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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If at first you fail the test …

When students are allowed to retake tests for a better grade, what do they learn?

Julie Scagell, a Minnesota mother, wonders if her district’s liberal retake policy teaches kids they’ll always get a “do-over.”

Asked if he’d finished studying for the math test, her 12-year-old son told her “it doesn’t even matter. If I don’t do well I’ll just retake it.”

Retake proponents “believe they allow students who struggle with test-taking another chance to master the material, and say retakes help with overall retention,” Scagell writes. “Retakes reduce stress and pressure on already anxious students.”

Still, she fears that easy retakes will undermine “responsibility, ownership and preparedness.”

When my son told me he’d just retake his math test if he did poorly, we had a long discussion about what it means to be organized. I told him that a lack of preparation is disrespectful to his teacher, who spent weeks teaching his class the material. It also will chip away at his confidence and, eventually, his opinion of himself if he consistently feels unprepared. If he studies and does poorly, that is one thing. But falling back on a retake to buy himself more time isn’t going to cut it.

Time management is a critical skill for high school, college and the workplace.

Should teachers allow retests routinely? Sometimes? Never?

Providing retakes of tests, teaching to mastery, is one of the things that makes teacher like Patrick Kelly so exhausted, he writes.

Three years ago, I decided to allow more opportunities for retakes on tests and revisions of essays in my classes. This decision was based on analysis of data, and it has led to improved student academic outcomes. However, the new approach also leaves me stretched thin. Ten years ago, I simply moved forward after a summative assessment; now, I take the time to individually work with students to develop mastery long after the initial assessment.

Teachers are doing more in the same work environments, he writes. It leads to burnout.

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