This is a guest post by Gregory Wickham, a student at Stuyvesant High School. Gregory is a 2013 2nd place winner of the Michael Perelstein Memorial Scholarship Discover Your Passion Competition, and a quarter-finalist in the 2014 Young Rewired State Festival of Code. You can find his website at gregorywickham.com.
On April 25, 2019, Education Post published Allowing Test Retakes – Without Getting Gamed: Hundreds of teachers discussed the best ways to guide students toward mastery—without being taken advantage of.
Currently in most classes, students will take a test on a week or two of material, then simply move on. The grades they receive have no effect on what they are taught next, what’s reviewed in class, or the pacing of the class. It only affects the grade they get on their report card and whether or not they pass the class. If students are given the opportunity to retake tests, it will encourage students to review their mistakes and learn from them, making tests a useful tool to assess learning, rather than an extremely judgmental piece of paper.
The way that retakes will factor into students’ grades can be decided by the school, or on a class-by-class or teacher-by-teacher basis. Personally, I think that only the grade from the retake should be counted because it indicates how well the student has learned the material, and that is what we should be grading students on. Some may think that a policy like this might discourage people from studying in the first place, but I disagree: Why would a student want to take a test, study, then take a test again, when they could just study, and get a good grade the first time? Students don’t want to take twice as many tests.
Allowing retakes also helps to accommodate students who may not learn at the same pace as others, or maybe had difficulty with a particular topic, which at some point will be everyone. This policy would allow them to earn good grades for their work, and gives them the opportunity to use and develop the skills they will need in the future to do well, such as time management, prioritization, and review skills, rather than just letting them fall behind and fail.
It will also make school easier for everyone by alleviating some of the pressure of “Oh no! I have six tests this week!” by letting students manage their own time so that they can do their best. Rather than stress-studying for everything and hoping for the best, they will be able to focus on what they need in order to learn the material, with less of a time crunch, and receive feedback on their efforts before retaking the tests which they may have found more difficult.
The ability to learn from one’s mistakes and do better the next time is crucial to future successes. If students develop that skill, it will help them on the SAT (where the average retake improvement is 90 points) and, once students are in the habit of improving and retaking tests, it may help them on the Regents, which can be taken as many times as necessary. Giving students more flexibility and opportunity to achieve is never a bad thing.
A 2010 study of the effect of retakes in high school math classes states “Overall, it appears that students who complete a summative assessment retake benefit more than those students who do not retake with respect to retention of content material.” If allowing retakes improves retention, I see no reason for it not to be implemented.
The only difficulties implementing this revolve around policy and administration. Teachers would have to have at least two versions of every test (more, if they choose to allow multiple retakes). This creates a small problem, but for most subjects there are more than enough past tests to quickly construct new ones.
Another issue is that retakes take time, whether they take class time (to ensure people aren’t sharing questions or answers with people who have yet to take the test) or whether students can retake the test during, say, lunch, or after school. Ideally students would be able to retake the tests anytime before the end of the semester, but that would create an organizational nightmare. Most likely there will have to be a set date and time, probably after school, designated for retakes of a particular test, and that shouldn’t be too hard to arrange.
By far, the greatest hurdle to overcome when implementing this will be teachers’ slow grading. Many teachers will take weeks or months to grade and return tests to students, which prevents them from being able to review effectively in a reasonable amount of time. This plan will not be effective until teachers can return graded work promptly.
Some teachers might complain that retakes mean more, faster grading, but helping students learn is their job, so if they’re complaining, maybe they should be replaced. Maybe this will encourage them to give fewer tests!
And, as always, remember that school should help every student to succeed.