Today is the day after a test. I walk around to hand back tests to the students. Students, who did well, put a smile on their faces. Students, who did poorly, sink into their chairs in displeasure. I come back to the board to review the problems which created the most difficulty. The students who did well are so excited they don’t want to listen. The students who did poorly are so upset with themselves they can not concentrate. So, what am I doing? I’m pretty much talking to no one. I’m not helping those students who received a bad grade and the students who were successful are now bored.
Image credit: Steven Depolo
After about two and a half years of doing this in my classes, I realized something must change. Some students were not successful on a test. The only way they can help their grade is to do better on the next test. But they need the material from the previous test to help them. So what service am I providing to my failing students? How am I motivating them to do better? I used to say, “You are going to need to learn this to do well on the midterm. Don’t just put the test away and not look at it. Study it and learn from it.” After thinking about how I would take that statement as a student, I realized how little impact it actually has. Something needed to change in my grading philosophy, and change fast.
Everyone deserves a second chance, right? You fail your driver’s test; don’t you get another shot at it? You do poorly on the SAT’s; you can take them again right? So for a test in class, why are students only getting one chance? After much questioning, research, and consideration, I decided to implement a re-take policy for my classes.
After students receive their test and are not happy with the score, they can come to me and inquire about a re-take. I give the student a contract that lists the steps they must follow in order for the opportunity for a retake. The contract must be signed by the student and their parent/guardian. The steps are as follows:
- Get the test paper signed by a parent/guardian
- Attend extra help session for corrections on the test
- Complete given assignment on your own (if necessary)
- Make an appointment after/before school to take your re-take
Once students take the re-take, I look at how much knowledge they have gained, and use my professional judgment to assign a new grade. Students are appreciative of the second chance and are taking full advantage of it. Students are recognizing how much more work they need to put in if they are unsuccessful. This gives them some motivation to do well the first time. And it also gives them an opportunity to right the wrong.
What is our goal as educators? My goal is for every student to have the best opportunity at succeeding in my class. If my students have only one chance at every test, then they really don’t have the best opportunity at succeeding. I want my students to learn and one of the best ways to learn is from your mistakes. I have a little saying I like to use: “Failure is not an ending, it’s a beginning.”