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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

I once had the opportunity to hear Rick DuFour speak on this topic and the analogy he gave really hit home with me. He simply asked what happened when someone failed their driving test. Of course the audience responded they got to retake it...several times if necessary. He then asked, "Which one counted? Did you get an average of your scores?" Of course the response was the last test mattered;that was the score your received. I began to rethink my position on testing and revised my practice so that my focus was on mastery. I think we need to remember that when students fail it is not always just their fault. What role did I have in their not understanding? What challenges do they face at home...especially in the strained economic conditions many families face today Students who do not demonstrate mastery on my assessments (both tests and projects) are allowed to retake the test or revise their project after completing some time of support session. This could be a lunch review or study time verified by a n adult in their life.It will usually include a metcognitive reflection on why they think they did poorly. I am pleased to note that when my students take the district assessment as well as the state assessment they always score on average 10% and someitmes more above the average for my site. Therefore I think that retesting is an effective learning tool that is reflected in the "real" world. After all how many of us would have our jobs if we were never allowed the luxury of learning from our failures.

Karl Meyer's picture
Karl Meyer
2nd Grade Teacher

I also teach 2nd grade and find like Kimberly stated many of my students know the information on the test, but struggle to display their knowledge. Many times some students need the extra explanation of directions. I sometimes wonder if it is fair to allow students to do over a test or paper that they recieved a less than desirable grade on.

I also have read, No Choice but Success by Corbett, Wilson, and Williams (2005), and commend the teacher for having her students do work with a grade less than a C over. My problem is, what about the students who recieved a B and could do better if they tried again? Is it fair to give one student a chance to better themselves and not another? Where do you draw the line?

Currently, I average the first score with the second. I am not sure if that is right either. After reading about some of the real life examples posted so far, I think I should keep the higher score achieved.

My other fear is if we continuously give students the option to do over their work, will that lower the expectations of students? They may feel that it isn't as important to do their best, knowing that they will have a second, third, or even fourth chance to better their grade.

Matt Guthrie's picture

As a middle school math and science teacher, I completely advocate for the retake option. I would even argue to let them retake it as often as needed to get above a C. Full disclosure: I used to teach high school and I think responsibility makes a little more sense there plus I would never give another grade if I didn't have to.

That being said, here are my reasons:
1) Grades are not motivators. They actually inhibit achievement, creativity, motivation, and actual learning. See alfiekohn.org and you will find a host of studies showing as much. Or Google "are grade beneficial for students".
2) Adolescent brains are not ready to understand and make decisions about responsibility in this sense. I'm not saying that we shouldn't model it nor enforce it, just that they don't understand it the same we as adults do. Research has shown that during adolescence the brain takes on a whole new way of processing information and making decisions.
3) What is the purpose of the grade? Is it to show how much a student has learned? If he/she hasn't learned enough, don't you want to go back and fill in the gaps? This of course does not mean you can't give the original grade and still remediate after the fact, but what do you hope to accomplish with a grade at all?

Matt Guthrie's picture

To Karl re: lowering expectations. Don't base your expectations on grades themselves. Give the kids expectations based on learning, especially if you have young ones. My fellow MS teachers complain that students won't take anything seriously unless they get a grade on it. I find the opposite to be true. They know I expect them to learn. They give all their assignments their best effort. And because they know a retake is an option, they are not afraid to take risks, think creatively, and give an answer that might be wrong. I have found that my students have a greater understanding of the concepts as a result AND do better on standardized tests.

J Dosher's picture

To say that the real world offers one-shot to get it right, is completely false. My husband related to me the idea of creating a budget for his company, for which he was solely responsible for many years. He always had the opportunity to revise the budget, and while most times it was to play out different scenarios, at least once it was because he made an error that affected the outcome of the budget. He was not fired for his mistake; in fact, he was given the time to correct it and make it right.

As a teacher, when I assess a student, I take into consideration what the purpose of the assessment is. If I am truly wanting a student to learn the material, why would I not give him/her a chance to master it and improve. While I've had a few "lazy" students who didn't study, few of those kids take advantage of my policy to retake an assessment.

I think it is good educational practice to encourage the mastery of material.

As for some of you on this forum, I'm embarrassed to say we are in the same profession. I am so offended some of you see this practice as wasting your time. I guess you are the ones who became teacher so that you didn't have to work during the summers.

Donna Luna's picture

I often allow students to retake a test if they really tried, but failed. I will mix up the questions and change them as well, but the students do actually learn to reinforce what they know by retaking tests. Sometimes they are just having a bad day and cannot help that.

Samantha S.'s picture
Samantha S.
8th grade math teacher (pre-algebra and algebra)

I am teaching eighth grade math and algebra. My school is also big on students mastering content. It is not a district policy but many teachers offer retakes.

We had the pleasure of having Rick Wormelli come to our school in the fall and present his book, Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom. He spoke about retakes and the grading system. Before he spoke, I did not allow retakes. After he spoke at our school, I truly believe in retakes and corrections. There are certain aspects that I am still a bit skeptical about, such as giving full credit back for a retake. I make my students write out the problems that they got wrong and explain the correct way to get the answer. This is basically their way to study what they did not know on the original test. I also have them get their tests signed by a parent/guardian. Then I give them the retake. I am still struggling with the grading of retakes. Any suggestions from my fellow teachers?

Becky Niermeyer's picture

I just finished my first year at a middle school after many years in an elementary setting. I was surprised at the amount of time extentions and retakes offered and expected. What ever happened to deadlines? As for mastery being more important than the grade, you bet. I previous comment mentioned expectations and fairness. You won't have a chance of grabbing a star if you don't shoot for the moon. What's fair for one is not necessarily fair for all. Their time will come. Sometimes we need to sit back and realize that the work is hard and kids are busy too.

Amanda Parrott's picture

I am a seventh grade math teacher who just finished my second year teaching. My first year of teaching, I did not allow students to re-take my quizzes because I was trying to teach the basics and keep my head above water. This past year, I had students re-take quizzes if they did not get a C on the quiz, which I considered passing. I allowed students to look at their quiz and give help to those who wanted it and then I gave them the same quiz. They did not have any other support material besides what was allowed on the quiz the first time taken. I found that students seemed to want to make corrections and do better when given the option. I felt that this also taught kids that they need to keep learning even past the quiz over the material. It also gave hope to students that they could master it and improve their grade for their hard work. I believe that we are given many opportunities to try things before we are held accountable for our actions. Learning is a difficult business and we need to show students how to pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes. That is the real-world: making and learning from mistakes.

Lynette's picture

I am a high school math teacher and we had test retakes when I first started four years ago. However, not every student had to do a retake. Obviously we would have a different test made up but the students would have to come in before or after school on a select date for a review session in order to take it. They had to sacrifice their time to get the chance to retake a test. They would then come in again the next day before or after school to take the test. It did not take any extra time out of the teaching day. We decided to get rid of it because we need to prepare them for college and they do not do test retakes.

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