I brought up the idea to my team of language teachers of allowing students to re-take tests. I felt that maybe, if students felt an increased sense of control over their ability to achieve success, that along with that might come increased responsibility. My idea met with a great deal of criticism, as I expected and welcomed. My colleagues main concerns were as follows:
1. If students know they can re-take a test, they will not study in the first place
2. You will be stuck grading so many additional papers with all of the retakes
3. You will have to make too many different forms of each test to keep students from memorizing the answers
I listed to everything they had to say, and I went ahead with my idea anyway - not because I wanted to be some sort of rogue, but because I needed to see for myself how my students would react. I prepared to begin the next school year, new policy in place, by changing my whole assessment structure. This is what I did:
1. 100% of the points towards the students grade comes from assessments, 0 points will be earned through homework, participation, or classwork
2. No extra credit will be given unless you are currently earning a 100% in the class and propose & complete an independent study unit
3. Assessments will occur each week and may be re-taken up until the deadline date for the quarter in which they occur for full credit and replacement of the former grade. The entire test must be re-taken. Only correcting missed questions is not an option.
Five years later, I still follow these policies because I have seen the difference they make for the majority of my students. Do I still have problems with students who have poor attendance, lack motivation, and don't complete homework? Sure I do, but the number of those students have decreased - not increased. Here are the differences I have seen in my classroom as a direct result of these policies:
1. Parents & Administrators have shifted the responsibility of the students grade onto the students as they have become aware of their ability to retake tests
2. High flyers are able to master the current material and take responsibility for "extra" learning through the proposal and completion of independent study units (differentiation) on any topic of interest
3. Middle of the road students who are willing to put in the effort have become the high-flyers. I have many students that come to see me every week to work and be reassessed on topics that they at first had trouble understanding. Slowly, gaps from the current year and previous years are filled in through their hard work. By the second semester they do not need to re-take tests because they are getting it the first time.
4. Low achieving students try for longer and do not give up as easily as in the past. They do not reach that point where it is mathematically impossible to pass the course as their grade is constantly in flux. Some of them still fail or give up, but a greater number of them will seek help or re-attempt assessments. I have a student that has not passed a class since the 6th grade (he is currently a 9th grader), misses school at least 3 days a week, and HE has shown up for help and re-assessment.
5. Completion of homework and class activities is the means, not the end. Students don't complete (or copy) homework for the sake of having it done, but rather for the sake of practicing and getting feedback on the path to the larger goal (the assessment). It is important to note that I have seen no increase in the number of students not completing homework or participating in class as a result of this. Students who try the "no homework" approach quickly realize that their grade suffers anyway as they are unable to meet the goals measured by the assessment.
6. No more counting how many days a student was absent or calculating how many days they get to make up tests. All students take the test on the day it was given. Since the only real deadline is the end of the grading period, students with recent absences review their original test with me then retake the test after they have had time to grow more comfortable with the material.
7. I have not had to create multiple forms of tests, but rather have focused on providing "cheat proof" tests that students can't memorize (unless memorization is the whole point and then they're doing what I want them to do anyway!). If a student ever performs significantly better on the test than I have seen them perform in class, they come and have a test review with me where we discuss strategies they used to learn and practice the material and I can probe more deeply.
8. Even though I do end up grading more tests, I spend less time entering "gimme" points for participation, classwork, and homework. Overall, the amount of time I spend grading has not increased, only redistributed.
I know not everyone is lucky enough to work in a school that grants it's teachers the same degree of autonomy as mine does, but never the less, I think this is something that would be beneficial to discuss or consider. After all, the purpose of a grade is to quantify a students knowledge, understanding, and skills. Before I switched to this system, a decent portion of my students grades reflected their effort, and that's all. Now I can look at my students grades and see exactly what skills they are strong in and what skills they struggle with. I can differentiate, group, and intervene more effectively because their grade tells the story of what they are able to do, not how many papers they turned in or how many times they raised their hand. It has helped me, and more importantly, them.
I just found this great form on which students can request a retake. I don't like the added paperwork, but the idea is great. It really requires students to show that they have taken responsibility for improved learning. I may toy around with this idea in my classroom next school year, but for now I wanted to provide the link for those of you who do not shy away from more papers as much as I do!
Request to Retest Form