by: Layla Abdi

Grades are no doubt an important way for students to self-assess their own educational progress. While most grades are not based off achievement, the common percentage or letter grade, recently many schools have decided to significantly increase the importance of attendance, participation and effort into a student’s grade. This method, an attempt to lessen the reliance on tests, can have detrimental effects.

Alternative grading has come to include factoring attendance into grades to enforce a school’s tardy and absence policies for certain schools and institutions. While there is some benefit to this policy, incentivizing students to come to class with visible consequences, there is many possible negative outcomes. In the age of standardized testing, where both teachers and students are held accountable for how many students are passing courses, having grades for attendance is unnecessary and potentially disadvantageous. What’s more, if a student is already doing poorly for having poor attendance at the beginning of the quarter, unlike retakes on tests, there is no way for them to amend their performance.

Participation points marking students for their overall class participation points can be detrimental and unsympathetic to students with a fear of public speaking.  A teacher who wrote for theatlantic.com, addressed how she tackled introverted students, who are more likely to refrain from vocally participating in class discussions. The article shows a lack of sympathy for students with social anxiety, quoting a professor of medicine, Dr. Kendall Hoyt, that “You don’t get a pass for your personality type.” Having a social phobia goes beyond a personality type. It is a mental disorder that affects 5.5 percent of 13-18 year olds, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Just as a student with a physical illness would not be told to ignore their illness or have consequences on their grades, the same should go for heavily penalizing students with social anxiety.

Yale Daily News made the case against giving participation points. According to the site, “class participation is a virtue, not an achievement. We cannot and should not try to quantify it.” What exactly does good class participation look like, and can it be fairly numerically rewarded? No. The traditional approach, which gives a number for how often a student vocally participates, continues to ignore the non-vocal contributions a more timid student can make. According to washingtonpost.com, a response to the article on The Atlantic, author Valerie Strauss challenges educators to widen class participation to include “student [who] gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation.” Beyond this, an environment should be created where students will be encouraged to speak, but adding grades to the mix will not accomplish this.

Ultimately, it is true that effort, participation, and good attendance are all qualities that should be commended. At Stuart, the Effort Awards are an appropriate way to recognize the work of students. However, incorporating those aspects into grades significantly illustrates a greater problem. If grades are a combination of these things along with the standard achievement, it will be more difficult to assess where students really are. For schools that are particularly at need for evaluation to help areas that need it most, grades must really reflect what the information the student knows and skills that they possess, not their attendance.