This is an email written by a teacher to another teacher about their educational philosophy. After reading it I asked for permission to publish it here. Some days I need to be reminded that there are passionate dedicated teachers thinking about their practice and improving upon it everyday. We are a small subset of that here in the blogosphere.
It was nice to hear your personal philosophy on both your grading and retake policies. I have been thinking about everything that was said at our Thursday meeting, and I would just like to respond to some of the things that you said. I am CC’ing [the department] on this email because they were present at the meeting. I am not trying to persuade (or gang up on) you one way or the other, but I think it’s nice to know more about where each person comes from on why they do the things they do.
For most of the years that we were [old school name] and the first two years that we were [name after state mandated restructuring], I thought very similar to how you do with regards to retakes. I was very “mathematical” (or black-and-white) in how I saw tests: the student should be prepared for the test, and they get what they get. Their preparation (or lack thereof) was a life lesson that they were learning.
Over time, though, it occurred to me that this policy that I held onto very deeply was very teacher-oriented. It was all about me. As I get more gray hairs, I have come to realize that teaching, for me, should be all about the student. That is, ultimately, why I teach: I have a certain understanding about a certain topic (i.e. math), and I have chosen to help other people achieve that same level of understanding (hopefully, on the way to surpassing my level of understanding
In both 7th and 8th Grades, we give chapter tests because a) we need to assess, but also b) because that is how our textbooks are organized. Yes, a student should be prepared for the test, and they will receive whatever grade they have earned. It is easy to use a sports analogy and say that the chapter test is the “big game”, and they should be prepared for it because there is no do-over for a game you have lost, but I believe this is where the sports analogy breaks down.
The goal for the student is not to master that chapter (when you think about it, a “chapter” is artificial…it is merely one publisher’s take on organization), but to master the standards at that grade-level, but even that is not the true goal. Stepping back one frame of reference, grade-level mastery is just one checkpoint in the Great Continuum of Mathematical Knowledge (i.e. Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, etc.), but even that is not the true goal. Stepping back another frame of reference, mathematical knowledge is just one part of Success in Life. I want the student to master math so that they can master science, so that they can get a job possibly in, say, engineering, so that they can say that they are a success in life, so that they can share that with the next generation. Sports have a big goal (e.g. the Super Bowl, the World Series, etc.), but sports always gets to start over next season. Our students don’t get a chance to start their lives over.
What does this have to do with retakes? When I give a retake now, I am not thinking of the students that probably aren’t going to improve their scores, but I am thinking of the students who ARE going to improve their scores. I personally believe that we give tests to not only assess our students’ understanding of a particular topic, but to also have our students self-assess themselves. I think to myself, “How much do they really know?”, but they also have the opportunity (whether they know it or not) to ask themselves, “How much do I truly know?” If they get an A or B on the test, I can reasonably say that they know their stuff, but they, themselves, can more importantly gain confidence that they know their stuff. For the students who get a D or F, when I offer a retake to them, I feel that I am offering them a second chance to gain that confidence.
For me, that confidence that a student gets from success (either initially or from a second chance) will lead, I feel, to not only mastery of grade-level standards, but to mastery of the Great Continuum of Mathematical Knowledge and Success in Life. If I choose to not give a student the chance to do a retake, I am thinking about that student in the short term. By giving a student a second chance at success by giving a retake, I feel that I am contributing something to that student (in a small way) for the long term.
That’s my $0.02.
[awesome teacher's name]