During my first few years teaching, I followed the lead of other teachers and adopted their quiz retake policies. I tried a few different options, but never felt like I had settled on one I fully agreed with. I found myself saying to my students, “those are the rules.” Then I realized, I hated that answer. And I realized it was my classroom and I had to claim this as my policy. Shouldn’t I agree with my own policy? As long as any changes were approved by my department head, I could make adjustments! After one interaction with one student, and one conversation with my department, I realized I wasn’t alone in my discomfort. My colleagues and I have come to a general consensus over the past few years, which involves a corrections policy rather than a retake policy. I will give you some background to explain how it works, how we got there, and why we were so motivated to make a change in the middle of the year.
Year 1: Taking Advantage?
During my first year teaching, I implemented a complete retake policy for anyone who received a failing grade. They were given another chance at the quiz after school, and I would take the new grade. I was told this policy had worked for other teachers in my department, and I truly didn’t give it much thought. As a new teacher I was taking advice from anywhere and everywhere. And I was so grateful to work with people who were willing to guide me and share with me. But out of everything I tried during that first year, this is something that didn’t feel quite right. The retake policy left me with a few problems; I felt that some students were taking advantage, even saying out loud “If I don’t do well I will just make sure I fail so I can retake it next week for a new grade.” Hearing that was a wakeup call that this was not an ideal strategy for student learning. I also struggled with a few students who would actually receive a lower grade the second time around. They weren’t taking their review time seriously, because they saw the retake as a “given.” Was I supposed to give them the lower grade? Or the original grade? Should I be averaging the two grades?
The argument on giving the new grade was that our overall goal is proficiency; so if we want students to perform well and communicate, we should award them the better grade once they have earned it. But what happened when they took advantage, or when the grade was lower!? I had too many questions after my first year.
Year 2: Just OK
The following year, I was in a new school. My first year had been as a long term sub, and so during my second year I found myself in a new but similar district. I asked around to see what the department policy was. Again, many teachers (but not all) in the department followed one policy. Theirs was similar to the one I had originally tried; students could retake a quiz if they scored under a 70%, and they would receive the average of their two grades. Some teachers gave the new grade, and some gave the average of the two. I opted to give the average of the two grades, since that’s what *most* teachers seemed to be doing and since that would eliminate the issue (or at least lessen the blow) of a student who received a lower grade the second time. This policy seemed to work OK for me that year.
Year 3: Eye-opening
My third year teaching, I actually moved one last time. I had been so happy in my first district and even though I had been a long term sub I had been treated like family. I knew what a supportive environment/department head looked like. I hadn’t quite found that in my second district, and so I took a risk to teach in a larger, more urban district that had amazing technology and was offering me a few coaching opportunities. My first two schools had been public (but a regional school in upper middle class and then a public high school known as an “academy….” so they were both fairly close to private/privileged.) My third district has now been “my school” for 6 years. It is my home.
At the start of the year, I implemented the policy that I had felt was OK from the previous year. “Students who receive under a 70% can retake for an average of the two grades.”
One day during a discussion of retake dates, an honors student raised his hand. I had a mixed class of honors and CP students. This boy had never received under an 85% in my class, but he brought up a very good point. This is how the conversation went, to the best of my 5-year-ago memory:
S: I have a question. If someone receives a 74% on a quiz, they can’t retake it, right? But if someone receives a 69%, they CAN.
Me: Yes, exactly.
S: So if the student that got a 69% studies and retakes the quiz and gets a 90%, their new grade is about an 80% since you average the two quiz grades, the original and the retake.
Me: Yes that sounds right.
S: So the student who had time to study and retake the quiz ends up with a grade much higher than the student who wasn’t allowed a second chance. That doesn’t seem fair.
Me: Actually…..You are right. Again. That doesn’t seem very fair. This is something I really need to think about.
Time for immediate change… yes mid-year.
My mind was blown. I was so upset with myself for not realizing this before. How was that fair? Students who received between a 70 and 75 would OFTEN ask to retake, but I would tell them “Under a 70% allows a retake, sorry that’s the rule!” But…. what!? WHY??
I brought this issue to my department, and I remember talking to a few teachers about it. None of us had ever considered the point that my student had made. But we all agreed that it truly didn’t seem fair. I honestly forget who opened my eyes to the new policy that a few of us decided to try immediately. My interest was sparked after the question from that student, and I think another teacher in my department suggested I try this instead. Maybe we adapted it from another department in our school? Or maybe we read it online somewhere? I wish I remembered where we got it from, so that I could give credit! All I do remember is that I went to class the next day with an answer for my students. This was an answer I finally felt confident about.
We decided: Any student can make corrections to any quiz, to earn half of their points back.
There is no “grade limit” that you have to fall below in order to earn this chance. Any student can come in for this opportunity. If a student earned a 70% originally, they can earn an 85% max. If a student got an 80%, they can raise their grade to a 90%. And if a student originally got a 92%? Yes, they can come raise that grade to a 96%.
Notice that this is no longer a full retake. This matters for lots of reasons and I’ll explain below.
- These corrections still have to be done on student time. This means before or after school. No, you cannot make quiz corrections during our warm-up. You need to put in the time to review and prepare, and come to me when you are ready.
- You have 2 weeks from the original quiz date to do this. I try to enter quiz grades into our online system within a few days for this reason; I want to be fair to my students and give them the chance to take advantage of quiz corrections. I do not allow a pile of quiz corrections at the end of the term. “No, you cannot cram and correct every quiz from this quarter. You can only correct assessments from within the past two weeks.” You could absolutely adjust this timeline to what you think is reasonable for your students.
- When a student plans to come for quiz corrections, they must schedule it with me beforehand. They cannot just show up and demand their quiz– they must show me that they have been planning and preparing. I may ask to see extra practice they have done in order to prepare.
- When they enter the room for corrections, I hand them their original quiz along with a colored pen. I may give them a green, purple, or pink pen. Any color that is different from what they wrote with originally, and different from the color that I used to grade that day.
- Students are directed to correct any answers they can, by simply writing the correct answer AND explaining their new answer in the margin. They can do this by explaining why they made the original mistake, or by giving a piece of evidence that they used to get the correct answer. For me to consider the new answer, they must write something. I tell them to think of math class, where they have to show their work! The explanation piece is key, because without it there is no way for a student to fairly earn their point back for correcting a true/false question etc. They could also completely guess on multiple choice questions, when they are supposed to be showing that they have studied and improved their knowledge.
- After they correct their quiz, they are expected to sit and discuss it with me. This means they cannot drop their corrections on my desk and walk out of the room. If I am working with a few students that day, they know they have to wait. Yes, this is their time. And yes, I expect them to give me their time for this privilege of corrections. I go over their quiz corrections and explanations with them, and we discuss any areas that are still areas of need. I show them their new grade before they leave, and they are able to immediately see the value in the extra time and work they put in.
- You decide whether every correction is worth a point, or whether they must correct their quiz truly to a 100% to earn their individual max grade. Personally, I count every correction as a point. So if a student with a 70% comes and makes corrections, as long as they pass the 85% they have earned that grade in my eyes. They don’t need a perfect score to get to that 85%.
A small teaching benefit of this policy: as I am grading quizzes, I do not correct the mistakes. I simply mark the answer wrong. That way, the student has the chance to make their corrections. In writing, I use shorthand such as VT for verb tense, VF for verb form, SP for spelling or a ^ if a word is missing, but I am no longer editing their writing for them like I was doing before. This was so time consuming and I didn’t realize it! This policy has actually helped to streamline my grading.
Another benefit? There is no fear of a lower grade the second time around. Students can only improve. Sometimes they may only improve from a 75% to a 80%, but that is still progress! And the discussion / reflection piece usually leads to more improvements in the future.
This policy ALSO takes the pressure off of the teacher to make a new quiz anytime someone has to do a retake. I was tired of Quiz A and Quiz B. Was I supposed to make the retake harder? The same difficulty? Why was I making TWO quizzes!? Gah!
**Something to consider** Will you give quizzes back to the students in between the quiz day and the corrections deadline? I often enter the quiz grades into the computer, but I do not give the actual quiz back to the student so that they cannot simply study their quiz (or study the quiz of a friend who did better…)
Another option is giving back the quizzes but having students immediately place them in their student folders, which never leave the room. That way they can *glance* at their quiz and take note of what skills they need to review for corrections, but they don’t have time to study the exact quiz. When I do this, phones and iPads are required to stay AWAY while folders are out. Students are generally pretty good about this, but again use your judgement for your class 🙂
As long as your department head / principal approves, I think you should be able to make adjustments to find what works for your students! Don’t assume that the first idea you’ve tried is the best for your students. We are allowed to reflect and make changes based on our (or our students’) observations. Maybe you think my beloved policy stinks! And that’s fine! I want you to find what works for YOUR STUDENTS. You and I most likely have different teaching styles, just like our students have very different learning styles.
Just as we differ as individuals, every district is different and has different needs. In my district, it is important that we feed our students’ buy-in and investment in their own education. We work to keep them engaged in the process– this means that my students need to understand exactly what is expected of them. They want to know exactly how they can take responsibility for their learning outcomes. And, they want to know why rules are the way that they are. They will not passively accept the “that’s the way it is” line, and I don’t blame them. Many of my students are the first to graduate high school or the first that plan to go to college, whether it be community or private. I want them to feel valued and heard within their educational journey.
Many (most? all?) teachers in my department now implement this corrections policy, and we have never looked back. We had multiple discussions at department meetings about our personal corrections policies; we openly discussed what we liked and what didn’t work for us. We talked about why most didn’t seem quite “fair.” Then we worked together and settled on the policy that I love so much today.
Since making the changes to my corrections policy, I have absolutely noticed more engagement in assessments and an increased amount of students striving to do the best that they can. Some teachers might not like that a student comes to make corrections for just a few points (for example, if they scored a 90 but want to get to a 95) but I actually love that. They are voluntarily studying, reviewing, and putting in their own time after school to better themselves. I also get to know students better after school, which then leads to more class participation and engagement overall. Why would I ever say no to that?
Thank you for reading!