Should Participation Be Graded?

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Gabi G. ’24 leading a physics brainstorm. (Angelique G. ’24)

As Lakeside students settle into their classes, the debate over whether or not participation should be graded remains heated. In this article, arguments for or against graded participation in classes like PE/wellness, arts, and languages will be excluded, as these are classes in which active contribution to the class is always a significant portion of a student’s success. The dilemma of participation in the core classes (math, English, science, and history) is different. While answering or asking questions in class may improve understanding, many students feel more comfortable listening and are disadvantaged by graded participation. Two members of the Tatler staff on either side of the argument are here to make their case.

 

The Case In Favor (Lorelei S. ’25)

Participation should count for a significant portion of every class’s grade for a multitude of reasons. For some background on my perspective, I’m a freshman and new to Lakeside, and for the last five years my grades have been significantly influenced by participation, amounting to 40% of a given class’s grade. Partially because of that experience, I now see graded participation as an important part of learning crucial life skills in class.
Though our participation won’t be marked on a report card in adulthood, the skill is invaluable in a workplace setting, where clear, succinct communication will be useful throughout our lives. As English Department Head Emily Chu says on behalf of the English department, “Clear communication…is a skill we want to value and teach as a department, and it is also part of the skills, competencies, and mindsets.” This is true even for introverted or shy individuals, though there’s much we can do to create a supportive environment for these learners. It’s important to amplify others’ voices and hear everyone’s thoughts. In addition, participation grades ensure a respectful learning environment: lower participation grades given to those who distract others or discount others’ opinions will discourage that behavior.

Classes at Lakeside aren’t hour-long lectures where students sit silently in halls, and for good reason.”

There’s definitely a convincing argument that graded participation can be biased against certain types of people. For example, some students may need more time to think than others. Therefore, to make graded participation effective and fair, students and teachers must recognize that participation can manifest in many different ways and strive to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing. This may be giving a “think break” before asking students to raise their hands or having them write down their questions and thoughts instead of sharing aloud.
Do I think that students should be graded solely on their participation? No. Personally, I think between five and fifteen percent of the grade should count toward participation, and according to the Tatler poll, over 50% of respondents agree that somewhere within that range is appropriate. Only about 4% of students thought participation should not be graded at all. I can safely say that graded participation motivates me to step out of my comfort zone. Classes at Lakeside aren’t hour-long lectures where students sit silently in halls, and for good reasons. Graded participation ultimately helps students, and as long as that stays true, I’m all for it.

 

The Case Against (Raina W. ’24)

Participation should not be graded. While the buffer of a participation grade may be advantageous to some, it might not be the case for others. Discussions might be imbued with repetitive comments or more introverted students finding it more difficult to speak up and consequently getting a lower grade. There are many forms of participation, and I don’t think it’s necessary for them to be graded; paying attention and offering thoughts in class is often an unsaid expectation for students anyways. Giving points for it seems somewhat unnecessary.

Furthermore, while participation grading might incentivize students to speak more, it’s also important for them to listen. For some, listening is more helpful than speaking and can lead to greater understanding. Rather than having students participate just for their grade, engaging more naturally in class leads to better discussions and less pressure on students. Some think better on paper than orally, and while speaking is useful in parts of the corporate world, so is listening to the ideas of others and introducing impactful thoughts with the principle of quality over quantity. Communication is a learning process, and grading for participation can sometimes be vague or differ among teachers and classes. There may be compromises made for more introverted students, but this seems more convoluted than simply not grading for participation in the first place. As Head of History Department James Nau puts it, participation grading “often grades a behavior rather than the skill set”. Engagement with a lesson can take place in many different forms, not just through active participation, and participation doesn’t necessarily translate to understanding.

It is virtually impossible to have a single standard for participation grading for every student.”

In Lakeside’s math and science classes, there is rarely ever participation grading to start with. There, participation is more about answering questions on material in class, and getting a solid understanding of the topic is the main focus. As such, grading people on how much they are confident enough to share isn’t a good measure on how much they’re really learning. If a student pays attention and follows the material discussed in class, then that engagement will show itself on their test scores, as math department head Mr. Kresser explains. Even without behavioral signs of understanding, it’s still there. It is virtually impossible to have a single standard for participation grading for every student, since it may be different for everyone. Science department head Dr. Parry summarizes, “it is an area that’s sort of ripe for unconscious bias and bias towards certain ways of participating and not others.”

Notedly, it is still important for students to partake in conversations, as it is generally beneficial to learning. Even if participation isn’t graded, it doesn’t mean that students should stay silent or not feel the need to say anything in class. It’s akin to how the Community Expectations works at Lakeside. We don’t have strict rules or set punishments, but we are expected to follow a set of moral codes pertaining to the school. So why shouldn’t participation work the same way?