Friday, September 12, 2014

Reconsidering Retakes

As a once over-achieving (okay, currently too. I need A's to live, okay?) student, my first instinct when I heard of teachers instituting a test-retake policy was to exclaim "But that's not fair!" because I remember my teenage self way too clearly and I'd have been appalled that someone else would get a second chance after I'd studied and "earned" my A.

Some of you are just as appalled when you think of retakes.

And you have good reason. I have seen retake policies grossly abused and mishandled. If a teacher allows students to retake anything they like AND the retake is not just over the same material, but is the exact same exam, students just fail the test and retake it after they've seen the questions. I worked at a school where retakes were school policy, not teacher policy, and teachers were not willing to do more than hand the same exam out. If you are forced to do something you don't agree with, if it is going to create more work for you, then you are likely to do the minimum to make your superiors happy.

However, I believe I am making retakes work in my classroom.

Before I go into how I offer retakes in my class, though, I want to go into why. Latin, like any language, like other subjects such as math, is a cumulative class. I am currently, with my Latin I's, laying a foundation. If there are gaps in the foundation, most likely the entire structure will crumble when I try to build it higher. So I really need my students to understand everything. Every piece of Latin that we do needs to be comprehended by my students before I can move on to the next. If I just keep pushing students forward with no incentive to revisit material they didn't master before, they will eventually topple over, and I will lose students to the murky "Latin is hard" realm. I need them to learn the material if they miss it the first time around.

So, I offer retakes. With many provisos.

  1. Students must ask for a retake within one school day from the day they receive their graded assessment.
  2. Students must attend a tutoring session during which we review the material covered and their assessment to find out what was understood and misunderstood and make sure students understand what the assessment is asking.
  3. I then write a new assessment over the same material, with new questions and some previous questions (so they can't count on them not being on the retake). This is the assessment students take to replace their previous grade. They are never allowed to take the same test or quiz twice.
What I see in my classes as a result:
  1. Mostly relaxation. Students are not stressed about quizzes or tests because they trust that they will be able to get the best grade they can.
  2. Instead of students "cheating the system" by just failing whenever they like and then retaking, most students are still earning 90s and above on my assessments. I've assigned, graded, and returned three assessments, and only five students out of 190 (I have large classes this year) have bothered with a retake so far.
  3. I get to work closely with struggling students without having to chase them down myself. I help them work on study habits, correct their misconceptions about the language, and generally get to know them.
I see retakes as more emphasis on mastery, which is what I look for in my classes. Miriam, in her previous blog post, talks about using Standards Based Grading (or as close to that as we can get with our required traditional grade books) and a retest policy for the same purpose. Mastery requires a good foundation, and retakes help me achieve one.