Reassessments: NOT Retakes

Recently, I heard from a teacher who had a negative experience with reassessments (noticing no significant gains in student performance after implementing the system). Sadly, I question not only the procedure used, but also the focus of the class. My story with reassessing  is very different, and quite positive.

My system of reassessing allows students to prove that they understand something they didn’t understand some time ago. Recently, a student came in to reassess her comprehension of a few phrases on a quiz taken a month beforehand. The process was simple, yet informative. I asked her some questions, ex tempore, using some phrases that were on the quiz. We had a 5min discussion, completely unplanned. Unsurprisingly, she knew everything, and even showed signs of elaboration, volunteering more than just one or two word responses (I do not force speech in my classes…this is a Teaching with CI principle).

Not surprised.

Assuming that I am teaching frequent vocabulary and useful structures, the phrases we use in class will be recycled often. My assessments don’t test isolated topics like some language programs strictly following a textbook with thematic units that move from one to the next without much continuity (aside from incremental grammar complexity). Although my student didn’t acquire the phrase in quā within the first few weeks of seeing it, it was only a matter of time until she did since it’s high frequency. So, after a month of hearing, reading, and possibly saying/writing in quā, she felt confident enough to prove her understanding. It is worth noting that the student had no idea what we were going to talk about, even if she reviewed the phrases the night before. Reassessments should be uncheatable/uncramable. This reminds me of an idea I had early in my teaching career about delaying ALL unit tests by one month. I told my department leader that students would probably dominate those tests if I just waited until they had more exposure to the language. I never understood why this concept didn’t make sense to her until recently. It was because she taught thematic units according to a textbook’s grammatical syllabus…the kids would study, test, and move on. I am now confident that her kids would do pretty poorly on the first unit test if taken in June, and this has been the language teaching model/curriculum of most teachers for quite some time.

Grading rant…

It’s a shame to be confined to the quarterly system of grading, really. My student struggled at the start of the year, but could easily ace every single quiz from October if she were to reassess them in June. That’s not possible, though, because those grades closed a long time ago. Why must those low grades be averaged with the most recent higher ones that actually show mastery? There really isn’t a good answer, and correcting this problem wouldn’t take too much effort.
Quarterly grades are fine, since they help give an ongoing look at progress, but why not have the ability to manually change the final grade at the end of the year? Many schools have a policy against this. Why? Most teachers aren’t able to justify a number/letter. Granted, very few students would likely LOSE understanding as long as we’re teaching concepts well, and no longer concerned with discrete facts, which means nearly all of the year-end grades would be higher than the calculated average over the quarters anyway. This means that very few students/parents would demand that a teacher justify the final grade. Besides, in today’s need for accountability and data collection, teachers would be well-equipped to produce evidence in support of an unaveraged final grade.

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