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Guidelines for Participation/Discussion Grades for Graduate Courses

The Graduate College Program Subcommittee has discussed the issue of class participation/discussion as a large portion of the final grade for graduate courses, and determined that the Graduate College should draft guidelines/criteria for the benefit of instructors. Without a clear outline of what constitutes class participation in a course, instructors are more at risk of claims of capricious grading from students, and as the percentage of the grade from a subjective measure increases, so does this risk. These guidelines are offered as best practices and as a guide for course syllabi and future course proposals.
  • Class discussion/participation grades must be based on the quality of what was said and how it added to the discussion, rather than the quantity of the participation by a student.
  • Class discussion/participation should evaluate actual participation and not mere attendance. For a graduate level course, attendance is expected, and should not be counted toward the final grade. The Student Code explicitly states that for all students, “(a) Regular class attendance is expected of all students at the University,”
  • Given its subjective nature, class discussion/participation should count for a maximum of 25% of the final course grade. 
  • Students find it useful for the syllabus to include descriptions of what counts for discussion/participation in a given course. Hence, instructors should clearly define class discussion/participation and explain what constitutes quality in class discussion/participation. It is helpful if instructors provide a rubric of what level of participation would merit each grade.
  • Although awarding credit to incentivize speaking is acceptable, engagement and contribution in the course should be the primary graded elements.
  • Because participation will likely vary by class meeting for every student, notes should be made each class, rather than waiting until the end of the term. This also allows instructors to notice and inform students that might not be meeting expectations during the term.
Center for Teaching Excellence - Assigning Course Grades,, paying special attention to the section,

December 2009