Can We Please Stop with the Participation Grades?

I’m sitting there staring at my grade book, and this one grade is just staring back at me. It’s a C-, and that grade bothers me because it just doesn’t feel right. I think the kid should have a C because they’re respectful, we haven’t had any behavior issues, and they’re always working hard. Can behavior push that grade up? Should it?

If I change the grade to a C, what is that grade then saying? Is that grade even valid?
 

The Problem with Grading Behavior

 
As teachers, it is imperative that we separate behavior and grades. There are far too many teachers, especially in studio classes, who give out a daily grade for participation, or effort, or just for good behavior. I have never understood the thinking behind that strategy–how does behavior relate to grading? Student behavior is a classroom management issue, not a grading issue. You should never find management strategies and solutions in your grade book.
 
Gradebook Vertical
 
We want our kids to work hard, to be respectful, and to be on time. But why do we use grades to incentivize the behaviors we want? If your answer is “that is how I get them to do what I need them to do,” you need to reevaluate your classroom management system.

Daily effort and participation points are particularly troublesome. How can you define them clearly? How can you measure them accurately? Those daily points are a double benefit for our kids who behave well. They are earning free points just for doing what they would do anyway. Even worse, those points are a double penalty for those who sometimes don’t behave as well. These types of points make it even more difficult for the kids who struggle to find success.
 

Why It’s Important to Keep Grading Objective

 
When you are giving participation grades, you are taking away both meaning and validity from the grades you give. Grading should be objective–you have standards for each project, right?–and those are the grades that should be presented because they are the grades that represent what your kids know and can do. “Effort” is not a standard, and it cannot be objectively assessed. Simply trying hard, while admirable, in no way represents what is actually being learned.
 
participation grades
 
When we assign a grade to the effort put forth, we are artificially inflating grades. They no longer represent what our students have learned. Kids and parents then both have an impression that students are doing better than they really are. Objective, meaningful grades show what a kid has learned and what they can do– never how nice they are, how well they sit in their seat, or how much time they spent on their project.
 

Encourage Participation Without Grading Participation

 
None of this is to say that these behaviors are not valued; in fact, quite the opposite. I think, and I believe most art teachers would agree, that effort plays a major role in a student’s success. But there is so much more to art than just effort, and so much more to learn than just how to play school. Kids need to work to be successful, but they are not successful just from working.
 
Rubric Comment
 
We want to encourage that effort, and encourage a growth mindset, but we don’t need to grade it. Talk during critiques about how you appreciate the hours they put in outside of school, or how they kept reworking one area until they got it right. Show kids how much better colored pencil looks when you put in the time to layer and blend. Demonstrate what is possible–and how artwork can improve–when significant time and effort are put forth. Praise effort on the bottom of the rubric; just don’t make it part of the rubric.

 
We need to assess our kids in a myriad of ways, but participation grades should never enter into the equation. We can value and encourage the behaviors, but they don’t need daily points attached. Because really, when you think about it, how do you know what kids have learned–whether your instruction was effective–if you’re giving a grade based on whether your kids used time wisely?

If you’re looking for classroom management strategies that go beyond the grade book, check out the AOE Class Managing the Art Room. The class is packed full of creative and useful management tips that you can implement right away.
 
 

Do you grade for participation or time on task? Why?

What would happen in your classroom if you were to do away with participation grades?

 
 
 

Timothy Bogatz

Tim is a high school teacher from Omaha, NE. His teaching and writing focus on the development of creativity, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills.

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  • Julie Bulissa Kohl

    While this sounds great in a perfect world, I disagree somewhat. I teach 6-12th grade and the only grade that gets a participation grade is 6th grade. I only see these students for 40 minutes once a week on a rotation. My school requires that we give grades and we must enter at least one grade per week. Many of the students take 4-5 weeks to finish a single project and it is impossible to give that many individualized grades to every single student every week. If I could give just project grades I would. Unfortunately for me, that is not a reality. I do understand your sentement.

    • laura

      Yeah I have two categories for grades.. one is a participation/ effort grade which is worth 40 % and projects is worth 60 % .. I teach 6 classes a day over 130 students.. no way I could grade that specifically .. I am on Julie’s side here .. Some of my students pass with their effort and participation. Some of them struggle but they work and sometimes that is ultimately the most important part of the grade.

  • RMillarART

    I agree with this whole-heartedly when it comes to students in older grades, but I will still maintain my daily participation grades for the younger students. Even then, it is not the *only* thing they are graded on, but I think the little ones definitely need reinforcement for working diligently on their projects (or not!).

  • Kristi

    I only have my 5th – 7th grade art students for 61/2 weeks. I like using the participation grades because in art class you get ALL students. Some students are not very good artists, but yet they come in and give 110%. I think they should be rewarded for that effort. Now I do give grades for projects based on obkectives, as well, but I feel the participation grade is still necessary.

  • Amanda Russo

    I agree with others – this looks good on paper and may work wonderfully with high school students (and I see it working great with my middle-school kids), but I don’t think this is realistic for elementary students. I would LOVE to see real-life, practical examples of no participation grades in an elementary setting where you see 600+ students for 40 minutes, 9 times (maybe) per grading period. I know this question was presented during the AOE Live discussion last week, but I don’t feel it was adequately addressed – or at all.

  • mel

    I teach elementary (45 minutes, once a week classes), and Effort and Craftsmanship are both on my rubrics.. along with the specific objectives for that project. That way students are rewarded for their best effort on a scale, and it counts towards their final grade for that particular project. It’s not grading behavior, unless you consider that a student on-task working hard will be able to show a higher level of effort than that student who is always up wandering around off-task. But a student who is breaking classroom rules constantly, who turns in a project they worked hard on and has achieved the objectives.. their behavior is not reflected in the grade.

  • Rachel Albert

    I can see that maybe this would work for high school. I would assume that high schoolers choose to take art. In my middle school classes, they don’t have a choice. So if a student hands in a one point perspective drawing that is clearly incorrect, I’m going to look for eraser marks and check their sketchbook for practice drawings. And if I see both of those things, that tells me that they put in a lot of effort, and I’m going to consider that in my grade. If the drawing is incorrect because the student didn’t use a ruler, that’s another story. It’s important not to fail the kids that aren’t artistically talented. We don’t want them hating art.

    • Tim Bogatz

      Rachel, I would say that if you are looking at attempts at drawing and sketchbook work, those aren’t behaviors you are grading–those are part of the artistic process. They are evidence of learning, and they work wonderfully as a formative assessment. That is much different than grading kids for being on time or looking like they’re busy.

  • Tery

    You bring up a really good point… I never really thought about what purpose the “effort” grade on my rubric was serving, it was just there because it always has been. After thinking about what you said it makes a lot of sense. I am grading their growth in my art class, not whether they can cooperate and pay attention. It is an important part of their individual growth in all areas, but your right, it’s not one of the objectives of my lesson. I wouldn’t choose ” can sit and pay attention to directions” as a goal for my yearly SGO’s (student growth objectives) so why am I making it part of my grading? I teach elementary K-5 , I have been thinking long and hard all summer about how i grade and why i grade that way. I am looking at my students individual growth and creative understanding this year. I get what all the others responding are saying but… Change is hard, but it’s a good “hard”. it’s important to step back sometimes and look at how we do things and ask ourselves the tough questions and make changes if we need to. It’s easy to say ” but It’s always been that way” but does doing the things the same way encourage us to grow? Does doing things the same way help our students to grow?

    • Tim Bogatz

      I would agree that change is hard. Reflection is an important part of becoming a better teacher, and reflecting on how we grade can be one aspect of that. “We’ve always done it that way” is the biggest roadblock to change, and if we can get past that phrase, we can do a lot of great things for our students.

  • Mr. Post

    From Woody Allen –

    “I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say [sic] my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.”

    From Me:
    Things my art teachers said to me often didn’t make sense until years later when I understood the problem better and was more mature. I am pretty much against all grading as I think it is a really poor reflection of whether any learning has happened at all. Some of my best learning happens after reflection and time and unfortunately there “ain’t no time for that in schools”. It’s all about test, measure, report, rinse and repeat…

  • Marie Spice

    I’m a first-year teacher and have grades K-8 (about 200 students). I realize it’s only the third week of school, but am struggling already with the “how to grade” issue. I’m in a private school that does not adhere to the Common Core, and can pretty much set my curriculum up however I would like (thankfully). I only have each class for 40 mins/week – I still don’t know who is who and in which class. How do I begin? Are rubrics for each project the way to go? I feel spread so thin, how can I match names to faces to artwork when I’m tackling grading? I’m sure I can wallow through and find my way, but any beginner’s tips would be greatly appreciated.

    • Jennifer

      I currently teach K-5, with 641 students I see per week. This is my first year as well (though I did teach art last year at another school as an aide) For me, the easiest way I have found to grade is to develop a generic rubric that I use for every project which I include points for effort/being on task, craftsmanship, and goals/objectives. To keep track, I have a seating chart for every class (I see each class once a week for 50 minutes) when entering grades, I enter a blanket grade for each student (the equivalent grade to what a student would earn for doing the minimum for being considered successful) and while I am walking around class, I put a code next to students name (usually a + or a -) to help me remember who was exceeding standards and who was not meeting them. I look at the seating chart at the end of the day and enter the grades according to my notes. Then I erase my notes and start all over the next week! This so far has been much easier on me!

    • Laura

      HELLO!!!! I also teach at a private school but with almost 300 students. I took the special’s grading letters (o-s-i-u) matching them with 4,3,2,1 (for my math, later) and made up a rubric, what I would want for each one within creativity/originality, craftsmanship, and two or three vaguely worded ones which have a fill in spot for the content I am teaching, like, I am teaching value, how did the student use (value) in their art according to the guidelines. After so many years I can glance at the rubric and the project and know what the student earned, but if I am ever stuck I sit there and start highlighting specific things. Then of course, I just do the math. I don’t do a specific rubric for every project, its just my one rubric, and for the content specific part I just “mentally” fill it in. Like I have time to print out and fill out 300 rubrics, LOL. Of course, if the grade is questioned, I whip out the rubric and explain.

      I have three rubrics…k-3, as they actually do E-S-D-B-N (5,4,3,2,1), another rubric for 4-5th, and a separate one for 6-8th because I throw the participation grade in their project grade, unlike the 4-5th graders. I also have PreK 3 and 4, and LOL I have a rubric for them, but its really really loose and based on fine motor skills and using the materials correctly.

      My first year, I was bad with names. But every year, you only get maybe 6 or 7 more, Plus then 30 kinders, so its no big deal. I know everyone’s name after 6 years teaching. I also threw myself into aftercare a few days a week which gets you in more contact with the kids (and I get a lot of my grading done there, because obv I have no time during the day and I hate hate hate bringing artwork home).

      I will make a seating chart and when in doubt take a glance. NOW when it comes to names and faces and art…eh you’ll get there. Just grade objectively, and if it helps, keep a note book per grade with little notes “Billy made polka dot fish, really good”.

  • Amy Lynn

    I have Effort as part of their grade, but I have my students rate themselves on their effort. It’s actually surprising how many students feel like they could have put more effort into their projects. I also like to do midway critiques/checks to make sure students are working at an appropriate pace to finish their projects on time. My school requires two grades per week so this is a nice way to get multiple opportunities for students to earn points throughout the process of their projects.

    • Tim Bogatz

      I also do critiques at the halfway point! Sometimes a one-on-one critique with me, sometimes a peer discussion, sometimes a checklist to let kids see how well they are meeting the objectives so far. It’s a good approach for a formative grade in the middle of the project, and one (of many) ways to put a grade on the process.

  • ArtTeacher.tv

    Personally, I like the participation grade. It reinforces the importance of experimentation and attempts at innovation. I get so tired of those students who can’t think beyond assignment parameters because they’re so fearful of failure. The participation grade loosens up this grip. Participation is 33% of my total.

    But as always, it depends on the situation. It’s not one size fits all. Each teacher wields their teaching philosophy differently.

    Instagram: @new_art_teacher

    • Tonia Tidwell

      I agree completely! I use effort and participation grades because teaching high school I always have those students who hate art but are stuck in class or students who have had all there creativity sucked from them…..so they think. I always start the year with my soap box about being open-minded and just trying. This is what I think the effort grades are all about. It pushes them to at least give their best effort. Call me corny, but I think teaching them to be open-minded and just try their very best is a life lesson!!!!

  • Art Teachers Hate Glitter

    I teach K-6, and we have Effort on our report cards in our county. It is stressed that Effort is NOT behavior. This really irritates the classroom teachers, because they don’t understand why a student with behavior issues can get a 4/4 on effort. They’re looking for specialists to back them up when it comes to “problem” kids. We have to explain, and show them, that we, as specialists, are not expected to grade behavior, but evaluate how much effort they put into their work, two completely different things. I think “participation” is different as well, from my perspective. To me, participation means engagement during discussions and group work, and again, not necessarily a reflection of behavior. That being said, I was a shy, reserved child, and never voluntarily participated in discussions or raised my hand, so yeah, I would be on board with eliminating the grading of participation. My lack of participation was not a reflection of how much I knew or had learned.

    • Tim Bogatz

      This is a really interesting approach–I like that behavior is separate from effort . . . it would be good if behavior could be reported as well, so you don’t have that pressure to lump them together. I’m completely with you on the participation thing–so many students (myself included) despise talking in front of the class, and it’s not a great way to demonstrate what has been learned.

  • Britt Irvin

    I use a daily rubric that provides a range from a 4 to a 1 and outlines each component necessary for each score. I label behavior as professionalism which is a necessary component of the high school studio art class. I think giving students the opportunity to be assessed on their professionalism is providing them with a skill that carries over into their adult life.

    The daily rubric is self-assessed then teacher assessed. I take an average of those two scores.

    Just a little background on my school…My school is a transfer school with students ages 16-21. We have students that are over-aged and under credited. Attendance is about 60%.

  • sandra

    I teach music – being a performing art, “participation” takes on a different flavor. On my website, I say “I can’t know how well they understand a new concept if they don’t demonstrate how much they know. If the student shows the skill we are learning (“active participation”), and makes noticeable effort to achieve and improve, their grade will be absolutely satisfactory. Sitting motionless when asked to move, chatting or playing with trinkets, or refusing to sing, play games, or instruments will be considered less than satisfactory.”

    I used to flippantly give grades based on compliance, but then I had a student who was REALLY GOOD at music, and REALLY BAD at being a delightful child. After giving him a low “particpation” grade, he came to me asking about it, and said, “but Miss, I’m good at everything you ask us to do!”

    ….

    So now, I frequently remind the kids that they will be receiving a grade on using good posture, identifying melodies, clapping rhythms correctly… (as well as the actual WORK of music ed, like notation, playing instruments, aural identification, etc….) because those things are MUSICAL SKILLS. Do they need to comply and follow instructions? Yes. But not “because I said so,” because that is how you demonstrate the acquisition of skills in the performing arts.

    • Tim Bogatz

      I love this story and this comparison. Thank you!

    • clarkkent2

      I agree! A State Standard for us is Performance… students are required to perform. As they perform, I can assess what they have gained through instruction. Also, a State Standard is the Art of Presenting Music through Performance… so that attendance at all concerts is graded. Some principals and teachers I’ve met disagree with grading attendance at a concert… but when they realize the grading is actually linked to a standard, they understand

  • ElizTownsend

    It seems, things like wasting time, not getting down to business, etc. carry their own consequence in that a student may not finish their project, thus, a lower grade, or they may have to hurry through it to finish and do a sloppy job, thus a lower grade.
    In our small school, Art is graded with G (close to Excellent), S+ (Above Average), S (Average), S- (Below Average), N (Needs Help), I (Incomplete) It seems adequate. The grade is divided in two. Achievement/Effort. I like the system, because it allows for underachieving students or students without natural (or yet learned ) art sense, to still have one part of the grade (Effort) that could be high, evidencing the hard work they have put in, even though their Achievement grade is average or low. I award points when students tick
    the boxes of the criteria in a specific project rubric. Then, I usually grade on a curve for Achievement and a bit more subjective on the Effort part. Behavior could be included in either of those divisions, depending on what an individual rubric emphasized.

    In art, I think it is important to grade on behavior, if say a student never cleans up their mess, abuses or unnecessarily wastes the art materials, etc. To me, being accountable, grade wise, for those kinds of things is not just behavioral, but instructional in the sense it is part of learning discipline in the use of art mediums and tools. It could save a student from destroying theirs or another’s art project, tools, or belongings; or prevent a serious injury. I think, in that sense, behavior is very relevant in the art room. The way students handle themselves is part of doing art.

    • Mr. Post

      “Art is graded with G (close to Excellent)”

      It’s too bad the grading system in your school prevents anyone from making art that IS excellent.

      LOL! C’mon now, there’s kids making excellent art!

      If an athlete can give 110% effort surely your school can figure out a way for a kid to make an excellent art work:)

      The reason why we have figures like 110% is because sales from one year to the next can jump up by 110%. An athlete cannot give 110% effort because the maximum amount of effort any person can give to any endeavor is full effort, holding nothing back – and at that point a person is giving 100% effort not 110%.

      Any grading system can be picked apart by playing the game. If a kid in Tim’s class wanted to game his system, that kid would make awesome art at home or outside of class and come to school and sit around. Then when that kid turned in the work to Tim he would have to receive full credit and get a good grade.

      My junior high government teacher was such a great teacher that when I took the class in college I already knew all of the course material. The instructor designed the class so that the only two grades that counted were the midterm and the final. I showed up those two days and aced the class.

      In a grad class I was taking the instructor gave a list of assignments to earn an A in the course. One of them was to call a telephone number and have a bed time story read to you over the phone. I thought this was an abysmal idea, one I would never subject a kid in a class to. I value the interaction that happens between a kid and parent when reading together. I refused to make the phone call. The instructor told me that I could not earn an A if did not complete all of the assignments. I replied “OK, I’ll take the B” She protested and said “It’s only a ten minute call, why don’t you want the A?” In the end there’s a B on my transcript and somehow the world is still turning…

      My son’s a welder. When he applied for his current job, they didn’t look at his transcript, his certifications or ask for references. They asked for him to wear his welding gear and run a few beads (weld two things together). At some point the rubber hits the road and all of the grades we’ve earned become just letters on a page….

  • laura

    See, I disagree…you can have that “star artist” in class who isn’t paying attention and bettering them self, and the kid next to them who tries four times as hard to finish…and I think that deserves some tangible recognition.

    Every day my kids earn a check plus, check, or check minus…on my attendance sheet, when they show up, they all get the check, and depending on how that hour goes, I might add in a plus or a minus. The check is just, being there and doing what they are supposed to do. They are behaving, they are working, they are doing exactly as their age level would have them do. The check plus means that they were not only working exceptionally hard and pushing themselves, but and they contributed to the class with thought provoking comments or they were helping other classmates. They went “beyond”. I think the check minus is obvious…lol.

    In fact, I have a participation rubric, which I give out to the parents at the beginning of the year, along with the regular rubric. When it comes down to grading, k-3 is 75% project 25% particp, 4-5 is 50% project, 25% part and 25% quizzes, and middle schoolers have that participation grade worked into their project rubric…which is 50% projects, 25% homework, 25% quizzes.

  • Joe Hoksbergen

    I came to the same conclusions you did a couple of years ago when I had a very convicting moment. As I sat there entering participation grades, I realized that my “effort” grades were influenced by whether or not I liked a particular student. That’s dangerous territory and shame on me for not realizing it sooner.

    • Tim Bogatz

      That is definitely a slippery slope, and that is one of the points I wanted to make. We shouldn’t be vindictive with grades, but a lot of times that happens. We take out our frustrations with a kid by docking their grade. I just don’t know how that can be justified.

  • ronnidart

    Whether or not you choose to specifically grade effort, participation, or behavior it is usually reflected in the art work. A student is unlikely to show good craftsmanship and finish on time if they spend art class fooling around. In addition, they will probably not be following directions either. So it seems to me that if you do not formally put it in the rubric, it shows in the final grade anyway. If a student’s behavior takes a teacher’s attention away from another student or the class has a whole, that student is preventing learning. His/her actions should be reflected in their grade as well as other consequences.

  • Lisa

    My high school student’s grades are weighted with 20% being Work Habits. I started doing this years ago out of frustration with those students who consistently come to class without a pencil and waste time. Now I can explain to their parents why they can’t get their work done on time or it’s not really their best effort because I have noted it in my grade book and deducted 10 points for their weekly Work Habits grade. When students waste time, clean up early, don’t get to work, are texting, it takes away from what their work could have been. They know they can slide by giving 50% effort and still get a B or C but it becomes clear to me that they have so much more talent that never is realized because they are slacking. Sometimes a reminder about Work Habits is the kick in the butt they need.

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  • Gerardo Lopez

    the only question that one must ask themselves as a teacher is “did the student learn the material?” If so, congratulations! you did your job. I agree that participation is a classroom management issue. It should in no way influence how you grade. However, this does become a problem when your district requires a certain amount of daily or test grades per week and you have a long term project going on in your classroom.

  • Amber Steele

    I teach dance in a community college, and have a FULL range of students,
    at all levels, cross listed at all times. For a production class
    (preparing for a show), there is no way that I can grade only on
    achieving SLO’s, because everyone has a different level to start with, a
    different ability to learn, and different physical, intellectual (and
    emotional) abilities. I have to create different lessons within these
    classes to accommodate all of these needs, and even still, the Outcomes
    must be accessible, or the class won’t work.
    As art teachers, we’re
    always talking about how art classes can’t be just quantified and
    thrown away if they don’t make test scores rise. This is how I see
    question of quantification coming into play as a Participation segment
    of the grade.
    Part of what we teach in art is social concepts,
    including teamwork. Maybe a painter can work alone most of the time and
    be a great artist — but we’d never know if they can’t manage the people
    skills to show their art in public. Sharing Art in the community is
    what gives it social value. TEAMWORK and – in this case – learning how
    to participate in the classroom, is mandatory to having success in an
    art class, and part of how one gives value to their art.

    Participation
    for me doesn’t mean showing up; it means that the student is actively
    making the rehearsal run better by staying focused. Students who
    participate well have been practicing outside of class, so that the
    choreographer doesn’t have to waste other dancers’ time by reviewing
    things for the lazy student. Students might come with a bad attitude or
    distraction from emotional distress at home; I comfort them for five
    minutes and remind them that they can escape from that mess (and meet me
    later to talk about it), by putting it aside and getting lost in the
    act of making art.

    For students who are innately fast learners
    or talented dancers, the scale of achievement can be vastly different,
    if the objectives were just based on learning/performing the movements.
    Their
    participation grade has to do with learning to teach the slower
    learners, both by expressing patience, being able to verbalize their
    choreography (and quantify it with counts), and by knowing how to
    express their frustration with that process to the instructor/leader,
    rather than sabotaging the project by not showing up or by excluding
    other students.

    These skills are part of participation, and they are part of what give
    art value – by creating something that isn’t just pretty, but by
    creating something that participates in our society and culture.

  • Cindy Templin

    Believe it or not my district wants and expects a participation grade. This can be a class job, consistently doing warm ups. I know it sound silly even to me. I agree with you about grading behaviors but I don’t have a work around for what my district expects.

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