Common Core: RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.8

NCSS: Culture • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

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Should You Be Graded for Participating in Class?

When your teacher asks a question in class, how do you respond? Do you eagerly raise your hand, excited to speak up? Or do you sit quietly with your eyes down, hoping you won’t be called on? In some classrooms, the way you react could mean the difference between getting an A or a B.

Teachers who favor grading students based on their participation say that teens who actively take part in class tend to remember more of what they’ve learned. Plus, supporters argue, grading partici­pa­tion helps students learn to interact with other people and to clearly express their ideas and opinions—skills that will benefit them in school and in life.

But other educators say that grading participation gives naturally outgoing students an unfair advantage over those who are shy or come from cultures where speaking up is considered rude. Quiet students may understand the material just as well as (or even better than) their more outspoken classmates. But they could be penalized simply because they don’t feel comfortable sharing what they know in front of the entire class.

Should class participation be graded? Two education experts weigh in.


Class participation should be graded for several reasons. First, it helps teachers reward important life skills, such as clearly communicating ideas and arguments. Being able to answer questions on the spot is good practice for countless future situations, such as job interviews.

Grading participation also helps teachers notice when students seem uninterested. They can then tweak their lesson plans to make class more stimulating. And giving lower participation grades to students who are disrespectful or distract others can help put a stop to such behaviors. That creates classes where students respect the teacher, one another, and the subject being taught.

Grading class participation helps kids learn to speak up for themselves in school—and in life.

Some people think grading participation is unfair to shy or quiet students. I disagree. For one thing, it can encourage some quiet kids to speak up. Plus, students aren’t graded solely on how often they answer questions. They’re also graded on what they say and how they say it.

The marks on your report card shouldn’t be based only on projects or tests, but also on the learning that happens along the way. Completing assignments, working with classmates, and staying on task—things even shy or quiet students can do well—should also count toward participation grades.

I’ve heard people say participation is an “easy A,” but I don’t think that’s true. Participation requires being present in class, paying attention to what other people say, and responding thoughtfully—all skills that will come in handy for the rest of your life.

After all, participation is a key part of living in a society, from volunteering to voting and beyond. Grading class participation shows kids the value of being involved in school—and in life.

—Cindy Ingram
Former teacher, Dallas, Texas, and founder of


Class participation shouldn’t be graded. The main reason is that what counts as class participation is usually only speaking aloud. While talking is an important way to be an active member of your class, not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. And that’s OK! Some people speak more easily—and more frequently—than others. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have the best ideas or understand the material better.

In addition, some students come from home backgrounds where they’re taught to speak only if they have something unique or essential to say. Silence may be the way they indicate their respect. This might make them seem quiet, but it may just be that they’re following rules they learned from their families. It would be unfair if their quietness led to a poor grade.

Speaking up in class isn’t the only sign that students are engaged in class—and learning.

Other students may not be speaking in class because they’re afraid of being teased or bullied for how they talk or what they’re saying. These kids might be just as interested in what’s being discussed in class and know as much about the topic as their classmates but are afraid to do anything that would call attention to themselves.

Rather than insisting that everyone speak in class and rewarding those who do so with good grades, I believe that teachers need to give students a variety of ways to participate. For instance, they could give students opportunities to write their ideas before, during, or after class discussions. Or they could let students express their ideas through other media, such as art or music. Most important, teachers should create classrooms where students want to learn.

The danger of grading participation is that it may lead teachers to pay more attention to how much students talk than to how much they’re learning.

—Katherine Schultz
Professor of education, University of Colorado Boulder

Write About It! Which expert’s argument about grading class participation do you think is stronger? What reasons and evidence support that writer’s claims?

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