Do it Again

And again. And again. And again.

This is the third time the diagram of a local food chain and food web has been submitted to me. Each time comments have directed the necessary corrections. Each time the corrections are minimal, not carrying the changes out through the entire document. This time it’s tempting to say “Oh well. Good enough”. However, this task fulfills an IB assessment statement and might appear on the IB paper when this student sits the final exam. It’s almost painstaking to emphasize my previous comments and point out that the changes aren’t sufficient. The work needs to be deeper, more thorough, and more precise.

This time I opt to have an interview with the student. Understanding claims to be present, however, we’ll see what the results are next week.

In another class,“Show your work.” On the redo the work is only partially there. And the answer is still incorrect. Resubmission. “Show your units.” She adds her units but she still doesn’t see her error until it’s pointed out that she’s dividing cm by mm. “Oh”. Finally, on the fourth try she gets it. Proudly smiling she passes her work to me, “Now I get it!”

You know, it would be easier to just “let it go”.  In a way, it could be argued that my part’s done.  Differentiated learning has been provided. Formative assessment has directed the lessons, the plans, and discussions. Feedback has been given all along the way. The students have been exposed to diverse learning opportunities. They truly have everything they need in order to know what they need to know and have been given every opportunity to learn it. So, I could justify giving them the test and just moving on. However, that’s not the point, is it?  The point is to aid every student in achieving the standards. Some remain unready so they’ll need to do it again. Others may move ahead with deeper, enriching activities that must be planned and coordinated to fit into the unit in a timely manner.

Again, it would be so much easier to just test everyone and move on.  Getting things right takes effort.  Getting students to get things right also takes effort.  A lot of effort. For everyone. My favorite question (not really) is, “What if I just take the grade as it is?” Some students are actually willing to just take a lower grade rather than put forth the effort to master the material.  Their faces always drop when I reply, “That’s not an option.  Currently this assignment is incomplete and not in a state acceptable for assessment”. They grudgingly plow forward.

However, the beaming response when a student hands in, after several modifications, an assignment he can be proud of, we both feel a sense of accomplishment. Our congruent thoughts to “just give up” vanish.  And, I realize, it is worth it. 

The message I hope students receive is that they are capable and that with perseverance they can accomplish things they didn't beforehand think possible. If we as teachers and parents keep working with them, they will grow and develop and learn. They will reach heights even we didn't realize achievable. So, keep at it. Make them do it right, even when you're exhausted. It is worth it.

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)