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  • Writer's pictureTara O'Brien

What are Participation Grades?

There are several different ways to define participation.

  • Dancer and Kamvounias (2005) define participation as active engagement during and/or outside of school organized into five distinct categories including preparation, contribution to discussions, group or collaborative skills, communication skills, and attendance (Precourt & Gainor, 2019).

  • Burchfield and Sappington (1999) have a more simplistic definition of participation including the number on unsolicited responses a student volunteers during discussions (Precourt & Gainor, 2019).

  • Wade`s (1994) interpretation of participation is similar to Dancer and Kamvounias definition and includes listening, speaking, and learning from fellow students (Precourt & Gainor, 2019).

  • Howard, Short, and Clark (1996) add that participation can be student or teacher initiated and can include questions or comments (Precourt & Gainor, 2019).

  • Fritscher (2000) elaborates on what student participation looks like and provides a list of perceptible behaviours including:“(1) breathing and staying awake, (2) coming to class, taking notes, and completing assignments, (3) writing reflective and thoughtful papers, (4) asking questions in class, making comments, and providing input for class discussions, (5) doing additional kinds of research or coming to class with additional questions, and (6) making oral presentations where the students themselves become the teachers” (Precourt & Gainor, 2019, p. 103).

The research of Auster and MacRone (1994), Kember and Gow (1994), and McKinney and Graham-Buxton (1993) reveals that students learn more when they actively participate in discussions, collaborative projects and class assignments (Gainor & Precourt, 2017). One of the primary purposes for participation grading is to encourage active and ongoing participation. However, participating grading, much like effort grading, is more subjective than academic grading as this type of grade often attempts to measure processes that are not visible to the teacher. Many participation rubrics observed through research include (invisible) cognitive processes, mindsets, attitudes, and dispositions that are subjectively measured via rubric by the teacher. The list provided above by Fritscher (2000) is more objective than many participation rubrics researched as it only includes visible, behavioural, types of participation.


Opinion Time!

A positive relationship between attendance and performance is research-supported by some observational methods (Rogers, 2001; Golding, 2011) and experimental studies (Baum & Youngblood, 1975; Hancock, 1994), however, there are also studies that do not support these findings (Zhu et al., 2019). Zhu et al. (2019) notes that studies conducted by Berenson et al.(1992), Butler et al. (2001), and Golding (2011) did not demonstrate the advantage of an attendance policy with regard to student academic performance. While studies regarding student absenteeism have determined that a graded attendance policy strongly encourages students to attend class these studies disagree about the impact of class attendance on learning and academic achievement. If participation grades do not positively affect the quality of student engagement or academic achievement, then the purpose behind this grade is inherently flawed and perhaps does more damage than good.

Participation grades are detrimental to students academically because they create a classroom atmosphere that breeds competition, rather than collaboration. When students are scored based on the amount of times that they speak or the quality of their speech, they naturally compete for time rather than listen and deeply engage with each other. Feeling compelled to speak does not improve the levels of discourse in a classroom. In the primary years it is unfair to doc participation points because students are late to school because the fault is normally (but not always) with their parents/guardians. Students have multiple reasons for absenteeism and some reasons are difficult to prevent (Zhu et al., 2019). By creating a supportive, exciting, and collaborative classroom environment where students want to participate via multiple modalities, teachers can best support academic achievement.

If the goals of assessment are to provide data about learning and motivate students, participation grades do not achieve either of these objectives. Participation grades are problematic as teachers do not consistently consider sociocultural, linguistic, or psychological factors that may affect students` ability and/or willingness to participate in class (Gainor & Precourt, 2017). In an international school setting, students from different cultural backgrounds behave differently in class and one of the key aspects of culturally responsive pedagogy is to differentiate and value student differences. Furthermore, English language learners, who may feel apprehensive about speaking in class, require supports to participate via multiple modalities. Also, differences have been identified related to participation frequency and type between girls and boys and across socioeconomic levels (Gainor & Precourt, 2017). This is particularly evident as children reach adolescence (Gainor & Precourt, 2017). All of these factors shed light on why participation grades may be perceived as inherently unfair by students and create a learning environment that does not feel supportive or inclusive. Furthermore, participation grades do not motivate students but rather, creates an atmosphere where students feel pressured to participate.


  • Carbonaro, W. (2005). Tracking, students' effort, and academic achievement. Sociology of Education, 78(1), 27-49.

  • Precourt, E., Gainor, M. (2019). Factors affecting classroom participation and how participation effects learning. Accounting Education, 28(1), 100-118.

  • Zhu, L., Huang, E., Defazio, J., Hook, H. A. (2019). Impact of the stringency of attendance policies on class attendance/participation and course grades. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 19(2), 130-140. doi: 10.14434/josotl.v19i1.23717

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