Monday, 20 February 2012

Should students be allowed a retest?

I’ve undergone a renaissance in my philosophy to this question. The bottom line is, and I’ve always believed, that if students do not test above a certain percent proficiency, say 70%, a teacher has not done their job. In that line of thinking, it only makes sense that we allow students to retest over and over until they demonstrate proficiency and perhaps even raise their poor grade in the process.
We had a great workshop earlier in the year with “David Suarez” a teacher at Jakarta International School who ran into the problem of having 50% of the class sit a retest. Why didn’t those students prepare ahead of time? Because they knew they’d be given a second, third and fourth chance. There is an operation of schools (I won’t mention their name) that believe that a student should have as long as they need to demonstrate mastery of a subject. However, although some students there take months to demonstrate this and it drags on an on. Is that how we engender student responsibility? It seems like a recipe for breeding lethargy and sloth.

Suarez makes a good argument: “Retesting is a privilege, not a right. Although we never deny the opportunity to relearn material, we may deny the opportunity to retest.” Students have to demonstrate and practice their student skills. We cannot place lack of student learning solely on the teacher as the student is inherently the learner. A teacher is a facilitator, and can lead the horse to water but cannot make them drink. If a teacher has helped the student identify what they need to review prior to a test and the student chooses not to do this, how can the teacher be at fault? Who do we want to inevitably be responsible for a student’s learning, the teacher, or the student them self?

In this context, we have allowed retesting on a case-by-case basis. For starters, it is only allowed for students that take advanced (Blue Level) assessments and their work leading up to the assessment must be sound. I have denied students a retest on the basis of poor practice test scores as the test was clearly too difficult and they shouldv’e chosen the standard (Green Level) assessment. I want students to make good choices, not think that they are entitled to the world and think that their teachers can be easily manipulated. I see this happen too often.

An assessment is a snapshot of what a student knew about that content area at one particular time. If a student does poorly, it should be a call to action: reminding them of the importance of asking for help when needed. If a parent sees that Johnny got a “C” on a test as the result of third retest, they may not feel the matter requires action. If Johnny got an “F” and that is non-negotiable the parent will stand up and take notice. This is what we need especially at the middle school level to help get students “on track” for the rigors of high school. Better to have a rude awakening in middle school where GPA resets every semester rather than in high school when it’s cumulative over four years.