Re-assessing is a logical, common sense practice, communicating to students, “We expect you to use the feedback to relearn and then show us what you know now.” This has raised the issue of fairness. Some teachers express the belief that it is not fair to other students – students who passed the test the first time – when we allow multiple opportunities for students to take a test. And some teachers feel that we are not teaching responsibility when we allow multiple opportunities.
We all have an important decision to make because of a firm commitment to all students learning at high levels and a firm commitment to only one chance to demonstrate that learning is entirely incompatible. We all recognize, as parents, caregivers, and/or teachers, that children rarely learn at the same rate and in the same manner. To terminate instruction at an arbitrary date and suggest that learning of that content is at an end, and the one-time opportunity to demonstrate mastery is upon us, defies common sense.
But what about teaching responsibility? It is our position that responsibility is better taught by demanding that students persevere until they succeed than by giving them only one chance to do so. What are we teaching students when we communicate that they don’t have to actually learn the content once they’ve failed that first test – that they are off the hook and need not keep trying?
Does it not teach responsibility when we demand that students keep up with the new concepts and receive additional support on the old concepts until they reach the level of understanding needed for them to be successful? We are teaching perseverance; we are insisting that they learn how to learn, and continuously strive to improve. The “real world” in which there are no second chances for which some teachers think they are preparing students is a myth.
Colleges and universities increasingly embed multiple layers of support for students – they want high retention rates and are committed to equity and access. Careers have always provided multiple opportunities to enter professions: multiple chances to pass the state teaching exam; multiple opportunities to pass the bar; multiple opportunities to revise the thesis or dissertation. It’s not easy, and it will take collaborative action to design a system that provides remediation and allows for additional chances to take assessments. However, we cannot continue to defend a stance that denies the reality of the ways and rates at which individuals learn. It is disingenuous, or worse, to craft mission statements that promise high levels of learning for all if we retain the fine print that expresses that there will be no second chances for the 5- to 18-year-olds we serve.
Our district has been inspired by the high school math teacher, Matthew Beyranevand. The author of the blog, “Math with Matthew,” he’s a Global Math Project Ambassador, the K-12 Mathematics Department Coordinator for the Chelmsford Public Schools, a member of Massachusetts STEM Advisory Council, and the author of “Teach Math Like This, Not Like That.” His blog, “Retaking Assessments: Many math teachers are late to the party!” described his sustainable and successful process that so many of my district’s teachers are using in slightly modified forms.
Matthew starts with a belief to which I wholeheartedly subscribe: All assessments can and should be formative; that is, the feedback we get from the evidence students provide should be used to inform future instruction…and to provide feedback to students. The concepts in the “next” unit almost always build upon the concepts in the “last” unit. By not committing to relearning and reassessment, we are pretty obviously setting up students and ourselves for failure. Matthew starts by assigning students a reflection ticket, which requires them to reflect upon why errors were made. Our teachers are using various forms of exam wrap and test correction processes that similarly achieve the goal: Students are required to identify the learning target with which they need support and begin to analyze why the target was missed. Matthew then requires students to seek and receive assistance. Each of our district schools have tutorial times within which this support can be received. We are also increasingly assigning Khan Academy (and related personalized, online tools) lessons with which students can engage in targeted relearning. Matthew also requires that students complete any and all missing work from the unit. Then, any student who scored 20% to 90% on the first attempt can re-assess. And importantly, the new grade is the new grade, no averaging. Teachers in our district are following very similar procedures. We are working out the kinks and striving for both success and sustainability. But, we are committed to finding a solution; we’re not going back.
On last common sense idea on feedback. By the end of a semester or school year, students have given us a lot of feedback. What if we systematically recorded this evidence and systematically forwarded this feedback to next semester’s or next year’s teachers? How much more prepared would we be to support all students to success through scaffolds and differentiated supports? How much earlier in the year could we provide intensive supports when the feedback from the prior year reveals significant needs? This is a low-cost, highly effective form of universal screening, and it can and should inform proactively prepared Tier 1 instruction and Tier 3 intervention. It’s common sense and it’s based on feedback that students give to us and, in this case, feedback that we give to our colleagues.
Assessments – big and small, simple and complex, formal and informal – are events during which students give us feedback. We are committed to more accurately and intentionally gathering that feedback and in turn give students feedback about where they are and what they need to do to grow. And, we’re giving them the time and support to make the growth and the opportunities to show how us that they’ve made the growth.