Retake Policy

Standards-Based Grading

Video Transcript:

Now that we’ve talked about quizzes, it’s time to investigate retakes, and you may have noticed that this is a controversial topic. Some people are all-in on retakes, and others are strongly against them.

In fact, I’ve talked to many people who believe retakes are the downfall of education, and many of these people are not teachers but professionals who have seen impacts on the people they hire into their organizations.

To be clear, I’m not against people with this viewpoint. I actually think they have valid points that need to be considered, and it’s important that we collaborate in order to create a better result. I believe these views show that our retake policies must be investigated in order to keep the results consistent with our intentions.

Retakes can certainly be detrimental if they are used incorrectly. Therefore, stick around, and let’s explore this together.

To begin, I’d like to share my opinion about why I still believe retakes are important to offer even if there are potential consequences if they aren’t used correctly.

For me, it all comes back to my core values in the classroom, and the negative experiences I’ve had when retakes are not offered to students. Here are my core values again.

I value mistakes in the classroom, and I want students to know that making mistakes are okay. When we’re learning, we have to take risks and make mistakes if we’re going to grow and excel further than we imagined we could. Mistakes are a necessary part of any learning process.

Similarly, I want students to associate struggle with learning. If we’re struggling, that means we’re at a stretching point that can ultimately help us reach a new level of understanding. We have to push our boundaries and struggle in order to unlock new levels of understanding. Struggle should be okay in math class.

Finally, I want all ideas to be valued in the classroom. Every human being has the capacity to contribute, and therefore all ideas can be considered.

With these core values in mind, let’s think about retakes again. In the years that I didn’t offer retakes, I witnessed very little perseverance in my students. A lot more students gave up quickly, and motivation dropped significantly.

One of the reasons for this is the fact that my core values were not visible in my grading policies. If mistakes and struggle are truly okay and good in math class, my policies were not backing that up. If students made mistakes on assessments, there was nothing they could do to fix them. They were locked in time with no hope of recovering.

However, when retakes were available, this wasn’t true. Students could truly make mistakes and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. They could continue to persevere and push through struggles. Then, they were rewarded for their perseverance by retaking assessments and replacing their grade. The final grade reflected their true understanding in the end, not just their understanding at the first assessment.

But again, we have to be careful with retakes because they can definitely be harmful to students if there aren’t boundaries set around them.

So, with that in mind, here is the official retake policy I landed on for my class.

“A student may retake a quiz, possibly multiple times, before the end of the grading period. It is our desire for all students to retake quizzes because we believe all students can continue to pursue deeper learning even after concepts are formally assessed.

However, the goal of retakes is not to create a crutch for students. The goal is for students to take learning seriously and simultaneously be provided with an encouraging classroom environment that welcomes mistakes and allows for growth from mistakes.

Therefore, students will first be allowed to retake a quiz on the day we take a quiz over the next concept in our curriculum. It’s preferable for students to wait for this day (usually 7-10 class days) in order to allow time for error analysis, practice, and other efforts to pursue further learning. With this in mind, a student is highly encouraged to complete an analysis report that includes reflection questions and practice problems related to the previous quiz.

If a student would like to retake a quiz a 2nd time (or more), then they are required to complete another quiz analysis form, based on the first retake, in order to qualify. From there, the student must receive tutoring, other outside help, or a video-guided handout to continue learning. Finally, after those conditions are met, the student may retake the quiz a 2nd time. All additional retakes will follow the same process.

The highest grade earned by the end of the grading period will be placed in the gradebook. This approach is used because it allows students to pursue learning without penalty and be rewarded for perseverance. We want students to keep working until mastery is demonstrated no matter how long it takes.”

That’s the official policy. Now let’s explain what certain portions of it mean.

First, what does it mean that, “students will first be allowed to retake a quiz on the day we take a quiz over the next concept in our curriculum?” Here’s an example. In Geometry, we took a quiz over special right triangles one day. Then, 10 days later we took a quiz over Trigonometry. In the policy, the students are not allowed to retake the special right triangles quiz until the day of the Trigonometry quiz. On that day, students will be offered an opportunity to retake the special right triangles quiz after completing the trigonometry quiz.

I like this because it allows time to analyze errors and put those errors in front of students. Then, we can practice common misconceptions through spiraling assignments before the retake day arrives. This prevents students from rushing too quickly to correct a grade and instead focus on what they need to improve in order to achieve deeper learning.

Also, I think it’s important that all students be given one in-class opportunity to retake in order to promote a culture of valuing mistakes and the pursuit of growing from mistakes. If this isn’t offered, then it potentially compromises that message. Exceptions can be made to this rule though, and that’s up to teacher discretion.

For example, if a student turns in a blank original quiz and says, “I’ll just wait until the retake,” then it would be appropriate to have a meeting with that student and potentially their guardian(s) to discuss the issue. A retake may be delayed or not offered in special situations like this. By the way, I haven’t had a student do this in many years.

Finally, for the first retake, I do not require an analysis report to be completed to qualify for the retake (although it’s highly encouraged, and class time is provided for analysis reports to be completed). After originally requiring analysis reports for qualifying, I decided to remove that barrier because it inhibited too many students from retaking. As mentioned above, I WANT all students to retake because I want to measure their growth, and I want them to see their own growth. I felt that requiring analysis reports for the first retake prevented many students from experiencing measurable growth for their grade, and it’s a powerful experience that I want all students to have the opportunity to share in.

However, as for the policy on a 2nd retake (or more), it’s important to have the analysis handout requirement in place in order to prevent kids from just doing a Hail Mary retake to get extra points. Retakes are detrimental when kids are allowed to retake without making efforts to improve, and I witnessed Hail Mary retakes the most when students tried to retake a quiz 2 or more times. This is where it’s most common to see students try to take advantage of the system in a negative way. Therefore, a required analysis report is a helpful barrier in this situation.

By the way, we’ll talk more about analysis handouts later in the workshop.

Also, what’s a “video-guided handout?” Here’s an example from Algebra 1. It’s a handout with links to videos followed by problems related to the video. In addition, students may be asked to attempt higher level challenges to push understanding. The goal of the handout is to provide an opportunity for growth if they are unable to make it into a face-to-face tutoring session. I don’t know if I ever actually used one of these, but they can be created for special circumstances where students are unable to get one on one tutoring time.

Finally, as we wrap up this video, I’d like to answer a few frequently asked questions.

What happens if a student scores lower on a retake?

The highest score is kept no matter when it is earned. Although the hope is that this won’t happen, I think the message that mistakes are a good thing in math can be compromised if the highest score is not honored. I’m willing to be lenient in this situation in order to build trust and continue to change student mindsets about the value of mistakes in math.

When do students retake quizzes? Before or after school? On specified days?

As mentioned earlier, the first retake happens in class on the next quiz day. Then, for retakes 2 or highers, students are allowed to come in before school, after school, or during lunch. After the first retake opportunity in class, students may come in any day assuming they have met the 2nd retake (or more) requirements detailed earlier

Do retakes become increasingly more difficult?

No. Retakes use the same 80, 90 and 100 level format we explored in the creating quizzes video, so the difficulty level is the same. However, the questions are different on each retake so students can’t just memorize steps to solve problems.

Finally, do I have an endless supply of retake quizzes?

No, I do not. Most of the time, students will not retake more than once. Therefore, usually only 1 retake needs to be prepared. For additional retakes, there should be sufficient time to create a new retake because students will have to declare in advance that they want a retake (and complete the 2nd retake prep procedure). Overall, 2 retakes is the most you’ll normally see from a student, and those were rare in my experience.

As you can see, I am a big fan of retakes, but I’m also a big fan of putting healthy boundaries around them. I think we can all agree that we don’t want to enable poor habits in students. Having a firm and clear retake policy can go a long way towards providing students with opportunities to grow while still maintaining high expectations.

We’re about to transition to the next big section of our workshop. What does the day to day classroom look like when we use Standards-Based Grading? We’ll begin by looking at what a typical unit looks like.

See you in the next video.


6 thoughts on “Retake Policy

    1. Good question! The only opportunity students have to retake quizzes in class is on an actual quiz day. Otherwise, if they’re within the policy, they can retake outside of class.

      Most of the time, other students are still quizzing / retaking as well, so it’s not a big issue. If students are completely done, I usually have them work on Geometry art or some other light work. They are allowed to work on assignments from other classes during that time as well.

  1. What about giving retake tests in an advanced math class when the class average is 90% and the student wanting the retake usually fails the first test. I am thinking no retake and put the student in on-level math class where those types of opportunities can be given.

    1. Hey Deborah! Thanks for the comment.

      Advanced classes can definitely be tricky because there tends to be a lot at stake and lots of pressure from parents and administrators.

      I know I wasn’t allowed to use Standards-Based Grading in advanced classes, but I found that my advanced students would’ve benefitted from it as well.

      I don’t have a good answer from experience, but I’d recommend coming up with a retake policy in collaboration with other advanced teachers, administration, and parent feedback you’ve typically received in the past. I’m sure there is a healthy boundary that can be set to still allow retakes.

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