can or will pay for points.” Further, an anonymous commenter on The Ridgewood Blog alleged, “Corrupt NJ reaches into classrooms and teaches kids the New Jersey way. Important lesson. Maybe it is the American way now. Thinkin of big pharma and opioids. You can go on and on. Money is ideal.” The story circulated through such community forums until major news organizations eventually caught wind of the conflict.

One such news organization was CBS New York. In a video story, CBS reporter Meg Baker showed clips of Tretola’s statement to the Board of Education and pulled aside a high school freshman on campus to lend credence to her statements. The freshman confessed that she herself had brought in tissue boxes on occasion to gain some points. The news outlet then likened the incident to the college admissions scandal, with Baker concluding that students at RHS are able to “pay to get a better grade.”

However, most RHS students will agree that this hyperbolic statement could not be further from the truth. The allegations have been drastically blown out of proportion, and they stray from the reality of the situation for a number of reasons. First, from talking with a number of students, we have found that extra credit is rarely offered in class. Even when it is, it translates only to an insignificant number of points. Speaking with RHS students casts more doubt on the “scandal,” as Senior Grace Mclaughlin shares, ”I’ve done extra credit assignments in the past—going to events, handing in tissues, doing extra work—but that extra credit has hardly changed my grades.” When taken into account along with the many other assignments and tests that students complete, extra credit is virtually inconsequential for a grade. With this insight, it’s irresponsible to make the false assumption that students are “paying for their grades.” It is more accurate to say that students are encouraged to take these

Dr. Gorman further commented, “You have to remember when you do extra credit, it’s usually two points or five points. Then when you look at the total number of points, which could be five hundred or something like that, it’s a really small number of points that you’re talking about. So it’s really not so much about the points than it is about trying to get kids to participate in different things which add to the culture of the school.” Many students can validate Dr. Gorman’s statement- the intention of most non-work-based extra credit is to get students more involved in school and community events. For instance, some history classes offer extra credit for attending historical and civic events in the community, such as the local Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration or “Meet the Mayor.” While the process for approving a field trip can be long and tedious, such extra credit activities are easy ways to incentivize students to celebrate landmark moments in history and get involved in their community at large.

Extra-credit-motivated community involvement also extends to school events. For example, students may earn a few extra points by attending a Maroon and White recital, sports game, or New Players production. While these events are largely free to attend, a New Players ticket can cost up to $15, potentially creating an attainment gap between students who have disposable income and students who do not. However, this gap rarely materializes as students can often gain the same number of points by attending a free event as they can by attending a ticketed event. The gap is also rare because, again, extra credit points are almost inconsequential in determining a student’s final grade. In addition, students who are unable to take part due to the monetary stipulation are always assisted by school funds. Ultimately, the motivations of these extra-credit opportunities are pure, as teachers are merely trying to encourage students to support their peers.

Additionally, these types of extra credit opportunities aren’t unique to Ridgewood. Leonia High School similarly asks students to go to events and bake food for a total contribution of around $5-$15. Even Bergen County Academies, the most prestigious school in the region, offers extra-credit to students who attend school plays. These extra credit practices have even farther reach- for example, Arcadia High School in California offers extra credit opportunities that require around $5-$15.

Clearly, extra credit is not a phenomenon that is unique to RHS. However, RHS is still the center of this “controversy.” As Dr. Gorman commented, “Ridgewood High School is definitely under the microscope, and we do attract a lot more press than other surrounding districts do.” He added, “It’s unfortunate that they take a certain slight angle and they really blow it out of proportion in some sense to make a bigger story. It’s unfortunate because I think a lot of the things they have painted Ridgewood High School as are not true. And I think a lot of the kids agree with that, that it has not been an accurate portrayal of who we really are.” And Dr. Gorman is correct- many of the students here do agree that this controversy has erroneously cast the school’s character in a negative light.

As for policy changes, the school is currently investigating the issue and will soon come up with a response, whatever that may be. Dr. Gorman commented, “The way I look at it, there’s only three ways you could go about the whole thing. Ban extra credit outright, find some kind of middle ground, or continue with the current practices. Those are the only three ways you could go.” While the extra credit situation currently remains in limbo, we’re going to have to wait until next fall to see the outcome of this incident.

Swathi Kella & Eddie O’Keefe
editors in chief

Graphic: Erin Kim

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