Recently, a post on a listserv I am part of was discussing retakes at the secondary level and how different schools have structured them. The thread was well responded to and well thought out. We had responses from giving them in every case no questions asked to not ever allowing a retake. Some schools require certain things before a retake can begin, others allow a certain maximum number of retakes in a semester.
Throughout the thread, I read, but didn’t respond. I wanted to know if my thoughts about retakes were unique, or being rather reflective, on the right track. In my experience, retakes have been frustrating to say the least. The culture of the my school has changed so drastically since the advent of the retake, it puts in question the core concept of should retakes happen. It has been pointed out to me that I never statistically determined that the retake is the cause of the cultural issues. Nope, I haven’t. Personally, I don’t feel I need to. When student’s respond on the first assessment of the year that they “just want to look at it and take the retake tomorrow,” I don’t need a statistical analysis to determine there is a cultural issue and retakes, at minimum have something to do with it.
My beliefs about retakes are simple. Not only should they happen but they are an essential component of education. My guess is you may be a little surprised at that statement.
Retakes and RTI need to go hand in hand. If a student is retaking an exam, the question really needs to be why, not what percentage it should take in the grade. We should also be asking questions such as: What did the student do to not earn a passing grade? Do they have prior gaps preventing them from learning? Do they have poor work habits? Is our test based on work habits or learning? How can we design their day to best help enable them to succeed? Could the issue be a home issue and this is a one time instance? Or, is there a different underlying issue?
I feel it is too easy to pull the student responsibility card and much harder to look at it from an individual student perspective. It is important to remember that these are kids we are working with even though in most cases we want them to act as adults. This doesn’t mean there are no consequences from poor choices. On the contrary, it means the complete opposite. If a student legitimately didn’t do anything prior to the exam the true reaction should be they don’t take the original assessment. Wouldn’t this be more effective than allowing the student to fail initially. The retake needs to be used as a teaching tool, not a gift. Retakes don’t lead to learning. If a retake needs to happen what is the reason. That is where the learning occurs. Should they happen, yes…after we have figured out what the root cause of the lack of learning is. Otherwise we are just perpetuating a viscous circle.