Thursday, September 18, 2014

Retakes - The Redux

Last week, Rachel posted her thoughts on retakes for assignments/quizzes/exams. Her post got some great responses and questions, and, since I differ slightly on how I do retakes (and as a part II to my Standards Based Grading post), we thought it would be best to post an alternative view.

I largely base how I do retakes on the fact that I want my classroom to be a "No Failure Classroom" and I constantly tell my students, "it doesn't matter to me when you get it, or how many times it takes you to get it, it matters to me that you get it." No failure means to me that there is no failure on any level. There is some extent to which my students have to take control of their own learning, but I find that the more opportunities I offer, and the better relationship I have with my students, the more willing they are to take that control. Retakes are a huge part of this in my classroom.

Just like Rachel, I have some rules (if you will) for retakes:

  1. Retakes can be submitted at any time within a large unit and on case by case when the unit ends. 
    1. E.G. - I am giving smaller, more frequent tests this year and each larger unit has between 2 and 4 tests. Students can make up those tests any time, no questions asked, while we are still in that unit. 
    2. I.E. - After the unit ends, I generally will look at students grades to see why they are asking for a retake. For example, I have a student who has generally struggled, but has come to tutoring regularly and has made improvements in class. (S)he and I have worked together to come up with a plan to help him/her get caught up and show proficiency. 
  2. In order to retake summative assessments, students must attend a tutoring session prior to the retake. Students who fail a summative assessment must attend tutoring, no matter what. 
  3. Students may turn in their old test to get a new one based on the questions they missed, or they may retake the entire test. 
    1. I give the same assessment. The information that I want them to know hasn't changed, so the assessment doesn't change. If they turn in their old test, I only ask them to retake the questions they missed. If they do not, they retake the entire test. 
  4. If 80% of the class does not make an 80% or higher, the entire class retakes the test. Those who make a B or better have the option, it is required for all others. 
    1. Nota Bene - I never re-assess a class without some sort of review. Usually I take the first ten minutes of class the next 2-3 days to review and then re-test the third day.
Here are my observations: 
  • Just like Rachel, students relax. I've taken the pressure off of having to be 100% perfect all the time. Just like I have off days, so do they. Sometimes it takes kids a little while longer to get it, and that's okay. 
  • Some students take advantage of the system. When that happens, I reserve the right to take away their retest opportunities until they earn my trust back. What I find happens most of the time, however, is that a student will be honest with me prior to the test and say, "I didn't study" or (and this is more often the case), "I had an AP test today and had to choose which one to study for". 
  • I can quickly and easily see who needs more instruction and who is taking instruction seriously. Students who come to tutoring, take it seriously, and use the retake system have benefited. 
  • With the conjunction of this and the untextbooking I'm doing this year (posts to come), students who, in the past, have said things like, "Latin is hard", and "I don't get it" are now coming to me with things like, "this was awesome", "wow, I can actually read this!", "look at how much I wrote". 
Now, I'd like to respond to some of the concerns you raised in comments or questions you had:
  1. What sorts of things are students allowed to retake/submit? I allow any and every assignment and exam (except finals) to be resubmitted. To make it easier on myself, this year, I am taking assignment resubmissions in class. (You can read about this here). 
  2. How many times can a student retake or resubmit? As many times as they need. I am probably more likely to allow a student to retake/resubmit after we finish a unit if they show consistent work. A student who comes in to tutoring, asks questions, and actively seeks the opportunity is more likely to get sympathy after a deadline than a student who does not. I always try to listen to the student and hear them out, but I am quick to shut it down if I see them taking advantage in a bad way. 
  3. Why not re-write the assessment to prevent cheating? If I need to, I will. But, 99.9% of the time, the information and requirements I have haven't changed, so I do not change the exam. I am not giving multiple choice exams, so it is hard for students to memorise a list of letters and retest in 5 minutes. With the added requirement of tutoring, it also helps ensure they are learning and not memorising. 
  4. What is the cutoff grade for retakes? My students ask this every year. I do not have a cutoff. Some teachers only let students who make a failing grade retake. While I can see the reason they do this, I have had students come to me in tears because they lost privileges at home because a B or a low A isn't good enough. While for me, an 80% is good enough, I know that isn't always the case, for parents or students. I want students to be able to go home and say they did their best, even if it took 5 tries. If student A makes a 70 the first time and is just as upset with his work as Student B who made an 88, I think they both deserve the opportunity. 
  5. Why the deadline? Since I am giving smaller, more frequent tests, students have multiple opportunities to prove their proficiency. Similarly, all my tests are cumulative and include material from previous tests. If a student does poorly, but progresses and starts making consistent grades, I have no problem breaking my deadline and re-assessing or changing the grade to reflect proficiency. The deadline is to help keep my and my children's sanity and also to make sure grades are in on time as required. 
  6. How much credit can a child earn on a retake/resubmission? I give full credit where full credit is due. If I mean what I say when I say that I am grading based on standards and not on a set of assignments and that I truly only care about my students learning, then I cannot justify taking off credit when they get it perfect, even if it is after 1 or more attempts. 
I personally think re-testing is a key part to a successful classroom. I'd like to finish with a story. 

A student who has been struggling made a deal with me this past unit. (s)he and I agreed that, since the tests are cumulative, if (s)he came to tutoring every day for a week, and then retook our most recent test, if (s)he made a 90% (A) or better, I'd go back and change the previous grades to reflect this. The student came in every day and sat with various tutors, asked questions of both them and me, and retook the test. (S)he not only answered all the questions, where before many were left blank, but answered the bonus "What were you prepared to tell me that I did not ask" with detail, proving that he/she not only knew the words, but the story itself. All in all, the student made the A and the grade jumped. I've never seen such a grin, nor have I been prouder. Now, of course, I expect this level of work and if this student were to get into a bind again, I'd expect daily tutoring. But, if the student proves that (s)he knows the material, why shouldn't their grade reflect it?