Are Test Retakes (Reassessments) Fair?

Image from article "Psychological impacts of grades on a student"

 I really hate when I hand back a test and a student asks, without even looking at the incorrect answers and without any real thought, “Can I retake it?”  However, I also think there is a place for reassessment.

Two weeks ago a class of mine took an exam.  The range of scores was from 21/50 to 46/50.  Despite formative assessments, labs requiring the students to apply knowledge, and various activities that ensured me that the students were ready for the test, the results suggested otherwise.  I was simply not satisfied to “let it slide” and move on, leaving students without having mastered the standards.  All students were required to make corrections.  Those receiving a score under 75% were required additionally to schedule an interview with me to review their corrections and then to schedule a reassessment outside of class.  Students with scores above 75% could also retake the test under the same stipulations.

 The interviews were fascinating.  I think the students were anticipating that I was just going to look for correct answers and send them on their way, however, I insisted they justify and explain all their answers and then I probed and questioned them further.  I could instantly discern the student who just tried to extract “the answers” from their peers.  One student actually said, “John told me this was the answer”.    Other students struggled with the content trying to understand, referring to their notes, the text, and some getting help from their parents,  doing what it took to achieve understanding.  The ones who struggled most with the content also made the most progress.

Students who sought after the quick answer required an interview of 30-45 minutes as they had to learn the concepts properly but still left my classroom with a need to “lock it in”.  However,  students who had struggled with the content required a much shorter interview and had several “Ah ha” moments as the lights “went on” through their own verbalization of the content.

 I had warned the students that the reassessment covered the same content but looked different.  Following the retake one student said, “That was tricky.  You changed the questions!”

 The results are in tonight.  Students who struggled with the content and made a real effort to understand all improved their score by at least 10%.  They clearly have made progress in their learning.  I think students should have every opportunity to show what they understand and what they can do and sometimes that necessitates a reassessment.

There are two issues here: student motivation and reassessment.  Tonight I'm focusing on reassessment.

 Here are my criteria for test retakes:

  1. You must make corrections on the current exam
  2. You must demonstrate or show evidence for practicing or learning the material (in this case, I used an interview instead)
  3. You must come to me of your own initiative to reschedule the test outside of class.

What are your thoughts?  What are the pros and cons of reassessment?

(Image from article "Psychological impacts of grades on a student", a good read)