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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Does offering test retakes help or enable students.....?

Does offering test retakes help or enable students.....?

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I am teaching eighth grade science and working in a middle school setting for the first time. My school is big on students mastering material, as a result many teachers offer students the opportunity to retake tests/quizzes. At the beginning I did not offer my students that opportunity but then began to feel pressure from students colleagues, and parents. Of course, being new to the grade level and building, I caved! I want all my students to be successful but sometimes I feel like some of the students take advantage of the it. I personally am worried that it will set them up for future failure when they are not able to have such opportunities. Some students do better, some do worse, and some do the same. I do make them do corrections in order to do a retake but still some do terrible or don't come to see me for help. I also feel like parents and students are always looking for an exception, extra credit, etc. instead of working towards being better students, learning through consequences and preparing to be self-sufficient adults! I would love to hear input from other educators.


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Greg Prater's picture

I would rather hire the person who can persevere. I would the person who can maybe not always get everything right the first time and can learn from theri mistakes. Your argument assumes that the person will always get everything right the first time they face it.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Manager

Hi Greg, I just wanted to point out that this piece was originally posted in 2010, so it's unlikely the folks involved in the conversation are still following.

Personally, I agree with you--after almost 30 years working, I'd much rather hire the person who can learn from their mistakes.

John Jones's picture

What's your thoughts on letting a student re-take a high school math test as many times as they wish?

Scott Bedley @scotteach's picture
Scott Bedley @scotteach
Teacher, Creator, Un-Maker, Foodie, Global School Play Day

Hey John, like anything I think there is an upside and a downside to retakes. The longer I've spent in teaching (In my 22nd year now), the more I realize that although one strategy may work for one student and it may not for another student. Let's face it, typically retakes are about grades and not learning and testing should also really be about informing a teacher about their instructional impact. Testing in America has become so much about a student performance and teachers are so piled down with busy work to actually have quality time making the connection between our test and our instruction. I think there needs to be a balance between what is used to inform about a student and what is to inform about the instructional method used to teach the materials or skills. I've heard of teachers who offer limited retakes, in other words, each student is allowed two retakes a trimester/semester. I offer retakes at the elementary level, only because I know the students really want to earn a high grade and if they are willing to try again, why not give them the opportunity. Don't we want the opportunity to have another chance when we don't meet expectations. I'd love to know what you decide to do. Have an awesome year and Happy World Teachers' Day!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

This is an interesting topic. As educators we don't expect perfection and yet we do. I think finding a balance between expecting the most from our students and being realistic that at times, our best is simply what it is. I think the heart of the matter should be why the student didn't perform well. Are there special needs which are not being met during the day to day lessons or test? Is it simply laziness or poor planning? Are there other factors involved? In response to Greg's comments above, I agree perseverance is so important and learning from mistakes is a key skill we should be looking for in our students. When I applied for my current teaching position, I taught a sample lesson on writing to second graders. It didn't go well. I misjudged the student's present level of writing ability. The first thing I did afterwards was email the principal an honest reflection about my sample lesson. I stated that I thought the lesson did not go well. I included an honest reflection of what I would do differently next time I taught writing to those students. I found out later that it was that email that got me my current teaching position. So clearly my principal agrees that perseverance and learning from mistakes is key to a successful career. Note- my first writing lesson with my second grade students went much better. :)

Sophia Tresvan's picture

I think it teaches the kids who don't pay attention and fail they can get away with it. In my 5th grade class this kid is always talking and not listening and got a 51% on a test I got a 98%, our teacher let us take the test home and retake the test, I know my mom helped me with my problem I missed. She retook it and got 80, I corrected mine for nothing you only get a better grade if you fail

John Jones's picture

Do you consider a test (in the traditional sense, the ones people above are speaking of) a formative or summative assessment? Personally, I believe that students should be able to take formative assessments over and over. Summatives are a different story.

Emily Saltz's picture

This is also a question that I struggle with as a third grade teacher and I am glad to hear that I am not alone in the debate. Our school uses a standards based report card which offers the grades ME (meets expectations) for scores of 80% or higher, and BE (below expectations) for lower grades. Additionally, many of our standards are lumped together in one heading titled, "Literature" or "Informational Text".

I believe that as a teacher, it is my job to teach the material to all of my students. If they perform poorly, I clearly haven't finished the job. My goal is for everyone to learn the material. However, when I continue to re-teach and re-assess, I have found that a few things happen. First, most students end up with the exact same grade. Students who demonstrated a clear understanding of the material from the start and who worked hard consistently, end up with the same grade as students who struggled throughout the trimester, may have shown inconsistent effort, and ended up on the cusp of mastery. As a result, I worry that the grades are not a good indicator of students' academic performance and abilities. Second, I find that I spend a lot more time teaching and re-teaching material to students and questioning my teaching methods. While I believe it is always important to reflect on and improve my teaching, at times I wonder whether my delivery of instruction is the problem, or if students do not necessarily feel a sense of urgency to grasp the concepts since they know I will just keep teaching it until they are successful.

While the standards based report card can bring its own challenges in reporting, when I taught 5th grade we did give letter grades for reading and math and that opened a new set of questions/debates. Is everyone allowed a retake or just those who performed poorly? Logistically, retakes for all students are very difficult to manage. However, why should the students who scored poorly have a chance to improve their grades and those who earned a B not have an opportunity to move it to an A?

Currently, our third grade team of teachers is working towards developing common assessments for each standard addressed on the report card including one or two retakes. Throughout my internal struggle, it is also important to keep in mind that students may need a variety of ways to express their knowledge and mastery of a skill and holding them to a single assessment may also be a poor representation of their capabilities.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Emily, You pose some great questions and your last sentence hits home with me persoanlly. All too often we seek proof of mastery from one assessment or one method/type of assessment. I was someone who didn't do well at all on tests in school. I'm talking REALLY poorly. Yet that lack of success in school was in no way an indication of my future performances as a salesperson, marketing director, manager, elementary educator, adjunct faculty, or school principal. We need to be sure we are doing as much as we can to create authentic projects, problems, and assessments in a variety of forms to fully assess what skills students are capable of learning.

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