I'm teaching a math course and have traditionally not enforced attendance, instead allocating 5% of the course grade to in-class participation (questions and answers), which maintained satisfactory attendance levels. However, this semester, I eliminated the participation points to simplify grading, resulting in significantly lower attendance, possibly exacerbated by the class's early start time at 8:30 AM.

Given we're two-thirds through the semester, I'm contemplating reintroducing participation points to boost attendance but am concerned about the fairness and implications of changing the grading policy mid-course.

How should I navigate this situation? Is it advisable to alter the grading scheme now, or are there alternative strategies to encourage attendance without compromising fairness?

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    does lack of attendance correlate with poorer understanding of the material? Is it possible that the students who do attend get more out of it without others forced to be there? In other words, do you have any evidence to suggest that increased attendance would be a net benefit? Commented Feb 8 at 16:12
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    Don't change the grading scheme mid-course... Commented Feb 8 at 23:55
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    "possibly exacerbated by the class's early start time at 8:30 AM." so, how do you know that the grading policy was the cause? If both of these things changed simultaneously, I (personally) would bet it's the start time :D
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 9 at 2:35
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    @Steve Good point! Maybe I should run the experiment next semester when my course starts at 10am.
    – user11584
    Commented Feb 9 at 2:47
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    @faceclean Be careful not to conflate groups with similar outwards behaviour: 1) Those who skip the course because they are failing anyway. 2) Those who are failing because of skipping the course. 3) Those who skip the course but aren’t failing. Only one of these groups will possibly benefit from forced attendance. Commented Feb 27 at 7:39

6 Answers 6


It is best to cut the losses and accept that this iteration of the course is going to play out the way it does. Even if you are formally allowed to make such a change, it would have drastic impact on the learning pace and style of students that is unlikely to be compatible with how they worked so far. Since you are already 2/3 through, there is little left to gain and a lot that you can accidentally sabotage.

Learn from the experience and start the next iteration on different terms.

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    Plus this iteration will be a good benchmark (if enough students) to see how attendance affects grades.
    – Johan
    Commented Feb 8 at 14:16
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    I agree, too late to change policy for a class that is too early! Commented Feb 8 at 15:33
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    Agree. A large change to the grading policy this late is clearly unfair, and a small change is still unfair but also probably won't even have much effect. Any change will draw some ire, the OP would be opening a big can of worms for the sake of adjusting grades by 1-2%. Commented Feb 8 at 16:59

Don't make a change in your grading policy in the middle of the semester. It's unfair to students, will likely result in complaints, and could get you in trouble with your administration.


The other answers explain that changing course mid-stream is a bad idea. Indeed, my personal view is that if your teaching results in measurable improvements to learning, then failing to attend should result in lower grades anyway. And if not, why should students be forced to attend? (At least for “skills” courses like calculus, possible exception for more experiential courses.) Though I acknowledge that for many students, the attendance points are (rationally or otherwise) a stronger motivator than high-quality teaching.

But to make the answer to your actual question more concrete: consider me. I routinely had problems attending any class before 11 AM. Even now, I tend to start work around lunchtime and work late into the night. If I had signed up for an 8:30 AM class, I certainly would have dropped it if the syllabus announced a strict attendance policy. In this situation, I would find it very unfair for an attendance policy to be suddenly introduced after it is too late for me to make other arrangements.

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    Good point! Though I do find students who couldn't get up tend to lack a bit of motivation based on my experience.
    – user11584
    Commented Feb 8 at 8:32
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    @faceclean I can't speak for cultures besides the US, but here the culture certainly discriminates against people who are most productive late in the day and less in the morning. We use aphorisms to praise the virtues of early risers. The worst offenders are high schools, that open at very early hours to allow transportation for younger kids to start before their parents need to start work; the average high school start time is 8 am, many schools start at 7 or earlier, and many students aren't ready to learn at that time, but no one provides an alternative for them to attend at 8 pm.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 8 at 16:39
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    I can't think of any reason that it's intrinsically virtuous to be productive early. There are certainly benefits to it, but that's not quite the same thing. University schedules are a lot better than high school, but I know from attending even a very large university that typically had many sections of courses throughout the day, I was still stuck picking some courses with earlier start times than I'd prefer because it was the only option available that fit the rest of my schedule.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Feb 8 at 16:42
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    I completely agree with your first paragraph. I vividly remember from my time as a university student that classes with attendance points were the classes during which I learned the least. Attending a good class with a good teacher is a huge gain of studying time, and students don't need extra motivation to attend; the only classes that had attendance points were the classes for which spending time in class was a loss of studying time, meaning we would have learned more by studying on our own that by listening to the teacher.
    – Stef
    Commented Feb 9 at 9:38

The course outline given to students at the beginning of the semester is a contract between you and them (possibly even a contract in the legal sense, but absolutely a contract in the ethical sense). Unilaterally changing a contract in the middle of its duration is extremely unethical. Don't do it.

If you believe that attendance is valuable for the students but that they don't understand its value, explain that to them (collectively) and hope that they will be motivated to alter their choices to increase their attendance. But be prepared to give an argument other than treating "boosting attendance" as its own goal; it's not.


While I agree with the others that it would be unethical to require attendance or participation now, and more generally agree with the answer by @MisterMiyagi, I will offer another option: you could give extra-credit points for attendance or participation now. If there are students who have suffered because of their low attendance, then this could be just the motivation that they need.

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    I've been through NZ and Australian university courses, neither of them introduced the concept of 'extra' credit. As a concept it's quite foreign, can you please explain how it works? Commented Feb 8 at 20:16
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    @AzorAhai-him- I am an AU/NZ lecturer. Here a course's summary is "locked" at course start, including descriptions of all assessments and their relative weights. We expect students to map out their schedules accordingly -- for example leaving time for big assignments. Changing that assessment mid-course would pose serious fairness issues and invite massive complaints, rightfully so. Commented Feb 8 at 23:15
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    @AzorAhai-him- why? I am happy to overlook some lateness in hand-ins, students are free to ask for individual disability or hardship accommodations (from the university -- I simply administer whatever's approved), and I have some leeway to adjust difficulties as I write exams and assignments. But I've never had to change assessments mid-course, and I can't imagine why I would ever have to. Commented Feb 9 at 4:55
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    @shern Well, I just had to cancel class due to an emergency and had to rejigger assignments. Earlier, I pushed some due dates back because it’s the first time I’ve run the course. Commented Feb 9 at 5:09
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    @AzorAhai-him- Sounds to me like 100% doesn't mean 100%, and that 'extra' credit amounts to simply credit? Commented Feb 9 at 15:57

I usually tell my students, that I'll be much less lenient regarding extra circumstances (grievances about final grade) if they did not use the resources given to them.

I'd suggest to simply be honest, communicate them via email or course forum, that the lack of attendance might impact their grade. Say that you will not feel bad for anyone getting a bad grade, if that person did not take advantage of the classes given. I think students would agree this is a fair policy.

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