Allowing test retakes provides students more chances to succeed

2018-05-14 13-57

Illustration by Aryanka Thaker

I will never forget the six pillars of character I learned when I attended Bacich Elementary School. They instilled in my peers and me to always be trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring and have good citizenship. These traits stuck with me because I was encouraged to practice them over and over again after I made a mistake. Like these traits, test retakes grant students the opportunity to try again at a concept they failed to understand the first time.

In many of my current and past classes, I was not allowed to retake or redo any test or assignment. On multiple occasions I ended with a grade that did not accurately represent my knowledge of that class. Allowing test retakes provides a student the chance to obtain the grade they deserve.

Although the majority of Redwood teachers prohibit essay corrections and retakes, sophomore English teacher Danielle Kestenbaum allows them. This policy encourages students to learn the material and should be followed by other departments such as math, history, and science.

Fear of failure may work as a motivator for some, but for many others it’s another reason to feel anxious and resentful towards their education. Students who dislike school are most likely the ones with lower grades and are in need of extra help, such as test retakes. At Redwood, the math department weighs tests anywhere from 80-90 percent of the student’s grade, some classes only using tests to determine a student’s overall grade, making it hard for students who have trouble with tests to succeed.

According to the April Bark survey, 76 percent of students said they would retain more of the information they learned if test retakes were available. With the majority of students claiming that a test retake would help them learn the material, it is alarming that test retakes have not already been initiated; which urges us to take a deeper look at this situation.

Life outside of school can be tough, but the challenges we face are rarely as simple as pass or fail. Most of the exams we face in life beyond school, whether it’s the Bar exam, SAT or driver’s license test, allow retakes with no negative repercussions. It’s our final mastery of the subject, not our trouble along the way, that counts in the end. Teachers should see this and provide students support with the cushion of a retake.

Even beyond forms of testing, in events such as career paths, relationships, and work, we are given opportunities to prove our skills through frequent practice.

As veteran teacher Rick Wormeli wrote in an article about retakes in the November 2011 Educational Leadership blog, “adult professionals actually flourish through redos, retakes, and do-overs.” Architects design and redesign, journalists submit first drafts. Even teachers perfect their material across several class periods.

Eighth-grade teacher Anthony Armstrong wrote, “the outcome of a test is simply a reflection of current, not permanent, abilities.” But a failed test with no possibility of a do-over becomes a permanent mark on a student’s name, even if they later go on to master the skills or knowledge involved. The message the school is sending to students is that even if you work hard, the stain of this failure is here forever. Why would students want to spend effort on something that can’t be improved?

Some teachers argue that they are not able to offer retakes on every test because of time restrictions, but they should provide that opportunity every other test, or tests that are worth more. Teachers can also lay down strict ground rules from the beginning to avoid wasting time and let students know that some retakes may be available at teacher discretion provided they’re willing to put in an extra effort.

Teachers may believe it is a student’s responsibility to get help if they’re struggling to understand material and are at risk of a low test score. Although, teachers should also understand that some students have jobs, sports or other extracurriculars outside of school and may not have time to do so. Teachers can also offer points for test corrections, though a retake ensures the student has understood the material. Although, test corrections don’t prove that the student has accurately learned the material, whereas with a test retake, the student has the opportunity to significantly increase their grade and show they understand the information.

A comprehensive education should do more than deliver content to a student and expect them to learn it for a test on Friday. If we stop being so dependent on tests for our grading system or at least offer the opportunity to retake them, students may actually want to learn. Everybody learns at a different pace and should be able to expect their teacher to help them so they have a grade they are confident in as well.

In an ideal world, every student would graduate high school with the motivation to seek out challenges and the knowledge that there is value in effort and perseverance. Allowing students to retake tests can point them in this direction. When grades are just indicators rather than permanent judgements, they become the motivation behind education and learning itself becomes the goal.

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