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I teach Pre-Calculus at a public high school in the United States. This school year, I allowed my students to retake any assessment regardless of how they performed on their first attempt. However, recognizing that I should focus on preparing my students for college, I want to be less care-free about retakes for next school year. To my knowledge, students are usually prohibited from retaking assessments in college (but feel free to provide evidence that says otherwise. It might depend on the professor...).

Because I want my students to learn the course content, I still want to allow retakes. If a student is confident that they can perform better on an assessment and is willing to work hard to make that happen, then I don't see the harm in allowing them to retake it. I usually put questions on the retake that are similar to those on the original assessment.

What I have noticed this year is students waiting until the end of the marking period to retake assessments after it has been weeks or even months since the original assessment was given. The significant amount of time between interacting with the material has led to some students performing worse on the retake.

I have some ideas on how to improve my retake policy to ensure that my students are more prepared:

  1. Giving students a deadline for retakes so that they are forced to do the retake sooner and be more likely to remember the required concepts. (However I have a hard time enforcing these kinds of deadlines because inevitably, students are busy with other school-related activities and need more time to prepare for the retake. Then again, I could simply lie about the deadline just to avoid students procrastinating and deal with the handful of students who need more time.)

  2. Not allowing a student to retake an assessment until they have turned in all of their missing homework assignments leading up to the assessment. This is intended to ensure that the student has practiced sufficiently and it also teaches them the value of doing the homework assignments to prepare for assessments. Alternatively, I could assign problems from the textbook and allow the student to retake the assessment after completing and reflecting on the approaches required to solve the problems.

  3. Require that a student who wants to do a retake meets with me after school for a short review session. I think it would also be a good idea to give a short 1-2 question assessment afterwards so they can see if they are ready for the retake or not.

  4. Similar to #3, hold one or more group study-sessions after school focusing on preparing for the retake of a certain assessment. I would walk the students through the solutions to the problems on the original version of the assessment, disclose common mistakes that I observed while grading, and allow students to ask questions.

Has anyone tried anything similar to the ideas mentioned above? Based on your experience, what do you recommend?

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    $\begingroup$ Before I answer more fully, have you heard of standards based grading? It would strongly support your main ideas. foothillscript.com/1078/foothill-life/… Peter Liljedahl also has very specific ideas for implementing this in classrooms. See his book or online publications. buildingthinkingclassrooms.com $\endgroup$ May 19 at 2:32
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    $\begingroup$ Which is more important in preparing your students for college: learning the material or simulating policies that you imagine a college might have? $\endgroup$
    – fectin
    May 19 at 11:55
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have the time to write a full answer right now, but a lot of college instructors are starting to experiment more with "mastery based" and "standards based" grading, as well as other forms of "ungrading". So I would not assume, a priori, that colleges don't have retake policies. Teach the way that you know works best---you were trained to be a teacher and likely have some experience, so you should have some ideas about what works and what doesn't for your students. Do that. $\endgroup$ May 19 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ @fectin Your comment creates a false dichotomy. Primary and secondary education include a lot of scaffolding which is taken away in college. Students who have not been prepared for the removal of this scaffolding are likely to fail, so the high school instructor needs to both teach students the content and also prepare students for college. This is not an either/or. It is both. $\endgroup$ May 19 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ I will add that my impression is that a lot people are not starting to experiment more with “mastery-based” or “standards-based.” There is a lot of reporting about people who are experimenting with it, as well as with reducing the number/proportion of “high-stakes” tests and replacing them with alternatives. It’s unclear to me, since the reporting does not include numbers, just how prevalent it is — that is to say, how likely your students are to enroll in an institution that supports this sort of change. I know some people who are and more who are not doing master-based. $\endgroup$
    – Raciquel
    May 19 at 15:49

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As a college math professor, I have a retake policy. I've been trying to encourage other professors to develop retake policies, and it seems to be becoming more common with resources emerging like The Grading Conference https://college-bridge.org/our-services/conferences/the-grading-conferences/ or Grading for Equity https://gradingforequity.org/ .

I've settled on having quizzes be 100% of students' final grades, but I allow my students arbitrary retake attempts on each question (with the specifics scrambled each time) in office hours, and would be happy to award points for alternative demonstrations of understanding. To speed up grading, scores on questions are usually 0 or 1 depending if a student demonstrated the specific skill that question was trying to test or not.

Grading for Equity has lots of great advice about retakes, but the advice I've found most successful is setting aside class time for the retakes. When I give students one week's quiz, I also hand out a makeup version of last week's quiz, and in place of a midterm or final I have a "makeup midterm" and "makeup final" which are just compilations of new versions of all the questions students still have to make up. I've also experimented with setting aside time at the end of each class just for makeups which worked well but was time consuming.

Not allowing students to do a retake until they've demonstrated that they've done some work studying is a good way to address students who are spamming your time, and I suggest this approach for any retake methods that are extra time consuming for you, such as meeting outside of class.

But I think that the experience of a student seeing a makeup quiz in front of them and having plenty of time to work on it, and wishing that they had reviewed so they knew what to do tends to be a strong enough feeling that most students will start preparing for the makeup quizzes.

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I'm not strictly familiar with how the US school year works, so take my suggestions as needing adaptation. I allow much restricted retakes in my classes, based on a system I met in undergrad:

For reference, my school year is divided into 3 trimesters. In each trimester I give 3 assessments. At the end of the trimester, I allow students to retake one, and only one, assessment of their choosing. This way, whenever some students get a bad grade, they already know they have to avoid a further bad grade. This usually makes them put a bit more effort, and already approach me about material to study to the retake at the end of the trimester.

By getting the student to have only one chance the idea is that the increased effort throughout the trimester helps them to be better prepared for the retake.

One point to decide is whether you will allow the student to replace the grade only if it is better, or whether it is a strict replacement, so if they do worse they'll get a worse overall grade. The first encourages more students to take the replacement, and therefore to study, which is optimal. The latter will get many students not to try to replace an average grade but will avoid people showing up not having studied, so it lessens your effort at grading.

The retake is at the last regular class of the trimester, so I can avoid dealing with students having different issues with other school classes, and becomes a minor reward for students who have dedicated themselves and can avoid a class and use the time for other classes.

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Many high school classes don't have a "retake policy", so you could just devolve to that. I.e. no retakes. It's sort of nice what you are doing now, but definitely not required, in my experience. I think if you give many assessments, it kind of works out. But you will have to evaluate how much you want to do what is pedagogically most beneficial (HS has many features better than college) or "be like college". Personally, I would do what teaches the material best (am a fan of colleges that "teach like high school" anyhow.)

FWIW, my teach in HS, for pre-calc and calc, that I quite liked her assessment policy, used the following assessments:

*No graded homework. Homework was for drill, for learning. If you didn't do it, you paid on the tests. She wasn't spending the time, grading it. For calc, we used Thomas Finney c. 1980, which had all the answers in the back. For pre-calc, many of the problems had answers in the back, and she made no effort to "assign the evens" or problems that didn't have answers...but she would sort of have both...obviously for those without answers, there would be more questions next class. We would spend the normal time at beginning of next class on reviewing homework, sometimes with students at the board, or just questions from the class (those who did it).

*Every Friday, a period (50min) long test. Having a regular schedule is a very good management system. And Friday means you're not ruining their weekend. The teach was wicked fast at grading and would have the tests done by day end, even. (She was the math chair and so had two of the six class periods free instead of only one. And she would pound them during lunch and breaks, also. And she would grade one classes, during others.) In any case, kids for sure got them back MON, first thing, often earlier. But rapid feedback drives the learning process...and anyone wants his results back ASAP after taking a test. Yes, you spend 20% (one of five days), doing exams vice lecture. But actually exams are high stakes practice. And practice, vice passive listening is a good use of lecture time.

*Final exam worth 25%. For the calc class, it was end of year (and anti-climactic with AP test done, but that's APs for ya). For pre-calc, it was the end of each semester (end of 2nd and 4th quarter), since pre-calc was actually one semester of baby analysis/caculus (called "functions") and one semester of analytic geometry. I.e. two separate, formal courses.

[Not saying this is the only way to skin the cat. But it's an option to consider. Yes I thought it was different at the time, but I/others really came to admire the regularity and sort of simplistic "fairness" of her method...pretty easy to calculate your grades. And while the average was sort of draconian, no "makeups", the frequency of assessments made it not so high stakes as "midterm and final" college classes. Which I think are more based on lowering the work burden for instructors, not because it's better pedagogy. I don't buy the "you're grown up now" excuse they make.]

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