Should Class Participation Be Graded?

Should grades be based on effort or outcome? 

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In some classrooms, simply raising your hand can mean the difference between an A and a B! Is it fair for participation to influence grades—or should teachers stick to traditional evaluations?

YES: Public speaking is an essential life skill. 

Let’s face it: Participating in class can be intimidating. But if we never leave our comfort zones to do things that scare us, we’ll never grow! The communication skills that we use when answering questions in class are the same ones we’ll need in job interviews, on the sports field, and even during sticky arguments with friends. The difference is, the stakes are a lot lower in a classroom than they are in real life. 

Feeling pressure to participate can help you learn subject matter too. For example, I wasn’t crazy about a recent reading assignment in my English class, but I knew participation would be graded, so I thought hard about the book in order to have something to say. The process not only improved my understanding of the text, but it also made class much more fun. 

The bottom line is, teachers shouldn’t have to cater to the needs of introverted students. All of us—even the shy kids—will have to speak up at some point in our lives! We might as well learn how to do it now.

— Ming Hill, an eighth-grade student in California

NO: Participation grades value frequency over thought. 

The smartest students in class aren’t always the ones who speak up the most, so their GPA shouldn’t take a hit based on participation! In fact, many people stay engaged simply by paying close attention and taking detailed notes. Those behaviors aren’t as obvious as a raised hand, but shouldn’t they be equally valued? 

The truth is, participation marks measure quantity, not quality—and they don’t even do so accurately. Teachers see way too many students per day to monitor how often each one contributes to class discussion. And without realizing it, they often call on the same people again and again. No grade can be completely fair. 

I appreciate that teachers want us to communicate effectively, but bribing kids for responses is counterproductive. Students aren’t offering any valuable insights when they speak up just to reach a quota. All they’re doing is hogging sound waves—with an answer they probably pulled straight from the textbook.

— Brianna Cohen, a high school senior in Pennsylvania

3 Fast Facts

1. One study found that only about 9 percent of a typical high school day is devoted to interactive discussion.

2. Research involving college students has shown that the same three to five students generally account for at least half of all class participation— regardless of class size!

3. The fear of public speaking is one of America s top phobias, according to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears. It affects approximately 1 in 4 people.

Sources: 1. School Psychology Quarterly; 2. Sociology and Social Research; 3. Chapman University Survey on American Fears, 2015

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