Aligning retakes with the purpose of education


As Neil Postman mentioned in The End of Education, “for school to make sense, the young must have a god to serve. If they have none, school is pointless…he who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” Too often, education delivers these propositions in reverse order; we get caught up debating the mediums and means of education and forgo the underlying motivations behind them. This idea becomes particularly evident when discussing retakes and the rationale behind their policies. On the surface, giving students multiple opportunities to reflect on and correct their mistakes, identify weaknesses in their understanding and then assess themselves again seems to perfectly embody this spirit of the “why.” However, when coupled with human nature, it often finds a way to demotivate students from putting forth their utmost effort the first time and creates the illusion that we will have a safety net to catch our every fall.

Regardless of one’s opinion on this debate, retake policies do not have to be a one-size-fits-all declaration for every test and assignment handed out by a teacher. Instead, we can go back to the idea of the “why.” According to the SIS student handbook, the stated purpose of an education at this school is to “…enhance learning, motivation, and confidence which helps students develop skills and strategies as self-assessors responsible for their own learning.” When giving us a chance to revise a skill-based assessment, such as a synthesis essay, we are most likely motivating learning: students can take that second-chance opportunity to reinforce their understanding and come out of the ordeal with not just enhanced learning but confidence in their abilities. However, the same scenario does not repeat itself when dealing with content or knowledge-based assessments. When given additional chances to memorize certain concepts, students may find an increase in their grade for that particular assignment; however, what they do not develop are strategies for the future that allow them to become responsible for their own learning.

The discussion shifts even further when placed in the context of APs, which are supposed to provide an introductory college-level experience. Citizens in the real world are not given the opportunity to redo job interviews, relive a miserably failed date, or have a second chance to cross the street in the face of speeding cars. Should AP courses reflect this situation by not allowing their students a safety net?

At this point, it must be noted that the AP exam itself allows students to take a test more than once, with only the highest grade achieved counting toward honors such as the AP scholar awards. These high school courses are not only meant to serve as a preview of college life but also allow the student to develop optimal study habits and mindsets in a relatively risk-free setting. Allowing a pathway of re-learning will not just help the student learn the concepts for that particular unit but also develop long-term study behaviors that will be especially useful during college and beyond. Retaking the exact same assignment rather than moving on to the next concept allows the student to reflect on what went wrong the first time and fosters a growth mindset. Additionally, because the AP exams have a specific focus toward synthesis, analysis, and evaluation rather than on-the-surface memorization, it makes an even more compelling argument to allow retakes. Repeatedly reviewing straightforward facts does not necessarily contribute to long-lasting knowledge as they lose relevance after the unit or course. On the other hand, practicing a skill requires an arbitrary amount of preparation and drives students to “create strategies as self-assessors responsible for their own learning.” Therefore, having more comprehensive, rigorous retake programs where students are not just simply given another chance but go through a process of review could have the desired impact of education. Naturally, the pace of a class and resources can hinder these actions, and teachers willing to utilize these strategies make significant adjustments and sacrifices to help out their students.

There is no simple or correct solution to this conundrum. Similarly, whether and how to administer retakes should not be a straightforward decision, and when addressing its use in the classroom, teachers can benefit from implementing a case-by-case basis to justify the meaning of education. Retakes are not just a method of balancing the numerical result a student gets out of a class but to instill an attitude of relearning and nailing down a concept before moving on.