Retakes: Tips on Successful Implementation

by Mike Melie

What is the biggest challenge for a teacher who agrees philosophically with the idea of offering retakes? Is it convincing students of the benefits of proving their mastery of the material, even on a second try? Is it coming to terms with the fact that a teacher-student partnership in the learning process is a radical (and positive) departure from traditional, lecture-based instruction? Or maybe the fact that students can gain a sense of confidence and independence with each success brought about by a successful retake? Actually, in many cases, the biggest challenge for educators is not necessarily the acceptance of the concept of retakes but rather the implementation of retakes on a daily basis.

Possibilities for Offering Retakes

According to teachers in District 99 who offer retakes, there are several important elements to consider when setting up this type of opportunity for students. One is having a clear procedure in place that students need to follow in order to qualify for a retake – in other words, not all students should automatically be eligible for one. Students need to prove that they are ready for the retake for the right reasons and that they have prepared accordingly. A second consideration is fostering a systematic reflection by students in which they set goals and explain how they plan to be more successful in mastering the material the second time around. Here are some quick “starter” ideas from teachers that we’ve talked to who give retakes:

  • For a retake, retain the same quiz format, learning targets, and skills, but modify your questions – students should see the same skills but with different material from the first version of the assessment.
  • Organize your assessments in sections that are each based around a specific learning target/objective/essential question. That way, a student can look at a returned assessment and know exactly what skills he or she should work on – the sections where he or she missed the most points are the places to focus on for the retake. Then the retake you offer only has to be a few questions long – i.e., a specific “skill section” of your original test rather than a new version of the entire test. This will cut down on your grading time and efficiency with managing retakes.
  • Use retake petitions – have students apply for retakes by demonstrating their reflection, preparation, and readiness for a retake. Remember that not all kids should automatically be allowed a retake unless they can prove that they’re doing it to master essential learning targets.
  • Students must complete and correct specific work before being allowed a retake.
  • Set clear deadlines – allow students to experience the natural consequence of not meeting deadlines.
  • Make it a learning experience – have meaningful conversations with your students about the learning process, their study habits, and ways they can master the material in the future. Sometimes a formal conversation of this type can qualify as your actual retake!
  • Use your online gradebook to track progress; consider entering retakes in place of a student’s original grade for an assessment or as a separate category that can replace the student’s original score.
  • Organize your class in a portfolio format – students can make corrections and changes to their work according to your guidelines up until the final, summative due date.

Have Clear Expectations to Help You to Stay Organized
The common thread that runs through our conversations with teachers who give retakes is to have a straightforward, clear procedure in place and to stick to that procedure. Explain your policy to students at the beginning of the year and follow through on it. Have everything ready before you offer retakes, and most importantly, know what you want to accomplish. Remember that the purpose of a retake is for students to demonstrate their mastery of core skills, and that the bulk of the work in this process should fall on the students (not the teacher!) as students try to prove their readiness for a retake. Retakes can be a powerful learning tool, especially if organized in a manageable way. For examples of handouts and procedures that teachers in District 99 have used for retakes, click on the “Resources” tab at the top of the blog above.


Retakes: A Good Idea

by Mike Melie

“I don’t offer retests. There is no such thing as a retest. Tests cease to be tests if students can just do them over again.” When I first read this quote from Myron Dueck’s book Grading Smarter, Not Harder: Assessment Strategies That Motivate Kids and Help Them Learn, I was thrown off. I immediately thought that Dueck was throwing the idea of assessment retakes out the window, and then I realized that there was an important distinction being made between two simple words: retest and retake. The difference between these terms is important to consider when thinking about incorporating retakes into classroom practice; a retest is simply giving the same assessment over again, while a retake asks students to demonstrate mastery of essential learning goals.

Why Give Retakes?

According to Rick Wormeli in his online video, “Assessment and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom”, the first and most important factor in offering retakes is the idea of hope. He uses the metaphor of being a teacher who sees a student at the bottom of a deep “hole” consisting of their poor grade. The teacher has the choice of either shouting accusatory remarks such as, “Hey! What are you doing?!? Get out of there!” or using a retake as a “lifeline” to help the student out and into the light. A retake can therefore be seen as a way to motivate students to try again and to demonstrate their mastery of skills after a period of reflection.

Also, as Wormeli states, the “real world” is not a place of constant one-shot, high-stakes moments. In fact, most people need to practice for a long time before entering into those stressful types of situations. Retakes help students to get ready for the “real world” outside of school by allowing them to practice, perhaps fail, and then try again, much in the same way that most training takes place. Carol Dweck labels this idea of turning failure into a positive opportunity the defining characteristic of a growth mindset: “A ‘growth mindset’… thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.”  This concept stands in contrast to the fixed mindset, in which a person believes that intelligence and ability are set in stone and cannot be changed; a fixed mindset can lead to feelings of hopelessness, defensiveness, and defeat. Obviously our work as educators is to support students in their shift to a growth mindset so that they can overcome difficulties in a positive way. They can then view failures as stepping stones rather than roadblocks.

The Student-Teacher Partnership

Retakes offer students a chance to deepen their mastery of core learning targets. And in the process of moving towards positive achievement, students take ownership of their learning and work more closely with their teacher in a partnership. This sense of increased responsibility together with the “teacher-as-coach” model can help students to feel in charge. This sense of control, the “I can do it!” mentality, is often a crucial step in disposition for a student, when the spark of intrinsic motivation flashes to life. A student’s behavior can potentially turn around at this point when he or she realizes that this first instance of success can lead to even more success. Students can then move ahead to the next unit of study with a more positive disposition – a growth mindset that they can and will reach their goals.

Activities and learning goals 

by Joette Conger

Teachers know that students need practice in order to learn.  Students, however, don’t always connect practice activities to learning.  One of a teacher’s responsibilities is to plan learning activities.

When we align our specific learning goals with activities, students can more easily connect practice to learning.   For example, I wanted students to be able to explain how a claim (thesis statement) controls the structure of an essay, a complex goal.  I had students  work in small groups to evaluate a set of student-generated claims and choose the best one.  Then the same group of students developed topic sentences for the best claim.  Finally they reflected on how the ideas in the claim controlled the ideas in the topic sentences–they wrote about how the activity helped them achieve the learning goal.

In the model below, I’ve aligned activities with learning goals to show students what they are to learn from each activity.


  1. Study  model topic sentences
  2. Compare my topic sentences  to  the model topic sentences
  3. Writing groups meet, exchange paragraphs, use rubric to give  each other targeted advice about changes.
  4. Plan changes to my writing.

Learning goals

  1. I can describe the ingredients of topic sentences
  2. I can compare my writing to a rubric to decide what to revise.
  3. I can use the writing process to revise.

In an Educational Leadership article entitled “Learning Targets on Parade” Susan Brookhart discusses separating activities and learning goals.  She says when teachers  align goals and activities, they begin to “see activities they select as samples from among all the other possible things students could do to learn today’s lesson, rather than as the purpose for the lesson itself.”  Teachers who align activities with goals understand that activities are not an end, but a means to learning.  And sharing that alignment with students helps them understand what they are to learn from classroom activities.

In District 99 instructional coaches are available in each building to help teachers think through their learning goals or revise/develop assessments. Contact Joette Conger or Isabelle Menke at DGS and Mike Melie at DGN.

Welcome to D99Assessment!

Hello! We are three teachers and instructional coaches who work in Community High School District 99 in Downers Grove, IL. Mike Melie, Joette Conger, and Isabelle Menke all believe strongly in using assessments to help students to reflect on their progress, set realistic goals, and grow as learners; for us, these concepts are grounded in the research of Stiggins, Chappuis, Hattie, Wormeli, and others.

This blog is dedicated to sharing ideas about how teachers can use the purposeful design of learning targets, formative and summative assessments, and rubrics to provide constructive feedback for students so that they can improve and succeed. We plan to post tips, documents, and lesson plans that anyone can use to help their instructional practice, and we welcome dialogue about these and other ideas! Our number one goal is to make this blog a practical and helpful site for teachers to apply what we’ve seen in our experience as best practice in their own classrooms.

Thanks and we look forward to sharing what we’ve found with you!

Mike, Joette, and Isabelle