A grading debate: Pros and cons of reassessments
Monday, February 12, 2018
It is a typical day at my New Hampshire high school, and I am observing a biology class. The teacher is returning a recent assessment to her students that they completed on ecosystems. Students are reviewing the teacher's feedback and their grades on the assessment, as noted on the rubric they had been given in advance.
The rubric breaks the assignment into several transferable skills and objectives (we call these competencies) and explains, in student-friendly language, what it means for a student to perform on that skill/objective at a limited proficient, basic proficient, proficient or exemplary level. Students were asked to complete a self-reflection, comparing their work to the rubric and identifying ways they could improve it that could potentially bring their grade to the next level.
Students were given the option to complete a reassessment plan with the teacher, a plan that detailed what they would do to improve their learning, and by what date. The teacher met one-on-one with students to sign off on their plans.
The teacher in this class was demonstrating a typical way that she makes use of the schoolwide reassessment policy, which allows students the ability to reassess any major assessment provided they complete a plan with their teacher. At my school, when students complete a reassessment, the new grade replaces the old grade, regardless of whether the new grade is lower or higher than the first one.
Reassessments are a growing trend in classrooms across our country, and my school is not unique in its use of this grading reform practice. Proponents of these types of grading practices subscribe to the belief that grades need to be a true and accurate measure of what students know and are able to do.
In his 2005 Stenhouse Publisher book "Fair is Not Always Equal," author and teacher Rick Wormeli talks about how reassessments are one way to help teachers align grades with learning outcomes. He expands upon this and other grading reform ideas in a series of YouTube videos. In this one, for example, he talks at length about the purpose of redos, retakes and do-overs in classrooms.
However, not all share Wormeli's view on the effectiveness of a reassessment strategy. In this recent Washington Post article, parent Julie Scagell asks whether offering reassessments makes kids less resilient.
"As a parent I wonder what the (reassessment) policy teaches children about responsibility, ownership and preparedness," she writes. "When it comes time for college, employment, relationships or marriage, they won't always get a 'do-over,' so why are so many schools allowing them?"
She goes on to state, "Some parents feel retakes provide a safety net before testing even occurs, which could make students less inclined to put forth their best effort the first time. They may also create an atmosphere where students and parents consistently demand another chance when they disagree with a grade."
Scagell then sets the stage for the idea that when students rely too heavily on a safety net of a reassessment option, resilience starts to decline, and this will impact a child's future.
"Still, some parents remain concerned that the option of a retake every time a test is given could hinder a child's future success," she writes. "Self-discipline isn't easy."
Opponents of reassessments often suggest that they do not prepare kids for their future because in life, there are no redos. Wormeli pushes back on this, suggesting that redos are a normal part of life.
Nearly every certification and licensure test, for example, provide test takers with an option for a redo. This includes driving tests, teacher license tests and plumbing license tests. To dispel this falsehood he once wrote, "Lawyers who finally pass the bar exam on their second or third attempt are not limited to practicing law only on Tuesdays."
Scagell's Washington Post article raises a different issue with reassessment. She makes an assumption that an academic grade actually serves two purposes — one being to document learning and the other to promote effective work study practices (in this case, resilience).
I think these two purposes are mutually exclusive, which means the workaround would be to assign students two separate grades — one to represent what they know and are able to do, the other to assess important work study practices. In this 2016 MultiBriefs Exclusive, I write more about how schools can effectively assess work study practices without compromising the academic purity of a grade.
Many teachers with effective reassessment strategies have come to understand that some of the best learning happens when students are asked to reflect on their own learning and think about what they can do to take it to the next level.
Self-reflection and continuous self-improvement are lifelong skills that students will need to be successful in life. Reassessments are one way to help students hone those important skills.
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