Calling the Question: Do College Instructors Actually Grade Participation?

From Section:
Teacher Educators
Jun. 02, 2013

Source: College Teaching, Volume 61, Issue 1, p. 11–22, 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article , the authors sought to determine how instructors are actually assessing student participation, or what leads to the decision to grade or not grade students on their classroom participation.

The participants were 521 college instructors who teach undergraduate students at a large, northeastern university.
They were surveyed regarding their attitudes and practices in grading participation in undergraduate courses.
The authors used The Instructor Assessment of Student Participation Survey (IASPS), which was designed for this study.
This survey was designed to identify college instructors who do and do not formally endorse student participation in their classes.
The measure assessed instructors’ practices in grading participation, and instructors’ underlying beliefs regarding class participation.


The findings suggest that the majority of instructors across disciplines do incorporate a “participation” factor into students’ final course grades.

One impetus for the this study was the desire to identify the circumstances in which students are expected to be “active participants” in their undergraduate courses.
This was determined by the percentage of instructors who reported including “participation” among the stated requirements on the course syllabus.
A large majority, 82%, indicated that “participation” is among the formal expectations put forth in their syllabi.
Of those who included participation as an expectation of the course, 75% reported that they accounted for participation in students’ grades.

Although this represents an obvious majority, there is still a clear difference in opinion on the validity of grading participation, as 25% of those who endorse participation by including it on the syllabus do not assign a grade to this criterion, and 18% do not specify participation as an expected student responsibility at all.
Finally, instructors of Math and Science courses were found to be less likely to grade participation than their colleagues teaching in other disciplines.
Furthermore, instructor attitudes were examined through the principal components analysis of scaled items on the “Beliefs” section of the instrument.
A three-factor solution was achieved, and these three components have been named based upon the items within them.

The components derived from this solution fall along interesting axes.
Items in Component 1 indicate a negative orientation toward grading participation while retaining a pro-participation stance.
This component was named “Anti-grading”.
Items in Component 2 indicated a clear preference for quiet, non-participatory students.
This component was named “Anti-participation.”

Items in Component 3 indicated a stance towards teaching in which participation is essential.
This component was named “Pro-participation”; however, the component does not carry implications of grading participation, and it is expected that further investigation would identify both graders and non-graders belonging to this group.

Comments provided in the open-ended questions provided interesting illumination of instructor attitudes – particularly for the subset of instructors who value participation, but do not grade it.
These statements seemed representative of the overall perception of this group that “good teaching” will lead to valuable (i.e., non-superficial) student participation.

Updated: Nov. 24, 2019
Grading | Participation | Students | Students' evaluation | Teacher educators