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Aurora Institute

Retake Policy: Lessons Learned from Pat Benatar

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Justin Ballou

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Create Balanced Systems of Assessments

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 3.08.52 PMAs an Eighties baby and a fan of sample based music, I have spent a great deal of time surrounded by crates of vinyl. The history educator in me sees these as cultural artifacts: moments frozen in time that convey the values and feelings of people willing to put themselves out to the masses.

This same act is one we see in our students every day. In their attempts to be competent, they put out their best work for all to see. Depending upon a number of factors, that work hits or misses the mark. In the competency-based classroom environment though, the expectation is that education is not a “one-and-done” event, but rather a “move on when ready” model.

So the question is posed: How do we juggle the ideal with the real in the realm of retake policy? Below is a plan that I put into place with my classes and has seen some great successes. (I would love to hear your feedback and personal ideas/experiences in the comments!)


1. For the summative assessment, require a minimum to show best effort:

By clearly stating what the expectations are when introducing the summative, we can better communicate where the line of rigor is to allow a student to show that they put their best effort forward. When used in my classroom, some of the minimums that have seen success are a minimum grade on the original summative, and the summative needing to be submitted on time. In the traditional setting, I have also seen this bar move according to the expectations of the classroom teacher—for example, the beginning of the semester may require a certain grade for the opportunity to retake and as the semester progresses, that minimum grade might be increased.


2. Working contracts that allow for student self-reflection.

Once the summative has been handed in, assessed, and returned to the student, I have created a contract that students can fill out that allows them to help create a remediation plan for the assessment. This practice for the student allows for the processing of what happened, as well as self directed planning in how they are going to proceed with mastering content knowledge.

For the educator, this allows an opportunity to communicate freely with those at home as well as the opportunity to track patterns in students’ abilities or reasons for not reaching mastery. Also, the educator has the ability to now look for patterns in order to better deliver instruction and plan for future learning opportunities.


3. Requirement of formative assessments prior to the retake possibility.

One of the biggest pain points in the transition to competency-based systems is the validation of learning through the formative/summative process. Since the grades in a competency-based system should be accurate to what the student knows and is able to do, this is a way to reward students for completing their work although it doesn’t “count” in the final grade. Also, depending upon the requirements placed in the learner contract, these formatives can now take multiple shapes catered towards the students’ own strengths in learning concepts or skill sets.


In short, educators should be willing to work with students in order to reach the level of mastery. Simply stated, we need to collectively tell students that they need to “hit us with their best shot,” which in turn, gives us the opportunity to reflect and grow through the learning process. Only then will we truly foster a student’s motivation in the education process.

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Justin Ballou is a high-school social studies teacher in New Hampshire. Besides teaching, he is active building/running an education startup called Socrademy, several business ventures, and enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife. With competency-based systems, edtech, and authentic learning as his go-to topics, you can reach him at [email protected] to ask questions or leave comments, and follow him on twitter (@socrademy).