It’s okay NOT to reassess everything all of the time; there, I said it. Now, before I explain more thoroughly let me say that I am fully aware that this post may not make me the most popular kid at the assessment table and that I’m almost certain that the standards-based purity police will be out in full force; doesn’t matter because what I’m about to say needs to be said.
It isn’t necessary or even sustainable for teachers to duplicate (or even triplicate) every assessment. While reassessment has become synonymous with standards-based grading, the basing of grades on the achievement of standards and the number of opportunities students have to reach proficiency against those standards are two separate questions. One doesn’t have to go with the other, even though in most cases they do.
To be clear, I am fully supportive of reassessment as a process that allows students to know what needs strengthening, to address those needs, and then to reassess to reverify that the learning gap has been closed; this also allows teachers to report a more accurate or current level of proficiency. I’ve written extensively about it in both Grading from the Inside Out and Standards-Based Learning in Action (co-authored by Garnet Hillman and Mandy Stalets).
That said, time is not endless, and the sheer volume of expected standards can be daunting, so advocates of reassessment and standards-based grading must be mindful of not making those who struggle to authentically find the time to relentlessly reassess feel less than because they can’t live up to the purity found on Twitter, Facebook, or other virtual settings, where one can be any imaginable standards-based superhero they wish to be.
If you sense a tinge of frustration in my tone, you’d be correct. I can’t begin to tell you how many teachers I’ve come across over the years who feel completely overwhelmed by the prospect of reassessment and struggle to find the time to fit reassessment into their weekly routines. I’m not talking about a cynical proclamation of no time used simply as a veil to avoid doing any extra work; that teacher is rare. I’m talking about the vast majority of hard working, dedicated teachers who care deeply about their students and wish nothing but success for them. When I’ve helped teachers see that they don’t have to reassess everything all the time I see them physically relax and exhale. My tinge of frustration comes from the fact that we, the advocates of reassessment, can inadvertently set these teachers up to feel less than when we set a bar that is only attainable in the abstract.
Ideally, students would have an opportunity to reassess since we know that some students take longer to learn and that what we’re teaching matters; to not afford the opportunity to reassess can signal to students that what we’re teaching isn’t that important and we’re not that concerned whether they actually learn or not. However, there are times where teachers can be purposeful and proactive about limiting the reassessment opportunities. Rather than run out of time arbitrarily, teachers would be wise to plan where reassessment will or will not occur; where it naturally occurs and where additional events may be necessary.
When to limit reassessment
Here are three things to consider when thinking about proactively putting limits on what’s possible for classroom teachers.
Grades 11 & 12
Most classes in the last two years of high school are electives; many of those electives are specialized academic courses that are leading directly into college and university programs. There is a case to be made that reassessments be restricted or even unavailable at certain points. Rare is the student who, for example, chooses senior Physics for fun; most select the course because it will be an essential prerequisite to what they hope to achieve in university. So, a teacher could, for example, implement a system of no retesting of unit tests in service of giving her students some sense of what life in university could be like.
Now, I’m the last person to advocate a strict we need to prepare them for the real-world approach (see my blog post about that here), but for those students on the cusp of university, it isn’t wrong to give them some sense of finality unit-by-unit. This practice might go too far if reassessment were never offered; there is a huge chasm between restricting and never. If each unit were self-contained, the teacher could offer reassessment opportunities in advance of the unit test, but the unit tests themselves would be final. Another option might be offering a limited number (i.e. two) per semester that the students could access should they feel they just blew it on one particular test day. The point is that students in the upper grades in high school, for the most part, choose their classes which means there is at least some inherent interest and focus in the subject area. Where there is no choice (most other grade levels and some grade 11 and 12 classes) teachers may take a different approach since there may not be the same level of motivation (or maturity) to be as proactive in learning.
The prioritization of curricular standards has many advantages, not the least of which are the appropriate distribution of instructional minutes, the focal point for collaborative common assessment, and the development of a vertical progression of the most essential learnings K–12. Establishing priority standards also provides the opportunity for teachers to appropriately distribute their reassessment efforts. High-priority standards would be standards that would be reassessed as much as possible since not reaching proficiency with high priority could have a negative residual effect on students in subsequent grade levels.
But something has to give, and what gives are the low priority standards. It may simply not be worth the time and effort required for second or third opportunities to assess, when time would be more effectively and efficiently spent on subsequent high-priority standards. Again, it is solely at the discretion of the classroom teacher to decide what there is and isn’t time for. Assuming the high-priority standards have been identified through a collaborative process, teachers would not have to worry about the inconsistency of the students’ experiences across classrooms. The determining of low-priority standards is not about pre-determining that some standards won’t be covered; rather it provides structure around decisions to move on or go back. In some cases, there may simply not be enough time or there may not be the biggest payoff to relentlessly reassess low-priority standards.
Reassessment is naturally occurring already
One thing of note in a standards-based instructional approach is the irrelevance of task-types. In the past, distinguishing between a test and a quiz mattered because of the number of points available at the conclusion of each event and how much influence each event would have on grade determination. With standards-based instruction, the cognitive complexity of the assessment—not its type—is what matters, so the distinction between two labels is mostly irrelevant.
If, for example, one assessment (e.g. a test) has a section that has problems at the same cognitive complexity (e.g. DOK 2) as a previous assessment (e.g. a quiz), then the teacher is already reassessing her students as a natural part of the learning progression; the name of the event only serves to distract the teacher from reconciling the differences between the two sets of assessment evidence.
Standards are organized by strands, categories, or domains, not by tests, quizzes, assignments, projects, and labs. Almost every teacher is already reassessing their students since most standards are assessed at least twice without the need to compromise any of their non-instructional minutes. This fresh lens through which to examine reassessment will immediately serve to create a more efficient approach to the process.
I am for reassessment and it would be a misread of this post to suggest otherwise. But it is also naïve to ignore the impact relentless reassessment can have on teacher wellness. Reassessing everything is not sustainable or necessary; it’s a false dichotomy. Teachers can create an enriching, continual learning process in their classrooms while maintaining a sense of both balance and the big picture. Teachers who are proactive and transparent with students and parents about the opportunities and limits of reassessment will have far fewer challenges. As long as the policy of reasonableness is our guide, students will still have multiple opportunities to show-what-they-know while teachers maintain their own sense of personal balance.