Does it feel unfair giving the same grade to a student who mastered material the first time versus one who had to retake it?   Does a student who retook something have less knowledge than a student who mastered it the first time?  I would argue no.  They both mastered the material and have a similar understanding, one student just knew it quicker.  A grade is what you know and your most current understanding of material.  

Isn't the chance to do things over, explore, see progress, and take risks a big draw to playing video games in the first place?  How fun would a video game be if you bought it and you were only allowed to lose once?  Would you get better and eventually master that game? Would you be motivated to buy another game?  Maybe education should be more like a Nintendo game.  

Allowing retakes means MORE accountability for students
1.  They are accountable for the material and don't get an easy way out.
2.  Students stay motivated.  Why would they care about the material if they couldn't get better at it? How can you stay motivated if you can never recover for the rest of the grading period because of a bad test? Allowing students to retake things stresses that you are promoting a growth mindset.
3. There is actually less pressure on the teacher because students can improve their learning and mastery...the pressure becomes more on the learner than the teacher.  If the kid fails to retake something when they had the opportunity, parents are mad at their child, not you.
4.  There is less pressure, stress, and anxiety when students have another opportunity.  This does not mean students do not want to do well the first time.  No student WANTS to do retakes.  Having to go through the process of relearning, studying, setting an exam time, taking another assessment, etc. is no day at the beach.  

What are you saying if you don't allow a retake?
1.  The material was only temporarily important.
2.  Learning is over for that concept.
3.  You may want to learn or relearn the material you missed, but I'm not going to give you credit for it.
4.  The most recent knowledge you have is not relevant.  It only matters what you knew the day you took the test.
5.  You are stuck with your bad grade for the rest of the grading period.  No matter what you do, you cannot get the grade you want.

Students must EARN a retake
A retake is not a right, it is an opportunity students must earn.  Students who don't do any of their work or do not put in any effort into their retake attempt do not deserve a chance to waste the teacher's time.  A retake is for those who care about their learning and achieving mastery.  In my class, students must have all work submitted that relates to the test before they can retake the test.  If they want to go back and do the work, I will accept it.  Students also have to fill out a Retake Form (click on link for free download).  This form puts all of the responsibility on the student to earn their retake.  They need to set a date with you to retake their assessment, reflect on their preparation for the initial exam, get parent signatures, and actually go through each question they missed and correct them.  

One of the strongest parts of the Retake Form is that guardian signatures are required.  This is a great communication tool between teachers and guardians, and between students and their guardians.  Guardians are usually happy to know exactly what their child missed, what their child did to prepare for the assessment, and that their child can improve their mastery of the concept.  Almost every time a parent emails me about their child's grade, I start with whether or not they took advantage of the retakes offered.  This immediately puts the accountability on the student. In almost every case if a child retakes an assessment for me, they increase their mastery by a pretty significant amount. Students reflecting on the questions they missed is a great way for them to truly master what they didn't understand the first time.  It is a chance to address gaps in their knowledge or understanding.  They can seek additional help, go back and look at their notes again, or focus more on the material than they did the first time.  

Making Retakes Manageable
1.  Students MUST have completed work turned in that relates to the test.  If not, allow them to do so within your given time frame.
2. Students MUST fill out and get their Retake Form signed by guardians.
3.  Students can have a deadline after initial assessment to fill out their Retake Form, turn in any missing assignments, and schedule a make-up time and date.
4.  Students only get a set amount of times to retake something.  It is very likely for the student to improve their mastery on the first retake. Teachers do not have time to give the same assessment eight times, so they must decide what is reasonable. You can always make exceptions for students who are trying really hard but still struggle.
5.  Only take the score of the retake (if better).  Do NOT take an average of the initial assessment and the retake as the new score.  A grade should represent the most current understanding.  No major exam (SAT, ACT, driver's test) averages all attempts.
6.  Do not set the bar too low for those who you do not allow to retake an assessment. It is not fair for a student who got a 72% to not be able to retake a quiz, but a student who got a 68% can...and gets an 85% on the retake.  If a student wants to get better, who are we to say no?  If you must set a cut-off (for those kids who are perfectionists), make it so that those who got an A (highest level of mastery) on the first attempt can't retake.  If you are doing standards-based grading, it is ok to not allow retakes if a student has gotten what you consider the highest level of mastery on their first attempt.

Feel free to make retakes work for you in your own way, but these practices have worked best in my classroom. Remember, we can't stress growth mindset with students unless we give them the actual chance to demonstrate perseverance.

For more strategies and resources on how to create lasting change in your school and/or classroom, please check out our book, HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice.

Retakes Support Growth Mindset was authored by:
Brad Weinstein

Brad Weinstein is the primary content creator for TeacherGoals and oversees the organization's strategic vision. Brad is passionate about fostering equitable teaching and learning practices that help all students succeed.

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