Wednesday, October 08, 2014


This is a topic that periodically rears its head at my school because some teachers allow students a “2nd chance” with a retest and some don’t. You can count me in the 2nd category.

What is the point of a retest? Some will say it gives students a chance to show what they’ve learned; why does it matter if they didn’t know the material last Friday if they know the material now? Others say that students are assessed at reasonable intervals and that a grade reflects their progress through a course of study.

If the former is true, why give any grade at all except that of a final exam? After all, if student mastery is all that matters, why not assess it once at the end of a course? Of course, a teacher could (and should) offer periodic interim assessments so that students would “know what they know and what they don’t know”, but if mastery is what matters, then only the final exam should count.

Offer students and their parents that option and none will take it. At least, none of mine ever has. No one wants to risk that “high stakes test” that so many decry in other situations.

I’m of the belief that teachers who allow retakes are essentially allowing students to conduct reconnaissance. Who really believes that a student can spend 4 weeks on a chapter in math, bomb a chapter test, but less than a week later know enough of the material to get an A? Sure, a teacher could change test questions and topics and the like, but that sounds suspiciously like intentionally trying to sabotage a student’s grade. Some say that a retest can only raise a student’s grade by such-and-such a percentage or by no more than a fixed number of points, but if mastery is what matters, why tinker with the points in such an arbitrary way? And if students are, in fact, merely conducting reconnaissance during the first administration of a test, why reward them with a higher score?

I just want to test the material I deem most important in a chapter, and to test it on a specific date that’s announced well in advance after we’ve covered all of that material. Students should master the material by that date, not 4 days (or however long) later. Frequent quizzes are a must to ensure that students are aware of what they know and what they need to continue work on. As far as I’m concerned, after quizzes the chapter test is the “2nd chance” that a retest is sometimes claimed to be.

Cross-posted from


maxutils said...

I'm with you. People respond to incentives, and the opportunity to take a retake that is virtually identical in a math class is absolutely a disincentive to work as hard throughout the unit, or ask questions at appropriate times. It is an INCENTIVE to learn just enough to do the problems on the test. Even if you're not deliberately planning to use the first test as reconnaissance, effectively that's what you're doing ... and having an (otherwise very bright) daughter in one of those classes that offers retakes? I can say that she is completely content not to worry about the first test, content to reach the maximum retake score of 89% and then allow here HW score to push her to an A-'s not working out quite that way, though. I've given retakes ... but only when large numbers of people mess up, and I feel some reteaching is in order, or when I find that the test I wrote was flawed or unfair.

Ellen K said...

We are required to offer retakes up to a grade of 70. I always offer, but the same kids who fail tests also cannot be motivated to show up before or stay after school to make things up. I can't even get some of them to turn in work at all. I have one kid, from a wealthy family, who is making a 22. You have to work pretty hard to get a 22 in Drawing 2.

Anonymous said...

I allow retakes, but only after test corrections and analytical math sentences. Plus, I tell them in advance that the retakes will be different and generally harder.

I also allow the option of the final being 100% of their grade - but they have to choose in advance, put it writing, take the first test session and get their parents to sign off. A surprising number take that option. (As an added note, I require students to put all noon testing materials at the front of the room. Pockets empty, the whole shebang. And no calculators allowed!)