Participation trophy of classrooms

Everytime you skip a three-unit class, it will cost you about $5. But if your instructor grades on attendance, you may pay a steeper price.

Professors across California community colleges are not allowed to grade students on class attendance, in accordance to the California Code of Regulations.

“Attendance is not part of a course subject matter or a discipline-specific skill and therefore may not be separately assessed as part of the course curriculum,” according to the same regulations.

However, it goes on to state that instructors may include an “attendance and participation” factor such as in-class quizzes, activities and assignments when determining a course grade.

Though teachers are not allowed to give points to students for showing up, they are able to use in-class assignments as a way to grade those who are in attendance.

Department Chair of Performing Arts Michael Gend said that some classes in his department are deliberately structured in a way that requires students to attend to prove they have mastered the material.

“There is this law where, technically, you can’t grade on attendance,” Gend said. “I think that the reason the participation quote is part of that same rule is to give instructors that have activity-based classes a way to still properly evaluate the students.”

Gend teaches the technical stage production class in which students build the sets for the department’s plays.

“In my classes, participation is almost 50 percent of the grade. My students are very much encouraged to be there and to be present, because I don’t know how to teach a theater class without having people be in the room,” Gend said.

Instructor of physics and planetary sciences Craig Meyer said he was not aware such a rule was in place.

“My understanding is that you have a right to establish your grading criteria as long as it’s clear from the beginning,” he said.

Meyer does not grade on attendance or participation because he thinks it is not necessary to police college students about where they choose to spend their time.

“I figure if you don’t come to class, you won’t get the information and you’ll penalize yourself,” he said. “At least in my class, you can’t get it if you’re not here getting the information. It seems to be a self-correcting problem.”

Pierce student Corwin Benedict was not aware that students can’t be graded on attendance, and said that he knows teachers who do.

“But they do grade you on attendance,” Benedict said. “I know that some of my classes do grade me on whether I show up or not. Dance class, biology, I think that you get a certain amount of points for showing up.”

Communication studies instructor Barbara Anderson teaches two classes this semester and uses participation as part of her grading curriculum.

She said that students have to attend class to master communication.

“In many ways, communication is a skill that’s practiced,” Anderson said. “In the same way, if you’re taking a golf class, you won’t get better at it unless you’re playing golf, right?”

She said that the way she sets up the participation component for her class doesn’t give a disadvantage to shy students who are uncomfortable speaking.

“If a student’s quiet or shy, I try to give them opportunities within a dyad to have interactions on some level,” she said. “It’s not that the squeaky wheel gets the grease in terms of participation points. There’s so much going on non-verbally, too.”

Anderson also thinks that if a student doesn’t show up to class, they are depriving their peers of the full classroom experience.

“If classmates don’t participate, you’re not getting as much for your money as you are in a classroom where students are committed to participating,” she said. “Student comments are really important to setting the whole tone of that class. A teacher can teach the same ideas the same way to different sections of a course, and students react differently based on one another’s interaction with the content.”

Gend thinks that an absence doesn’t just affect the student who isn’t in attendance, which is why classes in the Performing Arts Department factor in participation.

“You can take an acting class, and if your scene partner doesn’t come to class, it will affect your performance in the class as well,” Gend said. “The teacher needs a way to motivate the students who don’t show up to show up, so oftentimes in an acting class, you’re graded in that way.”

Anderson said attending class is part of what makes the experience worth a student’s money.

“Otherwise, it may as well be a correspondence course. You read about it, I’ll send you your test in the mail, you take them, send them back, I’ll tell you how you did later,” Anderson said. “You can imagine the total difference in the experience in what students would learn and walk away with and remember ten years later.”