Ineffective use of participation grades demands schoolwide reform


by Josh Bannon
Eagle Editorial Board

Aside from the standard homework, quiz and test grades, many teachers employ a unique factor in students’ overall grade for a class: the participation grade.

Participation grades often count for a minuscule portion of the overall grade for a class, usually around 5 or 10 percent.

However, a participation grade can be a great stimulant for student interaction and conversation in class.

In its ideal form a participation grade reflects the extent of how well a student participates in class, that is, how he utilizes questions, conversations and interactions with others in class to further his knowledge of a subject.

Let’s be honest though: some teachers do not utilize the participation grade correctly, to its full potential or at all.

In turn, students often disregard the grade because of its small percentage or because it is mentioned by the teacher on the first day of class and rarely ever brought up again.

An example of the grade’s misuse is classes in which the teacher uses it to enforce discipline.

In some pre-calculus classes, students start with a participation test grade of 100 and get points subtracted for things such as not turning in homework, sleeping in class or general misbehavior.

Besides the point that having a homework grade should be incentive enough to do homework, making a participation grade a discipline grade completely loses sight of its true purpose.

Having a participation test grade that can hurt such a student just does not make sense and contradicts the true motives for evaluating student participation.

This sort of grade belongs in a class in which the purpose is to teach students how to behave properly.

In other courses, the grade is generally not mentioned in class and at the end of each semester the students receive an arbitrary grade based on, well, who knows.

This seems to be the case most of the time in classes such as theology and English.

In most theology classes the participation grade is simply never mentioned or is assigned to tasks such as being part of a group project or turning a homework assignment in.

In the Advanced Spanish I and II classes, most, if not all, of a student’s participation grade is earned by answering questions and actively participating in discussions that happen in class.

Of course, there is not much to keep a student from going back to his history homework after he has gotten his point on the proverbial participation scorecard.

I challenge teachers to honestly consider whether they are utilizing the participation grade to its fullest extent and to realize what a great teaching method it has the potential to be.

If you have ignored the grade or assigned it to homework and other such assignments then I encourage you to embrace its true usefulness.

I also challenge the students of our school to show teachers that we are not merely badly behaved sheep who need to be herded into conformity with childish grades aimed at ensuring we are not chewing a piece of gum.

I believe the faster we realize our classes are composed of men capable of acting in a mature fashion, the faster we can improve some of the weaker methods of evaluating student participation in classes.