Why Grades and XP Don’t Mix

One of the most tempting things for a teacher to do in a gamified classroom is to grade on experience points, or XP. This refers to when teachers set a level of experience points required to earn a certain grade in the class. The rationale is that they are already quantifying student progress in-game with XP and they do not want to use yet another tracking system. Why would anyone use one system for game progress and another one for school progress? Why dual report? Isn’t a grade just a quantification of student work anyway? I would argue that grades and XP are two vastly different quantification systems and that overlapping them can be both misleading and demotivational.

Grades based on XP can be misleading. While grades are a quantification of student proficiency aligning with an agreed upon standard, XP is a quantification of player accomplishment in the game. Just because a student has a high XP total does not necessarily mean that they have shown proficiency in a performance standard. It might be the case that the student has been busy completing low level tasks to earn points(This concept is usually referred to in the gaming world as “farming” or “grinding”) For example, let’s say a challenge which requires high proficiency in a standard is valued at 30 points. One player has completed the 30 point task because they are proficient at the standard, while another player also has 30 points because they completed three 10 point tasks requiring a lower proficiency level when compared to that same standard. Cumulative XP is misleading because, although it can correlates to student proficiency, it does not necessarily prove proficiency.

Grades based on XP can actually decrease motivation. When there is a target XP required to earn a specific grade in a class, students tend to figure out a minimum level of work they need to accomplish in order to receive a given grade. When they have reached their goal they will have no reason to keep playing. For example, setting 100XP as an A means that any further work will be meaningless. If there is no target to shoot for, students are more likely to continue playing in order to increase their in game status regardless of grade. For more info on Status and rewarding players in game see my posts on 4 Ways to Reward Success in a Gamified Classroom.

The fix here is more straightforward than you might think. Reward XP for missions accomplished. Grade the work quality against the standards. Regardless of which missions players complete, evaluate their submitted work in accordance to the grading standards. Just as you would with any other assignment in any other differentiated learning system. Another way to do this to create a mission map that reads more like a standards-based rubric. Take for example this mission menu from a high school history class.
The standards are listed vertically and the proficiency levels run horizontally. This teacher graded the students on the highest mission accomplished in every standard. They are welcome to play as many missions as they want to earn points for their team, but the only thing that counts for a grade is the maximum proficiency shown in each standard.MissionPoint Table WWII

Grading and XP are two different measurement systems and should be treated as such.

Want to learn about other things to avoid when planning a gamified classroom? Check out my post on the Top 10 Gamification Fails. Or if you want the whole story, follow the Insert Coin Series that walks you through the fundamentals of designing a gamified classroom step by step.  

3 thoughts on “Why Grades and XP Don’t Mix”

  1. Hey Chris, met you at NCCE, and your site is FABULOUS:) I do instructional tech in GA and our teachers are new to gamification. I would love to see some examples of full games teachers are running in their classrooms. Any to share? Thanks! @suzylolley on Twitter

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