Participation should be factored into grades more


Isabella Ciriello and Sophie Rukin

Class participation has been called many things during our time at Horace Mann: a grade booster, a drag, an inconvenience, an easy A, insignificant, and, our favorite: undervalued. As two self-proclaimed participators, we feel the way the school community views participation and how it is graded must change so it is valued more by both students and teachers.

Currently, participation rarely, if ever, factors into our grade. Our humanities and language classes count participation but usually for no more than 5-10% of the final grade. In STEM classes, many of our teachers have never used it in the grading process.

Instead, semester grades in STEM classes rely on a combination of tests, quizzes, labs, and occasional projects. In one of our precalc classes, the grading policy is as simple as this: “There will be three quizzes and four tests during the first semester. The three quizzes will be averaged to count as a test grade. The final semester average will be calculated by averaging these five test grades.” 

This policy oversimplifies learning. Students and their understanding of a subject cannot be properly defined by tests and quizzes. Those who are bad test takers, too sick to study, or too busy with other work often suffer from these unencompassing policies.

Even more importantly, devaluing participation sidelines a majority of the learning process — including homework and content discussed in class. This policy essentially says: if you can cram study for a test the night before and get an A, nothing else matters. In class, we have seen students sleep, play games, and secretly listen to music with hidden AirPods. By not considering participation, teachers disregard the effort students put into showing how they interact with material outside an assessment. 

Participating in class forces students to self-assess how well they know the material, compare their ideas with their classmates, and think outside of their own perspective. All these benefits are lost when students choose to not participate because they lack the incentive to do so. This behavior needs to change and can only come when we reevaluate the way in which class participation is graded. If teachers grade students more based on how engaged they are in class, it would force those who slack off to alter their behavior, a benefit to both the student and their peers.

Participation needs to not just weigh more but be critically evaluated by teachers. We believe participation should count for 20-25% of our semester grade, equivalent to a typical major assessment, because the first step to acing a test or writing a convincing essay is sharing your ideas with the class. Student participation takes up a huge chunk of the time you spend in each of your classes — at least three hours a week. That effort reflects how much work a student devotes to a class and should be credited.

While most STEM classes are lecture-based, with participation rarely extending beyond answering a question here and there, students could be graded on their engagement during class time, labs, or individual work time. Students could also receive a daily participation grade that factors into their overall semester grade. 

While it may be easier on teachers to have a participation-free grading policy, it is valuable for students to receive feedback about their participation and level of engagement in class. If students understand how their participation is received, instead of feeling like they’re talking into a black hole, they would have the rare opportunity to understand how they could improve how they share their thoughts and engage in group discussions.

Some may argue that participation is too subjective to grade heavily; it potentially can benefit those who are more extroverted and hurt those who are more introverted. However, it may be a good thing to encourage shy students to come out of their shells by incentivizing more participation. The solution requires a more nuanced approach to participation, one where teachers evaluate factors other than how often you speak — like paying attention, taking diligent notes, and being a focused class member. 

Some students are poor test-takers and excel at verbalizing their ideas, but that does not inhibit teachers from making tests the main component of a semester grade. Why is it that strong test-takers, regardless of how comfortable they are at speaking, are the only ones spared the poor grade? In the real world, your collaboration and communication with others is a crucial part of how your work is evaluated, whereas how fast you can solve a math problem is not. 

In our English teacher’s syllabus, he says “everyone is strongly encouraged to raise their hand and share something at least once during each class discussion.” We agree with this policy, especially for discussion-based classes such as English. If participation is not prioritized in these classes, it leads to classroom environments where a small number of voices inadvertently dominate discussions. 

Some students think that their participation level does not affect anyone else. This is a grave misconception. Deciding to sleep in class or speak every five seconds has a major impact on everyone else. In classes where participation is not graded or valued, some students often slack off and let their classmates shoulder the burden of livening every discussion. We have both been witness to this time and time again, especially in our English and history courses. We want to hear a variety of perspectives, and when students opt not to share theirs, it hurts the diversity of our learning.

One could argue that if participation was weighed more heavily, students would only speak for a grade, not for their own benefit. However, we believe the incentive of a good grade would encourage students to improve their communication and participation, skills vital for success later in life, similar to how assessments that makeup the majority of a semester grade incentivize students to learn the material. In order to create a school environment surrounded by active and interested participants, we must challenge the current system in which students expect an easy 100. Only then, the thoughtful comments, intensive note taking, and active listening that students like us demonstrate on a daily basis will get the credit they deserve.