Retakes, Re-Trys and Reassessments

I want students to be able to show that if they make mistakes, they can work towards correcting those mistakes. I want them to know that (especially in biology) concepts are formed over time in their brain, so mastery of learning is a fluid thing. They should be able to show positive growth if they are motivated to do so.

Here is my take, and of course my take is not the only take. Plus, maybe 4 people read this anyway so any damage or help is limited. 🙂

Test Retakes

I do provide opportunities for class retakes on the most missed learning objectives (LO) on more formative weekly quizzes. Kids get an optional retake sheet with their next quiz. They have to know which LO they have not mastered and they have to have done the bridge learning needed to master these.

Summative test retakes are a tougher nut. Some think that summatives should be non-retakable since they are supposed to show final learning of a set of LO. There is pain up front, but the idea is that the kids and their parents know that the teacher expects kids to be prepared for the summative. Others, allow retakes as long as students work though their mistakes and show evidence of their learning. This is quite an undertaking and only motivated kids will probably take advantage. Normally kids get some fraction back of what they correct.  These retakes are not the rule, but the exception and at the discretion of the teachers. Others advocate that retakes are a right and anything can be retaken during the semester as long as there is evidence of re-learning.

My problem with the first idea is that even if I make a test that I believe is fair and inline with both the LO and the learning I have monitored in class leading up to the summative, there are too many variables to control outside of that. If the class average comes back a 65 or you look at scores and kids and some perform well below what you think they should have, I feel that kids should have the option to better themselves. If a kid makes a 35 on a summative, you can teach them that there is pain associated with that mark or you can teach them that although there is pain there, if they have the motivation to learn what they missed they can recover. Which is more motivating? I find that pain is less motivating then second chances. That said, as the teacher is it my responsibility to offer when needed. Setting this as overall policy leads to kids relying on the make up.

I do use a periodic retake policy that is quite detailed and requires a lot of effort. Kids have to identify their mistakes, explain them and then explain why the correct answer is correct. But, as kids work though the test I find that they become empowered and appreciate the opportunity.

They also get to see the difference between simple mistakes and things they did not learn. Not reading a question correctly or answer choices correctly is a mistake. Overlooking a question they forgot to answer is a mistake. Running out of time is a mistake. Not understanding the learning it took to answer a question is not a mistake. I find that this is incredibly helpful to them.

Test retakes should be the exception to the rule and serve a purpose for re-learning, not re-scoring. 


I do allow individual reassessments on specific LO. Since LO are assessed in may ways, kids can make an appointment to come in and reassess one skill a day for the entire semester. The smart thing to do is to reassess soon after receiving my written feedback and having done the bridge learning needed for mastery. Otherwise kids wing it, reassess, and find they did not improve or perhaps slide back. Kids have to show me evidence of their bridge activities in order to do the reassessment.

There is a fine line with providing opportunities and asking for evidence of preparation. The bridge should naturally be intrinsic, but often this is not in the student’s own economics system. So, asking for evidence of re-learning is good, unless it stops kids from trying to reassess. Making it easy to have opportunities is great, but by adding a need for evidence you make it less of a way for kids to wrangle for the symbol of the mark or grade. Asking for evidence might stop some kids from reassessing, but on the other hand they might just learn more. Also, master up front and reassessment is a moot point.

Reassessment should be the exception, not the rule. Kids should only be reassessing for mastery. 

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