UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Cultural shifts with retakes–the teacher side

I’ve written before about the cultural shifts in the classroom my math colleagues and I have made over the last few years with regard to retakes–I think the best way to describe the journey is to say that we went from never allowing retakes to reluctantly trying them out to embracing them fully.  I don’t think we would go back at this point!

The history

To start with the details…

The idea of having students take a retake came from one of the earlier courses Dr. Katie Novak, our assistant superintendent, taught in our district.  At the time, it was a pretty heretical idea–when I first arrived, the agreement among the teachers was that students were graded cold on all assessments, no exceptions made beyond what an educational plan provided.

At first, we tried the retake idea only up to/less than a 70% on our “quizzes” (which we write and call Skill Assessments).  We also originally said that we weren’t guaranteeing the option of a retake on any given Skill Assessment.  Since then, we have changed the minimum to 90% (more about that later) and we give retakes on all Skill Assessments.


We only give retakes on Skill Assessments, not on our “tests” (Module Assessments).  We only offer one retake on any given Skill Assessment and they are not the same Skill Assessment, although the questions are the same format/content.  In between the original Skill Assessment and the retake, we reteach the material.


How things have changed


On the teacher side of things, increasing the minimum threshold for a retake to a 90% has actually been freeing, which was not what we predicted at the start.  For a student to get a 90% or higher on a Skill Assessment generally means they really get the material, all the way down to the nuts and bolts.  Doing an algebra problem?  Be sure all steps are clearly noted.  Working in geometry?  Make sure your answer has appropriate units.

In his book, Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn, Mike Anderson discusses retakes/do-overs in various content areas, as follows:

  • “…allowing students to retake a test, rewrite an essay, or re-present a project all send the same message:  grades reflect learning, and if you want a better grade, put in some more work and learn more….the grade is not a reflection of current progress.”  (pg. 58)
  • “Writing a good paper required me to write a crummy first draft, print it, mark it up, revise it multiple times, get meaningful feedback from professors or peers, and revise it some more. ” (pg. 62)

The fact that a 90% is so high allows me to hold the students accountable for all the details of their work.  I can grade with significant attention to detail, such as marking answers wrong that misuse “percent of” in a statement where they meant to say “percent increase.”  Does it seem petty?  Maybe.  Is there a difference.  Oh, yes!  In the past, I might have waffled over points, trying to decide if a student needed to take a retake and so I should take off more points or…..yeah.  That’s all done now.  Students either strongly get the material and don’t need a retake or they need to deepen their understanding, end of discussion.  It’s much easier, more like a single-point rubric or “met/not met” rubric.  It’s okay to really call kids on all aspects of the work (within reason) because they can do it again–it’s not a dead end.

Data Gathering

When I am asked to gather and share data about students as part of reporting on their educational plan and/or in the data-gathering phases of developing such a plan, the practice of retakes adds a whole new dimension to the discussion.  I look at patterns–does this student almost always do well on the first Skill Assessment?  Does s/he generally do well on the retake, but rarely on the original?  Does s/he rarely improve from original to retake, despite targeted, small group reteaching in between?  What conclusions can I draw from this?  What direction do I head in terms of reteaching?  What steps can a student make based on the patterns of success or failure?

There is a difference to me between a student who often scores poorly on a first assessment but regularly improves by the retake–to me, that student can learn the material, maybe with more direction or maybe s/he should have done more small group instruction and chose not to, etc.  On the other hand, when I have a student who consistently does not improve on retakes/after targeted reteaching, yikes!  This is a big red flag for me.  The practice of giving retakes on a regular basis has deepened how I understand the performance and needs of my students.


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