Test corrections are an invaluable tool for feedback and learning. They are not, however, an effective tool for assessing what students have learned, nor are they an effective means of guaranteeing high levels of learning for all learners.
Imagine this—a child playing with a friend won’t share their toy. Drama ensues. The teacher intervenes, pointing out that this behavior is inappropriate. The child goes back to their playmate and reluctantly shares the toy. Has the lesson been learned? Will the child willingly share the toy tomorrow without prompting? We don’t know. We don’t know until the situation repeats, and we can observe the child’s behavior in the moment.
It’s the same way with test corrections. Typically, a teacher hands back the test with incorrect answers identified, and the student works to correct the errors on their own. They may redo the problem correctly, or maybe not. If they thought their grade was acceptable, they lose interest in the process. If a student is not confident in their understanding of the standard, they become even more disengaged from this process.
Occasionally, students are required to complete a reflective piece, thinking about their errors. Reflecting on their work and correcting errors are valuable learning experiences, but they aren’t an accurate measure of what the student knows and understands.
Typically, students are correcting their mistakes in order to receive partial credit back on their test grade. Why not full credit? If one truly believes that test corrections are accurate evidence of students’ understanding, then shouldn’t they receive full credit?
I would argue that teachers are not willing to give full credit for test corrections because they recognize that it isn’t accurate evidence. Students should have the opportunity to earn full credit for their understanding, and that’s why I recommend test corrections as a learning experience followed by retesting.
Corrections Through Station Rotation
In my classroom, I use short-leveled assessments with foundational, grade-level, and advanced questions all in their own sections.
After a test, I correct their work, circling incorrect answers and then take a day to implement stations. I group students with similar performances on the assessment. Two stations in the room are self-regulated—one utilizes Quizizz, an online program to review an older skill, and the other focuses on building vocabulary. The third station is at a table with me where we do test corrections.
Within this small group, I hand back their tests with incorrect problems circled, and I ask students if they can correct their mistakes. I also make sure that they read any comments I had written on the test and give them the chance to ask questions or respond.
By doing this in small groups in front of me, I ensure academic integrity and witness the ease or difficulty students have identifying or correcting their mistakes. I can engage individuals in meaningful conversations about their errors and solicit from them strategies to avoid their mistakes in the future.
Grouping students with similar mistakes lowers the embarrassment threshold—they know they are not alone in their struggles. This creates a common bond within the group and a willingness to help each other and engage in mathematical discourse. If I see a student really struggling with a correction, I have the opportunity to work through it with them, and then immediately give them similar problems to practice.
Because I am not using corrections as an assessment, there are no limits to the types of reteaching that can happen in the small group. This process emphasizes the power of yet—they may not know it yet, even after the test, but we will work on it together until they learn it.
A day or two later, I make time in my classroom to retest for full credit. I might include the reassessment on our next test or quiz, or I might pull out the retesters to a small group while the other students work on a separate assignment. I can also use the levels on my assessment to differentiate the retests. A student who correctly answered 100 percent of the foundational questions does not need to retest that section. A student who only missed the top-level questions can redo just that section. The specificity and brevity of the reassessments creates more willingness on the part of the student to retest.
This method of doing test corrections and retests does create more work for me. I won’t deny that. But it does more to guarantee student learning than the traditional test-correction process, which tends to be optional. A teacher hands back the test, and students look at the grade at the top of the paper. If they are content with their grade, they aren’t interested in performing test corrections. If they are interested, it’s then a question of when.
Some teachers allow class time for corrections; for others, it has to be done after school or during study hall. If students want to do the corrections and can find the time, they can. Test corrections done in station rotations are not optional. All students are expected to reflect on their performance and correct their mistakes. Creating class time for corrections and reassessments sends a message to all students that their teachers believe they can be successful, we are here to support them, and we expect them to achieve. Learning is not optional.