- Giving students an opportunity to retake tests provides an opportunity for them to learn from their failures, but Edutopia reports most teachers responding to a Facebook and Twitter poll noted it's best done when limits are put in place, with many having found students would occasionally fail a test to find out what was on it, retaking it once they had the correct answers.
- Some educators suggest that guidelines include letting parents know a retake was requested, giving only partial credit for retakes, or replacing the previous grade with that of the retake even if it's lower.
- Other suggestions included having students who did well on the initial test actually write the retake option, creating a peer-to-peer learning experience. If students do better on the retake, both they and the student who created it get extra points.
Giving students an opportunity to take a test again can help take away the sting of failure and emphasize that the ultimate goal is to learn, not nail a high score on a single test. But educators also don’t want to develop a mindset in students that tests don’t matter. After all, being able to benchmark what's been learned is crucial to knowing if they can, or should, move forward with a specific lesson. But when students focus on the grade and not their education, the entire point of learning is lost.
Thinking of failure, then, as experimentation may be a better route. In a 2011 piece titled “Strategies for Learning from Failure” in The Harvard Business Review, Amy C. Edmondson, currently the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, argues that in a work setting, opportunities to try something first, in a trial setting, can help companies learn how to find the better path later.
In this way, students can take the sting off of a test by knowing that if they don’t score well, that’s not what their learning has been about. Giving them a chance to try once and then try again — albeit with a different set of test questions, optimally — may result in better grades, but also in students who don’t worry about the grades to begin with.
“‘Trial and error’ is a common term for the kind of experimentation needed in these settings, but it is a misnomer, because ‘error’ implies that there was a ‘right’ outcome in the first place,” Edmondson wrote. “At the frontier, the right kind of experimentation produces good failures quickly.”
Giving students, then, an opportunity to fail and retake a test can help them learn and even encourage them to build from their missteps and develop resilience as they push forward.