Giving students retests is a popular practice now, but how do teachers run better retests? And by better, I don’t just mean having students do better. I also mean making it easier and worthwhile for teachers to even give a retest.
One of the biggest problems when it comes to retesting is that students almost expect a retest – therefore, they may not be as willing to try their best, learn the material, or fully prepare the first time around. This problem is only made worse in that there are policies in some school districts that students must be given the opportunity to have a retest. Thus, how do teachers make sure students take their own education seriously when it seems as though everyone around them is bending over backwards to give them yet another chance to do better? How do we ensure that students are actually putting forth their best effort?
Shifting the Responsibility
From a discussion question regarding retests I posted on several Facebook groups, a common thread can be concluded from many of the responses. To run better retests, allow students the opportunity to write a retest if they want – so long as students take control (and responsibility) for their own learning. The following are some tips and suggestions for running better retests.
1. Have students earn the right to write a retest
Have students complete corrections. Then, have students finish a review package or a set of review questions from the text. Finish with students having their parents sign a letter acknowledging all the work has been completed. Then, the student can schedule a date to write the retest.
Tiffany Floria (www.floriascience.com), teacher at Narragansett Regional High School in Templeton, MA, mentioned this in our Facebook group discussion: (note: click on the image to be directed to the google doc).
Giving better retests means students need to learn from mistakes before trying again. This strategy forces students to review material and relearn concepts before taking a retest. Thus, students have a greater chance for success the second time. Teachers can also alter this strategy to suit their needs or, potentially, the needs of each student.
2. Have students write retests in a timely fashion
I schedule retests no more than 2 weeks after the student receives their original test back. Any more time and (1) life gets in the way and other responsibilities will creep in and (2) students start to forget the material being tested.
Furthermore, make students come to you. Don’t schedule the exam during class time. Have them come during lunch hour or another scheduled time to write the test. Again, make students take responsibility for writing the retest instead of you bending over backwards for their learning.
3. Take the most current mark, not the best mark
Students often assume a retest can only improve their mark. Therefore, they may write a retest in the hopes of getting a better mark (like 95%) even though they got a great mark to begin with (like 92%). If they perform poorly on a retest, it doesn’t matter, right? Except, it does. The teacher is required to generate, administer, and mark a retest. And that’s precious time the teacher loses.
Ashley Krowl Reis, founder of Brilliant Biology at TpT, mentioned this in our Facebook group discussion.
With the possibility that students may have their mark drop in a retest will deter students from writing retests to get an increase of a few percentage points. More importantly, it forces students to think about whether their effort is best put to the task of retesting or another topic coming up. It makes them more responsible for their time and effort.
4. Cap or Average scores
Capping retest scores used to be one in my science department years ago. Basically, when capping retest scores, teachers are putting a maximum a student can achieve on a retest. For example, let’s say a student scores a 50% on a original test. If they write a retest, and if the retest cap is set at 60%, even if the student scores an 90% on their retest, the student will only receive a 60%.
I stopped capping retest scores a few years ago because I found some students do really try hard in their retests and score exceptionally well. And, I wanted to reward them for their hard work. So, averaging retest scores is what I do now. Basically, I average their original test score with their retest score (but only if the retest score is better). For example, if a student scores 50% on their first test but they score 90% on their retest, then I will replace their original test score will be adjusted to 70% (ie. [50% + 90%] / 2) This way, I find that students still need to take responsibility for their original score but still get the opportunity to get a higher score if they do better on the retest.
5. Making students pay for it (with classroom currency)
I find this to be one intriguing strategy mentioned on one Facebook discussion. One teacher uses a classroom currency known as BioBucks that students can use to exchange for or “purchase” certain perks. Retests represent one such perk. Much like an allowance, students learn to balance and spend resource wisely. This applies not just in currency but also literally in time and effort. Is it “worth it” to spend some currency on a retest right now or save the currency, time, and effort for something coming up. It’s an interesting model of taking not just retesting seriously but also our own time and effort.
Putting it all together
Better retests starts with having students take responsibility for their own learning. Whether it be earning the right to write a retest by working on review packages or determining whether or not putting the time and effort into preparing for a retest is worth it, students need to address these questions. That way, retesting is no longer just about a test – but also about how to approach learning in general. If you want to join our discussion group, our group is Super Science Teacher’s Co-Lab under Facebook groups. If you want a quick checklist of the tips I’ve provided, click on the handouts link below and enter your email address. We’ll also add you to our email list where you’ll receive our newsletter and updates.
Until next time, keep it REAL.