What about retakes?

I’ve heard teachers debate whether learners should be allowed to redo, retake, or revise summative assessments. The camp is highly divided.

No Retakes

There are those who say that learners need to be held accountable. If they do not take the time to study for the assessment then it is apparent that the student does not care and should be penalized for their lack of responsibility. Students need to learn how to deal with failure because failure is part of life.

The problem with the no retake policy is it does not allow learners to learn from their mistakes. Sometimes it isn’t until later they fully understand the material. Some times they need more time or more practice to grasp a concept. Just because it takes four weeks to teach a unit doesn’t mean all will understand a unit in four weeks.

Most assessments that are worthwhile in life are not  “get it on the first try.” Drivers license tests, National Boards Certification, and the Bar Exam are examples of high stakes assessments that allow for multiple retakes. Automotive engineers test their designs over and over before the car reaches the showroom. Software developers create Beta versions for testing prior to the official release. Reassessment is built into the system of most manufacturers.

However, the biggest problem with a No Retake policy is it tells learners the material is not worth learning. If a learner cannot reassess they will not go back over the material and they can often pass a class despite the fact they did not meet all learning targets.

Partial Credit Retakes

Some feel that students should be allowed to reassess, but given an average of the two scores or a portion of the improved score. That learners should be recognized for their efforts, but should make a more earnest attempt the first time. Partial credit retakes policies are better than a no retake policy, but they come up way short.

The problem with partial credit retakes is it does not accurately report learning. Let’s say Jimmy earns a 50/100 on a test. Then goes home and studies really hard and comes back and earns a 90/100 on the redo. If a teacher averages, it goes in the gradebook as a 70/100. So the gradebook is suggesting that Jimmy only understands 70% of the material when, in fact, he actually understands 90% of it. This is a misrepresentation of what he knows.

Opportunity to Retake

Some feel students should be allowed to retake any assessment for full credit. Teachers should take into account the fact that not everyone learns at the same pace, learners may need more time to understand the material or master the skills, and teachers should report the most current evidence demonstrating what a learner can do or knows.

This policy is almost there. Allowing learners to retake assessments at any time acknowledges learners do learn at different rates, it makes an attempt to value the learning, and it can ultimately report an accurate picture of what a learner knows.

The problem with the opportunity to retake is that it assumes all will take advantage of the opportunity. It also suggests that it is acceptable to not learn the material. Just because it is offered does not mean they will come in to do it. This policy is great for those who are mature enough to come in, but what about those who lack the organizational skills or maturity to come in on their own time? Are they exempt from demonstrating learning?

Required Redos and Revisions

I believe that whatever a teacher assesses is important. And if it is important, then learners should demonstrate  understanding. In my class, my assessments are pass/fail. There is no partial credit for understanding. I expect everyone in my class to meet proficiency in ALL learning targets to pass my class. And because of this, I expect them to either revise or redo until they meet standards.

I do not understand why it is acceptable to allow learners to pass a class without meeting ALL learning criteria. If including a thesis statement in an essay or accurately graphing a function is essential, then why not require revision until it is done? Why not reteach and have her make the revisions? If we expect learners to learn something then they should learn it. If it is important the make it important by requiring revision.

The automotive and software industries understand this concept. They want a quality product and, therefore, establish criteria for their products and require their designers and developers to test, revise, retest the product  until it meets or exceeds standards. If this is the philosophy of major manufacturers, shouldn’t it be that of educators preparing learners who will go into those careers?


15 thoughts on “What about retakes?

  1. Interesting post Aaron. Interesting comments to. My issue with many assessments is that they are called formative, but are summative in practice. To the learner, the assessment will signal a finality to the learning. A good assessment will prompt the learner to reflect on processes, as well as, the products of learning. Additionally, learners should have the opportunity to discuss their next steps in their journey. In terms of mastery, does the need for summative assessments actually exist?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree. In my opinion, everything is formative to something else. Learning is a process, not a destination. As for evidence of learning, shouldn’t the student have voice in what is a summative assessment of their learning? The more voice a student has in his/her education the more meaningful it is to the learner.


    1. Scott,

      I read your post on looping. I couldn’t agree more. If learning isn’t revisited and reapplied it cannot be mastered. Just because a learner meets proficiency once does not mean they can reproduce the learning or even transfer the learning. Ultimately, we want learners to transfer. If they can’t then they haven’t learned.

      Thanks for posting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Scott,
        I liked it. One of the things I am strongly for is opportunities for growth. Since I do not use grades of any kind in my class (except the one the student chooses at the end of the semester) I give every student suggestions to grow. And with looping, I can ask my students at the end of the semester how they have grown as learners throughout the semester. This is huge for me.

        Thanks for sharing.


  2. I think your categories and reasoning, in general, are spot on. I would consider a different perspective for the retake for partial credit. When a student has an assessment, he/she is expected to be ready to show mastery at that moment in time. If that effort is unsuccessful, I wholeheartedly agree that another try should exist for the reasons you delineated. But ownership of preparation is a key skill to emphasize, as well. There are consequences to the examples you gave for “real life retakes.” Delays in obtaining a job or in getting a promotion, for instance. So I would encourage partial credit retakes because that emphasizes student accountability in his/her preparation.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Let’s say that a student has found a passionate pursuit in his or her learning – I would offer that even the most passionate learner must learn to keep a deadline. There are many hurdles to achieving this goal in a young person’s daily life (extracurriculars, other courses, family, etc.). Choice may lead this person to miss a deadline or under-prepare for an assessment. I don’t think this is about achievement, at this point, but it’s about learning balance and consequence of choice. If we allow “redos” and mulligans, there would be no measurement of development and eventual success.


    1. Hello! I’d like to add a thought after your comment on April 12th, but the computer won’t let me, so I replied to this one. I agree that we all have deadlines. My students can revise or re-do up to a certain point. They do not have until after the grades are due, and, in fact, because I am human… they do not even have until the week prior to grades are due. So there are still deadlines, just as in “real life.” When I explain this to students, they seem to get it. Those that don’t – may be those that are always late getting things in at their jobs. There are teachers who do not get in their work before deadlines, as well, and yet I haven’t seen consequences. It’s all a balance. Other teachers on my team don’t allow revisions/retakes – and students will be learning what works best for which teachers. I, personally, allow revisions up to a certain date, and I think it has done what I’m at school to do – helped my students become better writers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with you.
    I will state the “other side” as how I’ve heard it expressed in the past few years… Teachers have said, “I don’t want to create more than one assessment.” “They’ll just use the old assessment to know what’s on it, then they’ll study and retake it.” (To that I say, “Then TELL them what’s on it FIRST!!”) “I don’t have time to keep giving assessments – I have other curriculum I need to move on to.” (Then “Which part of your curriculum is the most important? Have you considered only assessing that part?”)
    There are no easy answers. I still struggle with revisions, as my students are doing them the night prior to our 1:1 conference to look at their learning for the quarter. This is my fault, as I’ve let it go on, but I also think they MAY just learn a teeny bit more by taking that last step.
    Teaching is so tough. If we put 100% into it (which I feel I can do, as I don’t have children of my own), I still can’t get it right. We’ll keep plugging along!! Thanks for the different ideas in this post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Joy,

      My response to the teacher who doesn’t want to write multiple versions and is concerned that the learner will use the first assessment as a study guide is – Did he/she learn it? How is that different from the ones who memorized the study guide you gave with all the questions and answers on it prior to the test?

      However, I think the greater problem lies in the assessment itself. If each question has a one to one correlating answer are the questions worth asking. Another way to put it is, “If the answer can be Googled, should I ask the question?”

      I would argue that assessments should challenge learners to use the material to analyze or solve problems. In math, give students the equation and the answer and ask them to prove it if the answer was correct or incorrect. Or give them the data and have them explain how the data can be used. In English, history, or science, give them a passage and have them use evidence from the passage to make a claim. These are the kinds of assessments worth giving because they shows transfer of knowledge.

      I don’t believe we should be having a discussion about whether or not learners should retake assessments. I think we need to have conversations around how to write a better assessments. When we write better assessments we won’t have to worry about the ones who memorize the answers to the test.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am TOTALLY with you, Aaron! What we need next is time to explore those options with teachers. We need time to have those important conversations so we can have different mindsets. 👍

        Liked by 2 people

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