Defending the Retake

In the past two years I have changed my thinking on test taking and retakes. I used to give kids one shot on a test and they better not blow it. If they could not demonstrate their comprehension on the day I delegated as “test day” they were out of luck. It was a one attempt deal…unless their parents called and complained real loud. J

Over the past couple of years I have reflected much on the approach I take to teaching as well as evaluating learning. I am tasked to teach a certain set of learning standards in my classes every year. At this point in time I am not told how to teach these standards, or how I go about assessing them. Typically, I would give an assessment, grade it, hand it back and move one. End of story.

Now, students are given an unlimited opportunity to retake any assessment or any portion of an assessment. If my goal is to make sure students understand the learning standards, then should it matter how many times they need to do this? I grew up a basketball player and know that if I was assessed on my shooting ability before I was warmed up, I would fail miserably. If a student can get themselves to a point of understanding, then why does it matter how many times or how long it takes them to do this?

With all that being said, many skeptics claim students will just memorize the test and take advantage of this retake policy. Yes, if I were to just give the same test back to a kid every single time without any additional prep work that would be true. However, that is not what I do. If a student wants to do a retake there is a reflection form they fill out that asks them some questions pertaining to their failed attempt and what they will do to prepare for a second try. As part of this additional work I have a series of screencasts students can watch as well as numerous re-teaching opportunities. They must prove to me they have gone and done something differently to prepare for a second assessment attempt.

In addition to the prep work a student will do prior to a retake, the assessments themselves are not always the same. Depending on the student, I will often just do an oral retake at my desk. I will just have a conversation with the student and ask a series of questions aimed at assessing the student’s comprehension of the concept. Most of my students prefer this method as it is quick, easy and a natural form of communication. If students prefer to write their answer I might give them the same assessment, a new assessment, or ask them how they want to show me they understand the concept.

Bottom line is learning happens all the time but rarely at the same time. With that in mind, I do offer retakes and will continue to do so. If I don’t offer a retake or re-teaching, then the learning stops the moment the student hands in the test. 
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