Thursday, November 6, 2014

To Reassess, or Not to Reassess

"If you don't understand what we are doing today, how are you going to be able to handle tomorrow?" That was my rationale for not accepting late work when I first started teaching. I had a no bend policy that I thought would force my students to be more responsible and learn more math.  I wish I could go back and apologize to those students that just needed a little more time, or had legitimate reasons as to why their assignment was not complete but did not want to ask for more time because they knew my strict policy.

It was a conversation with my third Principal in three years that started my migration toward where I am today.  He asked me, "What happens when you are late with your credit card payment?"  I pay a late fee.  "What happens if you do not renew your drivers license in time?" I pay a late fee.  "What happens if you are late to the dentist or doctor?"  I may have to reschedule, but I will still see my dentist or doctor.  "Then why do we expect adolescents to be on time, all the time?"  I had no response.

I reflected on my policy and started to accept late work for some assignments, and I saw students who would often show signs of no hope of learning, feel like they had a chance.  Now I have expanded the number and types of assignments I accept after the due date, but there are expectations and routines attached for which students understand and follow.

Later that year, I had a group of five students in Algebra 1 that entered my class lagging in the requisite knowledge and skills to be successful.  We started a small study group after school to work on numeracy, order of operations, rationale number operations and algebraic reasoning.  We played games, debated solving methods and challenged each other to justify their reasoning.  The growth in these students was only overshadowed by their camaraderie and new love of learning.  They asked if they could retake tests from earlier in the year, not for their grade, but just to prove to themselves that they could now demonstrate understanding.  How could I say no?

The excitement they showed at improving and the growing confidence they portrayed in class, led me to reflect on my, "You need to prepare for the test cause you only get one shot," policy.  I started asking other teachers what they thought about allowing retakes on tests/quizzes.  The responses then were similar to the ones I received on Twitter yesterday. I asked: What are some arguments for NOT allowing students to reassess on tests/quizzes? I'd like to hear all opinions.

Most teachers that replied expressed that they may not necessarily believe the arguments but wanted to provide things that they have heard.

The most popular concerns from teachers starting with most frequent responses:
  • Will students put forth their best effort to be prepared if they can retake?
  • Do retakes prepare them for college/life?
  • Time, includes grading time, time for retakes, time to create multiple versions of an assessment.
  • Are teachers in the department doing the same and if not, then what?
All of these concerns are valid and deserve thought and reflection.  I struggled with them for sometime, but I kept coming back to this question, "Do I care if they (the students) know the material on a Tuesday in October, or do I care if they know it?"  The answer seemed obvious to me, so I started on a path of allowing students to reassess.

When discussing the art of teaching, I find myself saying these words more often than any others.  Structure Creates Behavior.  If a teacher wishes to create a classroom where students can openly discuss and disagree on topics safely, the appropriate structures need to be implemented.  If a teacher wishes to allow students to reassess without the above concerns becoming a problem, appropriate structures need to be implemented.

Below I will try to layout the structures I use, and I hope that other expert teachers will comment below with more structures. 

First, there has to be a "late fee" for not being prepared for the first assessment, similar to the "real-world."  In order to retake an assessment, students in my classes must complete a Retake Review.  These reviews are long enough to require an hour + of work, sentences and justifications.  Once completed, the student brings the review to an after school study hall, another "late fee" of lost free time, and we go over the review together. The student must correct all errors and prove they have a better understanding before being allowed to retake the assessment.  The retake review serves two masters. First, it is another "late fee" for capable students that may have made poor choices, or have extenuating circumstances. The second, it can be the added practice opportunity that struggling learners need to catch up.

Do reassessments prepare our students for college and life?  I'll answer a question with a question.  Do F's in math prepare our students?  Have you ever had a student earn an F and then say, "Oh, I feel more responsible now."?  And as I suggested above, what in real-life has an absolute deadline?  Late fees are the real-life consequence for not paying bills on-time, etc, the review is a late fee.

Time for all of this? I'm not going to lie, it does take more time. Each teacher must make their own decisions on time vs reward.  For me and my students, it's worth it.

Are the teachers in the department on the same page? If I waited for everyone in my department to get behind a good teaching idea before I implemented it, I'd still be sitting at my over-head showing three examples and assigning #1-39 odds.

Structure Creates Behavior.


  1. I think that, in theory, the idea of reassessment is nice. When we can do it, I think it's appropriate.

    But I'm not a fan of universally allowing reassessment and announcing it prior to the first assessment, because there *truly* are students who will blow off the first assessment. I really do have class sizes of 30+ students (one of my five sections is at 36) and the amount of grading is overwhelming.

    The question is, however, how far do you take this? You said you let students re-assess tests a long time after they had taken them. Do you allow an infinite amount of reassessments? And is *every* item in your class re-assessable? Can they be taken at any time, or is there a final deadline for taking a reassessment?

    Ultimately, each teacher has to draw a line somewhere.

    And ultimately, every student DOES have as many reassessment opportunities as they want. It's called "taking the course over again."

  2. Mr. Chase,

    It is amazing what hope can do for a student who has always struggled in math. Effort will increase, intrinsic motivation kicks in and learning begins to snowball. I have witnessed this many times since I started allowing students to reassess and it always makes the time worth it.

    At the beginning of the year, I will admit, a few students will not try their best on the first assessment thinking they can just reassess. But what they learn very quickly is that the retake review and the time after school is more of a "late fee" than they want to pay. These two late fees are motivation for the fully capable students, but the reassessing is still there to provide hope for students who need a little more time, or help to reach standard.

    My deadline is the end of the semester. Yes, a student can reassess a quiz from September in December. Sometimes it takes that long for solving equations to truly "click" with a student. So in December when I see them doing well on solving systems of linear equations, I'll encourage them to reassess two step equations from September. Then their grade will be a true assessment of what they can do and know.

    Yes, taking the course over again is an option, but for the students who have struggled for years, if they lose hope in your class now, it will only lead to more management issues in class. The student will stop trying on assignments and distract others in class. Hope is a powerful management tool!

  3. I like your "late fee" for retakes. Right now, I don't require anything beyond going over their test/quiz (with me if they don't know why they got it wrong) and giving up a lunch period or time after school. I offer retakes within a grading period (so every 5-6 weeks) but rarely have a student take me up on the offer. How many students take advantage of the retake? Do you think that requiring a "late fee" increases how many students?

  4. 52min,
    I get about 5 students per assessment per class. I correspond with parents on a regular basis and inform them of what I feel is meeting standard, and if their student is not there, they need to reassess. The "late fee" gives the students the confidence to know that they will perform better the second go around.