Sunday, August 01, 2010


As probably for many other teachers, this is a hot-button topic for me. The first 6 years I taught, I'd never heard of the concept. No students asked for a retest; I didn't know such a situation could exist. My next 6 years of teaching in another state and another type of school, I got indoctrinated. Eventually, I felt I "bowed" to the pressure and allowed retests. I finally worked out a system that sat "okay/well" with me: anyone with all their homework assignments turned in could retest, and your final grade on the test is an average of your 2 tests, so technically, your grade could go down if you did worse on the retest.

One reason I didn't like retests was that I saw too many kids either not studying for them, or not studying for the original test, knowing they could have a do over.

Now that I've moved schools, I gave no retests. You got what you got.

This summer in Philadelphia, I happened across this book, and there was a discussion on retests of some sort. As I felt my hackles rising, I ran across a statement that gave me pause:

If a kid fails a test or does poorly and shows they don't know a particular concept and you just move on, you are in essence saying that you're okay with them not having that knowledge under their belt, that it's okay not to ultimately understand something in your course.

I don't know that I'll move back to retesting as I've done before, but I want to think further on this idea for next year. I know there's been discussion on the blogs on this, and I've been reading it, and I think I need to find something that works for me and is manageable in my classroom and that I buy into; otherwise, obviously, I won't effectively implement it, and it's doomed to fail.

My initial kernel of an idea is to have a list of concepts they need to know, and by each concept I have 2 boxes with a room for the date of success. This may be on or something with each student's name in a chart, and when they have successfully mastered the concept twice (time frame?), then they are good to go. Grading? Haven't thought of that yet. I was thinking more of a general holistic idea because realistically, maybe all kids don't get to all concepts twice. Maybe their final grade will include a percentage based on what they've shown .... but then I'm still saying that I'm okay with them not knowing things .... ARGH .... must ponder more.


  1. It's called mastery learning, which is the "only" thing, but ..... You will need to follow a road of individualized instruction/pacing (not easy!) and student choice in topic order (linear progress doesn't work) and delayed assessment (long term learning).

    This path is similar to the structure of ALEKS software.

  2. I used to be against retests - I felt that they weren't "real life" enough (you don't get to do a presentation over at work, you don't get to resubmit to clients, etc). I was concerned for the same reasons you were.

    Then, one of my colleagues asked me to read the curriculum. They pointed out that there isn't a timeline on WHEN the student learns things. It doesn't say "Johnny will be able to solve integer equations in the first two months", and it doesn't say "Johnny will be able to solve an integer equation in 10 minutes". It just says that Johnny can solve integer equations.

    Therefore, students can rewrite anything for me and keep their higher mark, because, true to the curriculum, and the point of teaching, THEY DID demonstrate the knowledge, and should be marked on this demonstration. They can also take as long as they want on tests because who am I to say that they should be able to do something in a timeline I set out.

    It's worked well - there are less "stress moments" around tests, and students generally perform well on the first one because the retest is usually inconvenient for them :)

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.

  3. I have WAY too many students who, on the day of the test, BEFORE they have even looked at the test, asked when they could retake it.

    Last year I said no more. Instead, about every third test I give cumulative tests. Every one has to take them and if they do better, I replace the bad grade. (I like averaging better, so I may do that).

    The school policy is that anyone can retest and they can earn a 100 on the retest - no wonder they don't try the first time!

    The cumulative seems to do a better job of them retaining the information and could be geared to SBG.

  4. Its about the learning, not about the grade. I require retests for any summative assessment below 80%. Its about being accountable for the learning. I don't buy that students don't study for tests the first time. Would your rather do something right the first time or spend hours of your own time showing me that you know it and then take another test? The student is doing extra work all the while he/she needs to keep moving forward with the rest of the curriculum. Burning students time is bigger punishment that studying for the test.

  5. I appreciate all your comments and love that we all come from a different place and can add our experience to the situation.

    * at a quick glance, the ALEKS software looks promising, but I don't know if I'm there yet.

    * I like the less stress moments comment. I really do want my kids to know things, and I also need it to be manageable from my standpoint otherwise I'll flake out and not follow through.

    * I TOO had students do the exact same thing about not even looking at a test and asking about a retest. That told me they didn't study.

    * Hmmmmm, redoing things under 80%. I think I also saw somewhere that a kid got 3 potential grades on a test: A, B, Not there yet. And the NTY's had to redo things.

    More great things to add to my churning thoughts.

    Ms. Cookie

  6. There's tons of blogs out there about this - they call it standards based learning. I started it last year and it totally changed the way I assess students.

    Try starting at one of these blogs:

  7. Ms. H6:47 PM

    I am going into my second year of teaching. Last year was great, along the way I started noticing problems associated with testing. Kids that failed never caught up, so I tried something that seemed to work for most.

    If the student wanted to earn back some credit they could come in before or after school and work on the original test. If they needed it I was there to help, but they could use books, notes, whatever they needed (except for another student's work). After redoing the test and seeing their own mistakes they held on to the material. I normally gave a few points per corrected answer.

    I was not a fan of retests when I started the year, but I was told I didn't have a choice and that I had to figure out a way to make it happen.

  8. Mrs. A: can you give me a few specifics on how you implemented your changes? I know I want to start small and be effective and long term.

    Ms. H: I like your method. It seems like it would allow the kids to reflect and see what they did wrong. Did you find they knew the topics at a later date?

    Ms. Cookie

  9. Lacey Myer11:09 PM

    This is such a hard topic. Standards based learning is rapidly moving into our school district in Brighton, Colorado. We have began using the 80/20 measurements to do grades, meaning 80% of the grade is based on assessments and 20% on all other work. This is such a drastic change from what students are used to at the elementary level. I have about 80% of my students fail the first test of the year and had to put in very strict guidelines for student retakes. I want students to learn the math concepts not just memorize them for the test.In order to do this I ask that they set up two study sessions with me. They can be in the morning, lunch or after school. If a student misses one of these or does not complete both by the retake deadline, then they are not allowed to retake the test. I had to make these guidelines very strict because too many kids are used to taking quizzes to just pass and would retake them until they figured out the answers. Although I change my tests, it is unreasonable to have ten versions of the same test. After a student does the two study sessions with me they have a week to retake the test. About 90% of all students who take the responsibility to study and retake the test pass. The other guideline I am very strict on is time. I can't afford to give ten different study sessions all year. So students have approximately half a quarter to set up study sessions and retake the test. I only allow one retake and am very clear on my expectation. I think the thing that helps me the most is parent contact. When I get the parents on my side, the kid usually follows through. Any advice on how to make this even more structures would be appreciated. This has been a work in progress and although I feel that I have it well in place, it is still a large amount of work. It is definitely a good place to start if looking for a way to meet standards based testing.

  10. Ackh! Thanks for your response, Ms. Myer. Just reading it made me remember all the headache that goes into "retests". More power to you. My "airy fairy" thoughts in my mind are more of an oral test or informal test where they come in for tutoring and such and then at some point I make up a problem on the fly (sort of) and if they get it, they're done.

    I'm sure I'll write more about this as the year goes on, and I figure out exactly how I can implement it in a way that won't drive me crazy and make me give it up.

    Ms. Cookie

  11. I started by looking at my tests that I had used the previous year - I made a list of the most important concepts that I wanted to make sure students understood. Instead of giving a big test at the end of each chapter, I gave them a "concept check" each week. I used the same types of questions that I had put on tests and quizzes, but gave individual grades for each concept. This helped students identify areas they need to work on - it definitely helps me with remediation because I can see exactly what they need help with. I used to pass back tests and students would say "I got a 87%" or whatever, and then shove it in their notebook. Now when I pass concept checks back, I hear them saying "man, I really need to work on the Pythagorean Theorem" or "Yes! I finally figured out how to find slope"

  12. Mrs. A: Thank you. That gives me more of a sense of what I could do. I teach on block schedule (1.5 hours every other day), so I'll adjust the "weekly" a bit. But I guess instead of "test1" "test2" in the electronic gradebook, I can put "pythag" or "parallel lines". ... More to think about.

    Ms. Cookie

  13. Brittany Robles3:33 PM

    In one of the classes I took in high school we were able to correct the problems we got wrong on our original test for a third of a point back. We also had to find three like problems in the book and solve those problems as well. I think this strategy helps with students reviewing a concept. They could ask a friend or the teacher for help on the assignment, but they had to be able to show that they understood the new concept. It also gave the students the ability to improve their test score, but they were accountable for doing their best on the orifinal test.

    I think your ideas of retesting are fair ideas. You want the students to be accountable the first time they take their test. One importat part of letting students correct their tests allows them to relearn a concept, but not be set up to fail by taking a second test.

  14. Thanks, Brittany. I've done test corrections before, but not in the way you mentioned. I'm intrigued by the "finding 3 more problems to do" idea. Hmmmmmm. And maybe a reflection on what they NOW know or how much they think they NOW get it.

    Ms. Cookie

  15. Ms. H2:34 AM

    Yes I found that the students knew the concepts later on. I normally gave them a strategy that I had discovered after I taught the concept. (I was new and I'm still learning)

  16. I agree with William G, that it's about the learning! At the Alternative HS that I teach at, students learn independently, ask questions, then take the test. They take each test until they earn a score of 80%. They can not take the same test more than once a day. They may not re-take a test to earn higher than an 80% if that is what they received on their first or second try. Second time around if they get above 80%, that is their score. Third, fourth, etc. time, the highest score they can receive, even if they ace the test is an 80%. If a student continues to have trouble reaching that 80% mark after 3,4 or 5 tries, I have used Brittany's idea about having the student find 2 or 3 more problems like each of the problems they continue to "mess up." Students do each problem;then I give them one of my own! After all this, students have learned the material!