Reassessment: Making it work for you and your students

If your school has adopted a reassessment policy, it is likely a point of contention for many teachers. I recall fondly the faculty debates between our most passionate teachers during our school’s transition to standards-based grading. The enjoyment of listening to the drama of the back-and-forth almost made up for the extra early morning meeting imposed on everyone.

Although there were exceptions, what I found to be generally true in our small representation of international educators, was that people were philosophically supportive of reassessment but disagreed quite a bit about the logistics of how it was done.

I am not convinced you can ever get a room full of educators to agree on the logistics of any grading policy. There are always going to be arguments made about countless specific examples, some of which might be of questionable frequency. Ultimately I have found that the majority of arguments against a reassessment policy are based on either these specific student examples that realistically represent only handful of students, or from an ethical compunction that can be boiled down to “well its not fair.”

Few teachers may be in a position where they are engaged in writing or shaping the policy that they will have to follow. Although many schools may decide to frame their grading policies as “agreements” they are often imposed on teachers from administration. So, instead of arguing the various merits of policy minutiae I want to briefly explain why I am in favor of reassessment and how I think you can make it work without an overdue burden of additional work on the teacher and without feeling like students are not being held accountable.

Reassessment Philosophy

Philosophically, I don’t think there is much to say. We all have bad days, we all appreciate second chance. Better educators than me have covered this topic in detail exploring how it can increase student learning, support student-teacher trust, help English language learners, and honor growth over time. Students appreciate being shown grace when appropriate and every teacher can likely think of an example where reassessment was warranted. Teachers will generally allow this on a case-by-case basis even if there is no codified policy.

As soon as reassessment is codified into a policy, it feels as though this power to judge context has been removed from the teacher. The feeling of losing that power over your classroom can put you in an immediate defensive mode that feels like an insult to your professionalism. Many teachers may also feel (rightly at times) as though reassessment is being forced on them in a context where a student does not deserve it. In my case, this combination of factors (and a no-zero policy) made me question whether I had made the right choice of moving to this new school. I remember storming into the assistant principal’s office near the end of my first year there ready for a fight over a specific grading incident. He, very kindly, talked me down from the ledge. I needed some reflection.

Codification of a policy is where the arguments break out because a policy cannot foresee every context or eventuality. These different contexts and details, no matter how rare, matter. Ultimately though, I would rather have a policy that serves 90% of the students well, those students who will not abuse it, and then find strategies to deal with the remaining 10% who try to game the system for their benefit. Make no mistake, no matter the grading system or policy there will always be students who try and succeed to game the system. Part of being a teacher is accepting and facing this fact.

Logistics

There are many movements, strategies, and terms for different reassessment systems. My second foray into the world of reassessment was as a part of a standards-based grading system that had reassessment embedded. A student’s final grade for a standard was calculated based on their final three assessments on that standard. Prior to the transition to this system, my school had a policy that guaranteed reassessment opportunity on any summative as long as the student met certain conditions. There is also a growing movement titled “Grading for Equity” based on work done by Joe Feldman. I have not read the book yet, but have added it to my reading queue since leaving a standards-based grading system. Rather than rehash other’s work I will simply list some of the strategies I used to make reassessment work while following the spirit of the policy.


It is the student’s responsibility to complete all formative work prior to requesting reassessment. I admit I would allow late formative work in certain situations to meet this requirement, but generally I only approved reassessment when student’s showed they were taking class seriously. This requires good record-keeping from the teacher, but is the easiest way to prevent abuse of reassessment policy. It’s ok to tell a student no so that they will do better the second time.


Students must request the reassessment within a certain time after receiving their grade. This one is self-explanatory. My own policy was five days just because it seemed fair and gave students a weekend to conference about it with parents. (Yeah, I know…that’s asking a lot). Regardless, reassessment does not need to happen immediately, but neither is it an open invitation to retake anything at the end of the semester to get that two percent grade bump to earn an A.


Prior to reassessment, the student would have to meet with me to review the previous summative, do any review assignments or test corrections that I assigned, and explain what steps they are taking to prepare for the reassessment. This forced students to come and face me in-person instead of just sending an email, a surprisingly strong gatekeeping tool. Students knew this conversation would not be as simple as checking a box. This process also forced students to be reflective about their own work, study habits, and the softer skills of academic success. It was not as much extra work on my part as it sounds, but it did make me a better grader knowing I also had to be ready to explain my grading to a student. Clear proficiency scales, rubrics, or scoring guides should be provided to students to help with their own reflection and review. Few things can frustrate students and parents as much as a teacher who can’t defend their grading and seems arbitrary.


The reassessment was NOT the same as the original assessment. Test corrections were never my reassessment. The students knew that they were preparing for a skills-based reassessment that would differ from the original assessment. A reassessment of a DBQ meant that they were given new documents, a reassessment of a project (very rare) meant a new driving question or topic, a reassessment of map skills meant different maps, etc. This is the part of reassessment that created the most work for me. However, a skills-based assessment can be significantly easier to create than a content-based one. That said, reassessment versions for my AP World unit exams were a pain to create. Still, students need to know reassessment is not a free-pass nor a guarantee of a higher grade; they will still be held accountable.


The student received the new grade, whether it was higher or lower. I also know teachers who would do an average of the two grades. In a SBG system that uses proficiency scales to score, an average won’t always work. The point is that I wanted the students to understand the risk that came with reassessment. Thus, the students who did nothing and just wanted a free second attempt would be de-incentivized. Although, that student would not likely have made it to the actual reassessment. In most circumstances where students scored lower on the reassessment (rare) I broke my own rule and allowed them to keep the original score. But then I, like every teacher, have the prerogative as a professional to show grace where I believe it’s warranted.


Parents need to understand the purpose of reassessment and how the grading system works. Many parents were unfamiliar with how standards-based grading worked. As a result, they often pushed their children to request reassessment even when they did not need to. For example, reassessment on a formative or a summative that would not end up counting in their final grade at the end of the semester; again, our system used the three final summatives to calculate a grade for each standard. I always explained to parents what the reassessment process was, and showed them why it was not something to be taken for granted. Be honest when you explain that reassessment is also extra work for the teacher. Frame it as something you are doing to help the students, not as a right that students and parents can demand of you.


Students knew that I was the final arbiter of grades and trusted me to be fair, even if I said no. The trust between students and teachers cannot be overstated. At the end of the day, the final gradebook was in my control. If I had a student who showed significant growth and I wanted to override a score, I could. This is not new to teachers, its what I used to call “participation.” Sometimes I would try to talk a student out of reassessment, explaining that it was better for them to accept their score (explaining why it was fair) and instead focus on how to improve for the next summative assessment. Often, I told them I would approve a reassessment at the end of the semester if they still needed it. Not every student got the grade they wanted. However, I have the responsibility of showing that my grading is not arbitrary even if it’s not what the student expected.

Final Thoughts

As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Don’t let the details of specific students or examples stop you from creating or implementing a reassessment policy. Even if you develop a policy that is more strict than mine was, students will appreciate it. I do recommend being consistent with other teachers in your department or school if you can. Large differences that are not supported by policy or administration can lead to headaches for the teacher.

At the end of the day, we want to be fair to students. I believe codifying a policy of reassessment and explaining it to students is more fair than keeping all the power to ourselves and answering only that “reassessment will be on a case by case basis.” Every grading system has subjectivity, but being open and having genuine conversations with students about grading will be seen as being fairer and more objective. As always, the tone, context, and way that these conversation occur in a classroom matters. Students can tell when a teacher is genuine.

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