Month: March 2015

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