Cons of Participation Grades 2
Continuing my previous post (which I unfortunately must do in installments due to my schedule) here is another common criticism of grading participation.
2. It is nebulous.
What exactly does participation mean? A strong criticism of participation-based grades is that participation itself is a nebulous concept. There are a wide variety of actions that could be considered ‘participation.’ Once again, this is not a unique problem of participation grading and is resolved, like all assessment, by an educator choosing which specific skills to assess. The problem with nebulousness in terms of participation is the way that many educators actually implement their participation grades. Often ‘participation’ is just a line-item on a syllabus and does not even have a dedicated rubric, which could altogether fix this problem. There may be a sentence or two that mentions things like speaking during in-class discussions, but it is rarely fleshed out more than that.
This degree of vagueness does pose a real problem. It creates room for a teacher to assign grades without following consistent criteria. The issue here is more a matter of the difference between theory and practice. In theory, educators could construct robust and explicit rubrics that nail down precisely what they mean by ‘participation’ within the context of their classrooms. Yet, many do not and so participation itself becomes too unclear and arbitrary to be useful. That brings the next common criticism of participation grading:
3. It is misused to justify bias.
(Once again, this must unfortunately be addressed in a follow-up post.)