During summer planning in 2016, while my colleague, Irene Witt, and I were thinking about changes we wanted to make for the 2016-2017 school year, we decided to bite the bullet and start doing some retakes. We teach in a district with high academic expectations and we teach at a grade level where the math is leveled, so “messing” with grades has implications with parents and administration. Irene and I had both taken classes with Dr. Katie Novak, our assistant superintendent, about implementing the Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning. In those classes, we had participated in discussions about the “one and done” approach to testing versus giving students multiple opportunities to redo their assessments (or to not do paper-and-pencil assessments at all, which is a blog for a different day).
Since we teach math, a subject that is highly method-driven (see this blog post about method versus content standards), and since the scores students generate in our classes impact their class placement in 8th grade, Irene and I decided to allow retakes on a limited basis, as follows:
- Students could take retakes on Skill Assessments (unannounced quizzes on recent material) only. Students cannot take retakes on Math Blasters (weekly announced review quizzes) or on Module Assessments (large, long-term, announced Unit Tests).
- Students could take a retake if their original score was below a 70%.
- The retake score would overwrite the original score (i.e., not be averaged), but only up to a 70%.
- If a retake score was lower than the original, the original score would stand–we are looking to celebrate/build success.
- The retake would closely mirror the original Skill Assessment, but would not be just the same Skill Assessment given again. Question types and focus would remain the same, but images, numbers, etc. would change.
How did it work?
We tried the retakes for the 2016-2017 school year and liked it so much we raised the retake score to a 90% for the 2017-2018 school year. Here are the things that we have observed that have convinced us of the value of this approach:
- In general, students pay more attention to work that is graded. Using the Skill Assessments for retakes allows us to walk a fine balance between holding students accountable with an on-demand measure of their current understanding and giving students an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
- We have seen a measurable improvement in the organization and clarity of students’ mathematical communication (i.e., using and writing geometric formulas to organize their algebraic solutions to geometry problems, beginning their work with the percent equation, etc.). Rather than doing what I call “number vomit” where they splat values and an occasional variable on the page and hope I will sort it out (or give up), students are organizing their work in a way that clearly communicates their thinking. Irene and I believe that this is due to the amount of feedback they are getting on their Skill Assessments, where we have an opportunity to ask them to revise and clarify their work on a lower-stakes assessment that mirrors the expectations for the Module Assessments.
- On the emotional front, doing retakes gives students opportunities to experience failure in a moderately-high stakes setting, which allows them to learn how to fail, how to recover, and how to learn from that experience.
- As the teacher, I use the Skill Assessments to gauge where the class is at as a whole on a given topic and also to identify students who need individualized support from me. The retakes both catch errors early on (i.e., thinking that division with negatives gets turned into multiplication like add the opposite does with subtraction) AND gives me a way to measure if a reteach has “stuck” with students–since I always wait at least a day to give a retake, I have some confidence in using the retake to measure retention. The retakes also give me an opportunity to catch students who, even after a reteach, are still shaky on a concept so I can work with them before the high-stakes Module Assessment.
- One thing that I didn’t anticipate was that using retakes allows me to track growth, especially when reporting out for students on educational plans (i.e., 504 plans, IEPs). Even when grades for those students are lower overall, I can now track growth in scores between the original Skill Assessment and the retake. The retakes also allow me to make statements about whether students can be successful with additional time/opportunities to practice, which has implications for programming.
On the teacher side of things, we have found that offering retakes speeds up the grading process for us. Since we know that students will be able to take a retake once they get below a 90%, we no longer have to pour over loads and loads of incorrect work trying to weigh if there is enough right work to merit some points, etc. Instead, we can basically give students a blank slate to try the material again on the retake. For example, I just graded a Skill Assessment on volume. For the students who confused volume with surface area, found multiple “volumes” and added them together (the creativity is mind-boggling), and so on….I can just mark the problem incorrect, set up time to work with groups of students who made a similar error, and move on. I don’t have to agonize on giving partial credit or trying to decide how many points to take off for such an egregious confusion. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the retakes have streamlined the grading process.