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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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Sherry_K's picture

Why shouldn't a student be able to retake a test? There are do-overs in life all the time. It does not have to be the same test just the same content. If we are about them learning and mastering a concept then why not give them more than one chance to master? Every single test/quiz I give can be retaken if they make below a 70 in regular class or below 75 in an advanced class. Don't set them up for failure before they even start. And take the best grade don't average the two or say if you retake this you can't make beyond a certain grade. If that is done they won't even try and then that concept or content is lost with no effort to learn it.

In "real life" we can take a driver's test an unlimited amount of times and the grades are not averaged. The bar to become a lawyer can be taken multiple times, and the grades are not averaged. In both of these cases the highest/best score is kept. If this is done for people in society, why not for our kids?

There are a few kids that will try and take advantage, but there are so many other kids that need the extra compassion. Many children do not have help at home, the only help or love they get will be between 8 and 3 Monday through Friday. They can't study at home, there are other things they have to do. Like, take care of siblings, take care of drunk or drug addicted parents. Home life is a war zone and it is survival of the fittest. It would not matter how many study guides were sent home or even if you gave the actual test, no one can learn in a war zone. Give them a safe environment, one they know is dependable and constant, one where they know they can succeed. We are teachers, we are suppose to look for what works for each child. Every child can learn and every child is worth the effort.

Cristina Bacon's picture
Cristina Bacon
Performance Learning Coach/ Bibb County School District

I am from an elementary setting and we too feel the pressure to give extra credit and more opportunities. I have found that we will never make everyone happy. Our job is to ensure that our students are "learning" and not just going through the motions. I personally am conflicted. I encourage students to do their regularly scheduled assignments and if the entire class is struggling then I offer extra credit or a retake. If we continue to allow our students to not try their best the first time then what are we setting them up for. I wonder if there is a research article that will support this subject either way. Then we could refer back to it when we feel the pressure of our colleagues and parents. I will look into it.

Sherry_K's picture

There is an article by James Barnes, "Your Middle School Classroom: Retaking the test". It discusses the importance of allowing retake where mastery is important. I agree totally. Let them retake. There are so many things that we can to redo, ACTs, BAR, etc. It won't encourage them to bomb the first one, it might relieve the pressure and allow them to actually do better.

John Travis's picture

I work at a Middle School that has adopted a school-wide policy allowing students to retake assessments. I'd just like to add that many of the problems noted in the comments can be alleviated to some degree with some careful planning and uniform policy. Students at our school complete some pre-assessment questions to determine how their 'readiness' is. It only takes a few minutes, but is critical for later use. Then, once the tests are returned, students must reflect on what went wrong, why they didn't score well, etc. Only when they have done this, as well as provided evidence of new learning, are they allowed to retake the test. Students learn that it is in their best interest to do well on the test the first time if there are a few 'hoops' to jump through. Also, I'd encourage the use of alternative assessment if possible on the retakes, as they often allow students to share their knowledge of a subject better than traditional test.

John Travis's picture

[quote]I am from an elementary setting and we too feel the pressure to give extra credit and more opportunities. I have found that we will never make everyone happy. Our job is to ensure that our students are "learning" and not just going through the motions. I personally am conflicted. I encourage students to do their regularly scheduled assignments and if the entire class is struggling then I offer extra credit or a retake. If we continue to allow our students to not try their best the first time then what are we setting them up for. I wonder if there is a research article that will support this subject either way. Then we could refer back to it when we feel the pressure of our colleagues and parents. I will look into it.[/quote]

You may want to look into Ken O'Connor's books, specifically a workbook called "How to fix broken grades" (I think). It has some wonderful things to say about retakes, and will likely make you reconsider extra credit as well. Good luck!

shawna Lentz's picture

For two years I taught in a computer lab. Part of my job was facilitating on-line testing and tracking students' data. Two plus years of training later, I noticed a trend. If students were given the opportunity to retake a standardized test, their scores typically did not change. There was a marginal difference in some situations, but overall, there was not enough of a difference to warrant placing the student in a testing situation again. When students take an end of the year exam or state-wide standardized test, they are not given the opportunity to retest. In these circumstances, I believe it it the responsibility of teachers, students and parents to place emphasis on the importance of working hard and focusing on the task at hand.
In my eleven years of teaching, I have allowed students to retake assessments within subject areas. If students do not perform well on a Science assessment, I have found that it is beneficial to use this experience as a teaching tool by review material or having it presented to them in a different way. Providing students with an opportunity to gain more knowledge in subjects areas does not seem to hurt the overall goal of learning that material. Grades may be altered at times, but in the end, the biggest benefit is knowledge.

Mike Thorpe's picture

I agree that students should be given the chance to retake tests. The many students including myself are not good test takers. Given another chance the students might be more relaxed and maybe even do better.
Some might say that if students take the test twice they then know whats on the test. I say that is fine. Are we trying to trick the students with test questions or do we want them to show that they know the material. If they know it the second time at least they know it.

Charlotte B.'s picture

I think students need to learn that all actions have consequences. If retakes are given, I feel that students should only be able to earn a high grade of B -or- even an average of the original and the retake. The exception can be absence, illness or family emergency. If there is no consequence, many students would probably take advantage.

Daphne C.'s picture

Hello, I am currently a senior in the teacher preparation program at Texas A&M University. My content area is Mathematics 4-8th grade. During my observation experiences at my field base site, I've seen teachers allow the students to retake a quiz if they failed. However, the students must first go to her tutoring hours to get help for the ones that were missed and then retake the quiz. That quiz takes place of their final quiz grade. I read above that Brandon Knapp allows his students to correct their mistakes on their quiz and require parent signature. He also said that he averages both quizzes together for a max of 60%. I think this might be very effective rather than just letting them take advantage of retaking the quiz again. Also, I like that Mr. Knapp requires a code of conduct to be signed at the beginning of the year from parents. This shows that the students and parents are aware of the expectations and responsibilities in Mr. Knapp's Class. I think that sometimes it is possible that students are just not prepared. Maybe they have things going on at home that they can't help. Maybe they have really bad test taking skills. I think that students should be allowed a second chance to get a better grade, only if they are not trying to take advantage of it. But, instead of giving them the same quiz, the teacher could come up with another type of assessment for that child. Maybe something that involves higher critical thinking. Such as a small project that has to do with the same material.

Sherry S.'s picture

I am also a Pre-Service Teacher and am certain that this will be a topic I will encounter in my future career. I know that the high school I am currently working with allows (or maybe requires?) test re-takes. The general idea is to improve student grades, as students, parents and faculty would much rather see "good grades" than "bad grades". The dilemma with this; will students bother to prepare for the first test, will students take on the responsibility of earning a retake or new grade, and will the grades improve enough to warrant the effort from the teacher? These are certainly key points to consider and they have been addressed in several of the comments. Here are some other points that deserve some consideration when it comes to re-taking tests (at least from my stand point as a Pre-Service Teacher). What is the purpose of giving the test? Of course, to test student knowledge on the subject matter is at the forefront of testing. However, I think testing should also be used to gauge the overall grasp on the material and might indicate whether a teacher needs to go over some material again or possibly find a different approach to teaching the material. One of the "original intentions" of the standardized testing move was to see where IMPROVEMENT was needed. Of course, what has happened there is another issue, entirely. The point is, if students did not do well, maybe we need to find a better way to help them understand it. I also firmly believe that students should EARN their "right" to re-take a test. This would come in the process of attending tutoring, completing other assignments that would require the student to analyze the subject material, essentially work that will require time and effort from the student that leads to a better understanding. Several suggestions like these were made in earlier posts, as well. It is also important to provide a deadline for completion of the work and the re-take and, further, needs to be done outside of class time. Yes, this does require the teacher to sacrifice their personal time, so try to 'schedule' the times you will allow students to do this. As mentioned by a previous comment, this might be the only safe environment some students have to study or get school work done. I know this is certainly the case for many of the students in the high school I am working with! To sum up, our goal as Teachers is to help students learn and understand the subject matter in our content areas. We want all of our students to 'master' the material and have a grounded understanding of it before they move on. I understand that getting every student to this level is nearly impossible, and you will have some students that do not want to put the effort in, but if we know that we have given students the opportunity to excel (or even grasp the basics of the material) than we have done our jobs. So, do test re-takes help or enable the student? It depends on the intention of the re-take. Are we doing it just for the sole purpose of appeasing the student, the parents and/or the administration? OR, are we doing it because we want the students to learn and understand the material? If our intention is where it should be, than the well-intentioned student will certainly be helped (and maybe some not-so-well-intentioned students along the way!).

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