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ACE October Newsletter: Attendance for Grades? Better Think Twice! By Jacob Bailey

Oct 26, 2021 | Academic Centre of Excellence

This can come by many names (often as a “Participation” grade), but the question still boils down to the same thing. Should participation/attendance in classes or activities be incorporated into a grade in any way? Should it be used only as an extra credit incentive? I’m here today to offer you a few (hopefully) compelling arguments against the use of participation grades in any format.

Offering grades for participation makes grades less meaningful. Consider this for a moment: how is grading participation truly a reflection of whether students have achieved their learning outcomes? With so many varied types of assessment to choose from, where does participation fit in? Simply participating in an activity does not suggest mastery of it.  We don't give participation grades for writing a test, so why should this be any different? This form of assessment doesn’t consider the additional barriers that exist for a diverse student population. Canadore has a very diverse student population, many of whom face barriers to their education that participation grades can overlook. For many students, participating fully in all class activities can be very challenging (especially outside of regular class hours) due to other responsibilities or lack of access to technology or transportation.

Participation grades are often more subjective than a typical grade. Just like any other grade, it is important that students know where it came from. An arbitrary “grade out of ten” can be frustrating and ambiguous for students (and sometimes for faculty). If participation grades must be used in a course, best practice would be to provide students with some sort of grading scheme (like a rubric) to clearly illustrate how their participation will be assessed.

Section 4.9 of Canadore College’s Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning Policy requires that “Attendance is not used as an evaluation/assessment component, unless there exists a corresponding course learning outcome”. If you have a course learning outcome in your course that requires attendance/participation in certain activities, then a participation grade would be an appropriate tool for assessing that learning outcome. However, if your course outline doesn’t contain a similar learning outcome, attendance should not be used. Participation is a grayer area, but remember that grades should be reflective of your students’ achievement of their outcomes.

To summarize…
As educators, we already know that attendance and grades are strongly correlated. Students who attend more classes tend to perform better on assessments than their peers who don’t. But does that necessitate a participation grade? Is that incentive enough to encourage would-be absentees to attend, or does it just further the grade gap for students with varying levels of external responsibilities? 

For a fun read on attendance grades in higher education, check out the following article by Jay Sterling Silver from Inside Higher Ed: The Contamination of Student Assessment

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