UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The role of retakes in culture building


I owe any interest I have in using retakes in my math practice to Dr. Katie Novak.  In her courses, I have heard her say, repeatedly, that adults get redos on a lot of things in real life–her classic example was always taking the test for a driver’s license.  It’s not a one-and-done, one-shot deal…so why were we limiting students in our classes to a single chance to show us what they know on an assessment?  And so my colleague and I began using retakes.

Of course, as with every other part of our practice, Irene and I have revisited and revised our policy on retakes.  Originally, we did retakes for Skill Assessments (quizzes) under a 70% with a maximum of 70% for the new score.  Last year, we raised our ceiling to a 90%.  So any student, in either level of our math classes, gets a retake on a Skill Assessment with a grade lower than a 90%.  We have always said that a lower grade on a retake would not overwrite the original score.

Last year, I was too busy processing the copying and writing the retakes to really look much beyond that.  This year, I have been able to watch the kids as they learn from taking retakes.  It has been fascinating!


Having a second chance

Irene and I give a lot of formative assessments.  In the past, it could end up feeling like students were just accruing poor grade after poor grade and the kids felt it, too.  This year, I have observed much less angst and anxiety around Skill Assessments.  Even when low grades go out, we are able to remind students that they get another chance!  And that we are going to help them with reteaching prior to that second chance.  I have literally watched students’ shoulders drop down from their ears when I remind them of that and then they can relax into the reteaching.

Organic reteaching

Knowing that they have the opportunity to take a retake can help students engage more fully in the reteaching process in a way that feels more meaningful and engaging.  Offering retakes and building them into the patterns of the class as a given provides a reason for the students to engage in the reteaching, as it has the potential to lead to an improved score for them.  So, with a retake, students have a reason to be invested in the process for themselves, not just because we, as teachers, want them to see the material again.


Building relationships

This year, I have had more time to observe the ways in which the reteach-retake cycle supports a culture of trust between student and teacher.  I think this is critical at the start of the school year–retakes build a track record of student success rather than an accumulation of failure(s).  The reteaching also leads to stronger relationships at an earlier point in the year because students are with the teacher for small groups where they get more individualized attention.

Limitations on retakes

I think it is important to point out that Dr. Novak clarified that, in her practice, she offered retakes on formative assessments, but not on the summative assessments.  Her argument was that the reteach-retake cycle provided multiple opportunities for students to master the material and that the final assessment could be on-demand and summative.  Irene and I use this guideline in our work as well.


Dedicated to Diane Glinka, colleague extraordinaire.

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