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]