Do-Over: Teacher Tips for Handling Redos and Retakes

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

Do-Over: Teacher Tips for Handling Redos and RetakesBack in the day (1973 to be exact), I took my driver’s test the day after my sixteenth birthday. I passed, barely. The next year, my younger brother did the same thing on the day after his sixteenth birthday. He didn’t pass. He had to retake the test until he scored the magic number to get his license. Now, at our advanced ages, we both are proficient drivers—in fact, I’ve received more driving infractions than he has, and he’s driven far more miles than I have. So, was his ability to redo the test fair? Did his failure the first time signal any future inabilities?

The answer to the first question is yes. Absolutely, he should have had a second chance or even a third chance at taking the test. Those who want to be lawyers, doctors, teachers, and other professions that require a proficiency test get numerous chances to pass it. The answer to my second question is no. Surely you’ve heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” So why don’t we allow students to redo assignments or retake tests?

Many teachers believe that deadlines, due dates, and assessment times are meant to be followed: Why have them if you’re not going to stick to them? Some teachers also believe that sticking to these deadlines builds responsibility and work ethic in students. While deadlines and assessment dates are important, the evaluation of the product at that time may not truly represent student learning. Plus, rather than teaching responsibility and work ethic, receiving a failing grade due to a missed deadline actually has the opposite effect on a student’s desire to learn: It decreases motivation.

Additionally, when we give a student a low grade for missing the deadline, what is the grade communicating? Is the grade suggesting the student hasn’t learned the material, or is the grade an effect of not being timely? Those are two vastly different messages.

Here are some helpful tips for redos:

  • Set up defensible criteria for redos. These criteria should include the following.
    • When redos are acceptable: Avoid allowing them at the end of a grading period.
    • How many redos a student can have: This can guard against habitual misuse of the redo.
    • How the redo will be graded: Don’t average out the two scores; that is an unfair assessment of learning.
    • Timeline for redos: I suggest that any redos be done within twenty-four hours of the original due date.
  • Construct a “parent agreement” in which both the student and parent have to commit to the guidelines of the redo, how it will be assessed, and when it is due.
  • Consider changing up the design of the redo. If it’s an essay exam, give a different prompt; if it’s a quiz or test, give a different version; if it’s a spoken presentation, require a written form.
  • Keep the original assignment or assessment, along with the redo, to show the student’s growth.
  • Redos are at the discretion of the teacher, following the criteria set for redos—avoid being partisan as to who, when, and what can be redone.

Here are some ways to avoid redos:

  • Set clear expectations for each lesson and learning activity. Students wanting a redo may not have listened or attended to the objectives of lessons. Being clear each day and throughout the learning process can keep students focused on what needs to be learned.
  • Show examples of quality work. Sometimes students aren’t aware of what is good versus poor work. Providing examples of what past students have constructed can give them an idea of what to do.
  • Set timelines and remind students of them often. Adolescents, in particular, are not good with managing their time. Therefore, setting timelines, giving students calendars, and reminding them when the assessment will be given or the project is due can be helpful in keeping them focused on deadlines. I suggest using an oversized calendar, noting the days leading up to the due date. Referring to the calendar daily—showing what parts of the project should be completed or what material should be studied—can be helpful for students in setting an agenda.
  • Have students reflect on the redo. Each time a student requests a redo, have her submit in writing why she is requesting the redo. Make sure the reasons are valid: “I didn’t study” is not a valid reason; “I didn’t understand what was being asked” is a valid reason. Also, after the redo, ask kids to set a plan for next time to avoid having to take another redo. This is a great self-regulation strategy.
  • Redoing an assessment cannot happen unless all previous assignments are completed. If the assignments were worthy of assigning and help students perform better on the assessment, then don’t let those assignments slide. The assessment should be an evaluation of the total learning—inclusive of daily assignments.
  • Ask yourself why students are wanting a redo. If a number of students are seeking redos, it may be that you have not constructed the assignment or assessment well enough for them to perform to proficiency. It could also stem from instructional strategies or assignments that were not effective. I truly believe all kids want to succeed at meaningful tasks—maybe they don’t recognize or appreciate the meaningfulness behind the task.

In some cases, individual teachers may not be able to allow for redos. Schools have overarching policies on grading and assignments. In this case, it would be beneficial for the entire staff to discuss the option for redos. For more on this topic, look over my good friend Rick Wormeli’s “Redos and Retakes Done Right.” (Subscription required.) He has some great ideas! I’d love to hear how you manage redos in your classroom. Leave a comment to share your ideas with other teachers.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners


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One Response to Do-Over: Teacher Tips for Handling Redos and Retakes

  1. Rick Wormeli says:

    Great stuff, Richard, as usual! Thanks for taking the time to compose and post this. It’s incredibly important — even vital — to student and teacher success, and gosh, it’s way more maturing and demanding. It helps all of us live up to the ethical side of teaching — Teaching so that students learn, and not caving into student immaturity or lack of cognitive development, or to an arbitrary curriculum conveyor built. I would change just one thing, though: 24 hours for the whole re-do process to be completed after the original version is done is too fast. There has to be significant re-learning before there is re-assessing. Chances are good, that re-learning won’t be substantive, nor have time for reflection in just 24 hours. I’d suggest that we mandate that the process for re-learning be started within 24 hours, not the re-learning and the re-assessing be done within that time, if that makes sense. Thanks again for getting this out information out there and into the hands of educators!

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