When I was little, my family and I used to play a lot of board games. My mom had a policy when we played basically any game – she called it “taking a cheat” but it was essentially a do-over on a turn that we weren’t happy with. We each got one “cheat” per game and had to use it judiciously and kindly. It wasn’t to ruin the game for another person, but a respite from rolling, say, four “lose your turns” in a row. While it sounds dishonest, I loved my mom’s policy of “taking a cheat” – it made the game feel more fair somehow, like it leveled the proverbial playing field, because everyone had that one opportunity for a do-over.
I started thinking about my mom’s rule recently when I read a post in a Facebook group for French teachers. The original poster was wondering about other members’ policies regarding assessment retakes, and one member commented something to the effect that retakes are unfair because when everyone has the chance to get an A, that dilutes the success of the students who did well the first time around.
Insert record-scratching sound here.
I’m not trying to be judgmental and I didn’t respond to that teacher’s comment because I recognize not everyone is at the same place in the journey to become a great teacher, whatever that looks like for each of us personally. Heck, I used to be of a similar mindset – no retakes! There are no retakes in college, after all! You had your chance, you clearly didn’t do well enough, and you have to live with the grade that you earned!
In all honesty, I am ashamed of past me when I think about that attitude, especially because my current perspective could not be any more different. Sure, most college classes don’t allow the students to retake assessments (that’s another can of worms, but whatever) but aren’t I preparing my students for life after high school? Let’s think for a second about some of the major tests of adolescence and adulthood that can be retaken – multiple times, even:
- Driver’s test
- The ACT or SAT
- Medical board exams or the NCLEX for nurses
- Teacher certification tests
- The Bar exam
And guess what? There’s no note that goes on your test results saying “retaken X times.” A driver’s license obtained on the second try is just as valid as one obtained the first time around, and it certainly doesn’t invalidate the success of someone who passed on the first try. Who cares?
Per my syllabus, I allow my students to re-take any assessment that does not hit at minimum the “Approaching Expectations” criteria of my rubric (a C grade). Honestly, though? If a student who had gotten an 80% on an assessment came to me and said, “Mademoiselle, I really think I could do better, can I retake that assessment?” I would probably say yes. Who am I to discourage a student from wanting to do better?
Many advocates of assessment retakes (that I have encountered, anyway, CERTAINLY not all of them) operate on the belief that “everyone has a bad day – grant them grace.” I don’t disagree with that, but I’d like to encourage you to consider something a little deeper. Prohibiting students from retaking failed assessments sends a message – a dangerous one – that if you don’t acquire knowledge or skills at the same rate as your peers, you will not be successful.
Marinate on that for a second. If, like me, you believe that all students are individuals and that they are fundamentally different and unique, why would you want to penalize them for living up to that principle? If we truly want to foster true student growth, what better way than to offer them the opportunity to say, At first I didn’t understand X, but now I can prove that I do? Isn’t that what growth is all about?
Just some food for thought. Bonne continuation!