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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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Darlene Pope's picture
Darlene Pope
8th Grade Social Studies teacher & Dept. Chair, AVID Coordinator

Mastery learning and grade inflation are rooted in different educational philosophies. In mastery learning the higher scores by all students becomes the goal. It is not a "gotcha" scenario, but more of a "we got your back scenario". Mastery learning is not a set goal. When the vast majority of students have mastery it is time to raise the bar and introduce greater rigor and complexity. The classroom is a laboratory for learning and mistakes are part of the process. Essential equipment in mastery learning is the ability to retake tests and revise projects. I would argue that this is real world. When all students are given the opportunity to practice rigor, when they can not escape that practice by an F, where failure is seen as part of the process, that to me is real life.

Lynn Brown's picture

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett
Risking vacuity...You're extending knowledge without dealing with limits? Interesting...
I agree that questioning is the engine. But what's with making limits and questions either/or? Every choice an artist makes (I'm a teaching artist) is a response to a question of some kind...some are conscious; some are too slippery for that. Artists unmask the questions that our previous answers have hidden. James Baldwin said that I think.
Re-reading my post I see where you might get the impression that I was equating failure alone as adequate for growth. My fault. Vacuous cliche alert... Its not what you say, its what is heard. Guess what? I just used formative assessment (your post) to revisit my work. Here comes the revision...
I am advocating for students who failed a test the chance to revisit that test, and to learn from their mistakes. Maybe they don't get the full value for the work. But I I want to emphasize grasping an understanding, not simply facility. And as a side thought, might someone who blows a test, but who displays understanding through reworking and revision of mistakes just might "own" the material in a way that someone who didn't have to work too hard to pass does not? One had their limits pushed, the other not. Plenty of lawyers need more than one shot at the bar exam. Does it demean the practice of law? (Insert your own joke here)
I'm curious about how formative assessment usurps homework. Could you say more about that?
Finally, would you like to reflect on this Certificate thing? If that's the big reason I'm doing this, I'm out
I leave with sage words from Tommy Lasorda. I'm not a Dodger fan, but I'm into baseball He summed it up pretty well. "Nothing succeeds -like failure"

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

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.

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