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I've been teaching high school math for over 20 years. I write about my experiences here and also share activities that I have done with my classes that have been successful (and some that have been not so successful).
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How to do Retakes or Test Corrections in Your Math Class



Sometimes, as a teacher, you come across a book (or books) that really make you feel both seen and called out.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

For me, three of those books are: 

Mathematical Mindsets and Grading for Equity have helped me to realize a few things:
  • students should not be judged on one test that they took on one day
  • students learn at different paces
  • students should be allowed to learn from their mistakes and improve their understanding.

Teachers create a supportive environment that encourages growth and fosters a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts by allowing students to revisit assessments and rectify errors. And, frankly, all teachers should strive for that!

I took it upon myself to interview several teachers at my school about their retakes or test corrections policies. I also read many discussions about this in different math teacher Facebook groups.

This blog post is a summary of my findings (from my very informal research 😃)

Retake or Corrections?

Whether you allow students to do test corrections or retake an entire test depends on your teaching philosophy, goals, and what your school/department/teaching team will allow.

Defining the terms

For the sake of this blog post, I will define a retake as a student re-doing an entire assessment (or standard if you're doing Standards Based Grading).  Whether or not the retake is identical to, similar but with different numbers, or more challenging than the first test is up to you, the teacher.

Test corrections involve the students correcting any problems they got wrong on a test and then turning it back in to be re-graded. Whether or not you allow the student to use their notes (I think you should) on the test corrections or give the student back full or half credit is a choice you can make.

First, I will discuss retakes, then test corrections. Click on this link to jump directly to test corrections.

Retakes

When determining your policy on retakes, you must consider three key factors: what conditions the student must meet, the time limit, and how the score will be calculated.  Below are some of the policies that teachers have used.

conditions

  • a student may only retake a test that they failed the first time
  • a student may retake any and all assessments
  • a student may only retake X assessments per semester
  • a student may only retake a test - not a quiz
  • a student may only retake an assessment once
  • a student may retake an assessment at most 3 times
  • a student must attend tutorial to discuss their errors with the teacher or perhaps even do corrections
  • a student must have completed all of the unit's homework before doing a retake
  • a student must have their parent sign a document to request a retake

time limit

  • a student must complete the retake before the next assessment
  • a student must complete the retake within 4 school days
  • a student must complete the retake within 2 weeks

calculating the score

  • a student gets the score on the retake, whether it's higher or lower than the original test
  • a student gets only the higher of the two scores
  • a student gets an average of the original score and the retake score
  • the maximum score a student can get on a retake is 90%
  • the maximum score a student can get on a retake is 70% (or whatever is considered passing at your school)

Pitfalls with retakes

If there are little to no conditions required and/or if the student always gets the higher score, students may try to take advantage of the system; they will not take the assessment seriously the first time because "they can always retake it." 

To avoid students exploiting the system, I recommend making the students jump through some hoops before they can do a retake. Make students do *something* before a retake so that it cuts down on your workload - many students will choose not to do a retake simply because they don't want to meet the conditions you have set up.

Other ways to allow students to show mastery

The purpose behind retakes is to allow students to show growth or mastery of a topic. Here are some other ideas for allowing students to demonstrate growth.

Do weekly quizzes with retakes built-in

  • I did this at one of the schools where I taught. We were on standards-based grading. We had quizzes every Wednesday. We did not do tests.
    • They took about 20 minutes, then students graded themselves (I didn't like that part because there was too much room for cheating). 
    • On week 1, the quiz covered standard 1. On week 2, the quiz covered standards 1 and 2. On week 3, the quiz covered standards 1, 2, and 3. Week 4 covered standards 2 and 3.  
    • We had about 10 standards per semester. Each standard was assessed about 3 times in class. If, after 3 times of being assessed in class, the student still was not satisfied with their progress, they could come in during lunch to do a retake on a specific standard.  
  • I liked this system because I didn't have to deal with too many out-of-class retakes since they were built in for everybody each week. I also liked that students were constantly being assessed because it put a bit of pressure on them - very few of my students did any homework because it was a district policy not to grade homework. Read my blog post about grading homework.
  • As already mentioned, I didn't love the self-grading piece. At the beginning of the semester, when I had them grade themselves, I graded them myself anyway. And it was a lot of grading. The quizzes were usually only 2 pages (one piece of paper front and back), but I had over 100 to grade each week. Then it took time to record them all in the gradebook.

First draft, second draft

Grade the test the first time as a "first draft."  Only write comments on the paper, do not show where the student made the error. Return the papers to the students and let them attempt the same test a second time and the tests get graded and scored.  I like this idea, but it seems that it would take 2 class periods just to do one test: one class for the first draft and one class for the second draft.

Two part tests

The first part of the test is content that most students should have mastered. This part is graded and recorded. The second part is not scored; only written feedback is given. For the next test, what was the second part is now the first part, and so on.
I like this idea because it could incorporate a lot of spiral questions.



Test Corrections

Just like with retakes, you need to consider 3 things when you set up your policy: what conditions the student must meet, the time limit, and how the score will be calculated.

Below are some of the policies that teachers have used.

conditions

  • a student must correct the entire test - not just the questions they missed
  • a student should only correct the questions they got wrong
  • corrections are required
  • corrections are optional
  • students may work together (and the answer key is readily available to them)
  • students must work individually
  • students must do the corrections in the classroom before school, after school, or during lunch
  • students must complete a pre-made document where they write the question, the correct answer, and an explanation of their mistake

time limit

  • students must complete the corrections within 7 calendar days of the tests being returned
  • students must complete the corrections before the next assessment

calculating the score

  • the corrections are graded for accuracy
  • the corrections are graded for completion (and the answer key is readily available to them)
  • the corrections count as a homework grade
  • the corrections count as a bonus grade
  • students can earn back half of the points they missed. e.g., if a student earned 70% the first time, they could earn up to 15 points back for a maximum score of 85% on the original test
  • students can earn back all of the points they missed



Advantages of Retakes or Test Corrections:

  • Promotes a Growth Mindset: Allowing students to revise their work fosters a growth mindset, emphasizing that mistakes are opportunities for improvement rather than permanent failures.
  • Reinforces Learning: Reviewing and correcting errors helps solidify understanding, allowing students to identify misconceptions, address gaps in knowledge, and reinforce mathematical concepts.
  • Increases Engagement: Offering retakes or test corrections demonstrates that you value student learning and support their progress. This can motivate students to take ownership of their education and engage more actively in the learning process.

 

Possible Pitfalls:

  • Time Constraints: Implementing retakes or test corrections may consume valuable class time, potentially affecting the pace at which new material can be covered. You must balance providing opportunities for improvement and maintaining the curriculum's progression.
  • Incentivizing Minimal Effort: Some students may see the opportunity for retakes as a chance to put minimal effort into their initial assessments, knowing they can improve later. You should clearly communicate that retakes are intended for genuine learning and improvement, not as a substitute for diligent preparation.
  • Managing Logistics: Administering retakes or test corrections can be logistically challenging, particularly in larger classes. You must organize and track multiple sets of assessments, ensure the integrity of the process, and provide individualized support to students who require it.
  • Double Grading: Letting a student take a test more than once can be a lot of work. One of my colleagues refused to do retakes because she didn't want to "grade the test twice." With test corrections, if you have students do them on a separate piece of paper, it can be frustrating to read their work and compare it to the answer key - you could be flipping pages around a lot which slows down the whole grading process.


Conclusion

Retakes or test corrections in math classes can be a powerful tool for fostering student growth, promoting deeper understanding, and encouraging engagement. By carefully determining the conditions, time frame, and grade calculation method, you can create a policy that works for you and adjust it in the future if necessary.