Cons of Participation Grades 1

There are better and worse ways to assess students and participation is no exception. Some teachers use a “participation grade” as a justification to assign grades based on how much they like students. Obviously, that is not a good grading practice. However, there are others who use participation to assess valid and measurable things. I’m going to go over some commonly given strengths and weaknesses of grading participation as well as counterarguments for each (hopefully from a skeptical viewpoint). I’ll start with the criticisms.

1. It is subjective.

This is true, but almost all forms of assessment have some degree of subjectivity to them. Indeed, if we limited ourselves to only assessing things that can be measured completely objectively, we would often find ourselves assessing the wrong things. Much like the often cited problems with standardized testing, there are valuable things that can only be assessed subjectively and an overemphasis on objectivity results in an overemphasis in things like rote memorization. Treating objectivity as the only thing that matters is falling into the same problem as scientism. Subjectivity itself isn’t the problem with participation grades.

Some argue that participation is particularly subjective and is therefore more heavily influenced by teacher’s biases. One retort is that the teaching is a profession for this very reason. Teachers undergo years of training and certification precisely to develop skills in making good decisions regarding subjective things. Still, teachers do have biases and are affected by them as much as anyone else. They can have a profound effect on grading participation. However, I have found this is only the case when participation is being assessed poorly. A poor implementation with over-reliance on subjective measures is largely created by another problem attributed to participation:

2. It is nebulous.

(…which my next post will address. I unfortunately have an excessively busy life so my two readers will have to wait.)

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Cons of Participation Grades 2



Jay teaches English in Asia and loves skepticism and teaching above all else.

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