Assessment Change in Schools Grading School Reform

When Students “Fail” Should They be Allowed Do-overs?

Corrections can be a Pathway Towards Mastery

Yesterday, we heard from Chris Cannon, a 2011-2012 Teacher of the Year recipient and economics teacher at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, GA.  He shared with us his work on test corrections, “How Re-Dos and Corrections Can Improve Your Teaching?”  (click here for his presentation on his website).  The 20 cohort members in attendance were very engaged and receptive to the ideas he presented.

First, he defined the terms or parameters for how teachers could go about incorporating test corrections into their teaching.  Here are examples he shared with us (from his slides):

  • Making corrections to assignments
  • Re-Doing assignments
  • Re-Taking tests in some cases
  • Re-Writing papers OR doing multiple drafts
  • Re-Explaining Content in a new/different way

He pointed out that the research indicates that doing test corrections helps students in the following ways (from his slides):

  • Increased student motivation
  • Provides a sense of “hope” to lower achieving students
  • Responds to the research on how the brain works: we don’t learn from our mistakes, we learn from correcting our mistakes.

He also pointed out that in some content areas like English and math, it is not uncommon for teachers to allow students multiple opportunities to redo work.  In English, the rough draft leading up to the final draft is one example.

In his research, he has also found that many universities have policies for correcting assessments.  By looking at online course syllabi, he was able to find schools like UGA, GSU, Georgia Southern, Clayton State, LSU, Auburn and Syracuse that had some type of correction policy available to students.  His point was that to use the excuse for not having a policy that “students need to be prepared for what’s ahead,” is not accurate since schools of higher education do accept these practices from their professors.

In the “real world,” he gave plenty of examples where redoing one’s work is totally acceptable.  LSAT, MCATs, SATs, pilot licensing, and many more organizations have policies that allow an individual to retake the exam for a passing grade.  In fact, the SAT’s policy is that students can select their highest scores on the language and math sections from multiple sittings and send these to colleges.  The College Board does not average your scores and send the average score as the indicator of a student’s ability.

Chris also talked about real-life situations where people make corrections on their mistakes over-and-over again.  For example (from his slides):

  • If a pilot come in for a landing and misjudges the runway, he or she would return for a new landing.
  • If you mis-checked a box on a form or mis-calculated something on taxes, you can make corrections, sometimes without a penalty.
  • Farmers never grow everything correctly the first time.  They make adjustments year after year from lessons learned.
  • Teachers change lessons or activities based on experience with classes.  We make mid-course corrections all the time.
  • When Coke Cola launched New Coke, it was a total flop.  They had lots of work to do with customers to correct their mistake.

He shared with us his own personal experiences with using test corrections over many years.  Some positive impacts from using it with students are (from his slides):

  • Fewer incidences of cheating in his classes
  • Improved test scores of students in general
  • His students are more interested in understanding WHY they are making the mistakes they are making.
  • Students comment on end-of-year surveys that they like the test correction policy.

Here is a snapshot of his policy from the AP Economics syllabus he has online.

Chris Cannon's Redo Policy

He pointed out that having a clear policy with specific guidelines is very important.

In the Assessment E.E. Ford Cohort the facilitators had assigned the article by Rick Wormeli that appeared recently in Educational Leadership, Effective Grading PracticesRedos and Retakes Done Right. (vol 69, no 3, pages 22-26)  Chris Cannon discussed the work of Rick Wormeli on this topic only briefly but did indicate that he was at the forefront of this conversation in education.

Rick Wormeli has two very interesting You Tube videos (see below) on the topic of test corrections.  In these 8 minutes videos, he lays the groundwork for why this policy makes sense in schools.  In addition, he provides a framework for how to implement the policy.  Chris pointed out that this work can be lonely at times because other teachers are very reluctant to adopt a test correction policy.  Wormeli does a good job in the videos of responding to the concerns of the reluctant educator.

Rick Wormeli on value of Test Corrections: Part 1

Rick Wormeli on value of Test Corrections: Part 2

At the Westminster Schools, Jill Gough has done some pioneering work on test corrections in her 8th Grade Algebra I class.  In her blog, Experiments in Learning by Doing, she has documented a great deal of her work on this topic.  Her post, Being Slow…Mindset…2nd Chances…Learning, will give you insight into her philosophy, practice, and what she does with her students.  There are other posts describing her test correction project on her blog.

Why don’t we accept “doing things over” in our traditional school model?  Could it be….

  • we don’t place a high regard on making mistakes and learning from them?
  • we don’t value a process of failure, adjustment, learning, failure, adjustment and more learning?
  • we think a test correction policy will lead to grade inflation that colleges won’t understand?
  • we don’t really value the  mastery of learning all the targets we lay out for students?
  • we are so attached to a model that rewards students who learn faster than others that we are unable to remain open to something that might be fair to all learners?
  • (…how would you finish that prompt?)

I am not totally sure which of these makes the most sense.  Maybe all of them.  What I do know is that learning cannot be rigidly confined by time and space!  We have to give all learners the space to stretch their muscles and master the learning goals that we value.  If we say we value the standards outlined in the Common Core, then let’s make it possible for all learners to achieve mastery regardless of how much time it may take them.  But let’s not be blindly accepting of a model that does not reward students to learn, master, and use the knowledge we value.

So what are you thinking about the feasibility and merit of this idea?

12 comments on “When Students “Fail” Should They be Allowed Do-overs?

  1. I applaud Chris Cannon’s work. learning, and leadership on 2nd chance assessments. I am thrilled to read that his learns have the opportunity to earn full credit on their do-overs. Thank you for sharing and celebrating his work.

    I have always struggled with retake policies that set limits. What happens to the student that has already attempted this retake 3 times? Rocket Chemicals Company’s staff of three needed 39 do-overs while attempting to create a line of rust-prevention solvents. The 40th attempt, WD-40, still stands as evidence of their success today.

    What if the learners mistake was poor time management? If success is measured by information learned, then shouldn’t the learner have the opportunity to overcome their lack of effort and/or poor time management? If learning is the goal, then the work must be done to learn…on time or not; right?

    I would LOVE to know more about Cannon’s data management system. How does Chris document and validate actions taken by the learner? This is the weakness or struggle in my current assessment plan. Any tips and suggestions would be most appreciated.


    • Jill:

      I think Chris would be a good person for you to speak with. While he is knowledgeable, he also admits to learning how to do this well. He is writing his dissertation on just this topic. He spoke with us for about an hour and 15 minutes, so we didn’t learn everything we needed to know. I might suggest that we bring him back to speak with Junior High faculty–maybe a faculty meeting down the road. He would be quite good. He faces similar problems that you have faced–lack of support from colleagues. But he has persevered as well. I think his policy talks about 3 chances because he is also trying to be realistic within a public school environment that teaches to the end-of-course test. He did discuss how in real life people get many, many chances sometimes. So I think he would agree with you.

      It should affirm the work you have been doing for the past 4 years. Keep it up!!!!



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  3. Thanks Bob for the VERY nice (too nice?) write up. I enjoyed speaking with the group! I was very impressed at the openness and willingness to give this concept a chance. I speak to many groups that are adversarial or apathetic toward the idea.

    In response to Jill, I am in agreement with you about the number of attempts. The more the better! Unfortunatley, this is an area where school diverges from the “real-world.” Our traditional school is based on deadlines imposed on us from others. Because of that, I have not been able to allow infinite redos. I usually allow 3 correction attempts on major assignments and if they are still not performing up to standards (less than 5% of cases I would say) then I look at some other form of assessment.

    As far as managing data, I use a color coded grading/feedback system combined with a comment system in our online gradebook. I grade the project for the first time in Green, including all comments. If the student makes corrections, I grade the new material in red. If the student improves on their score, I enter a note in the gradebook about what they have corrected and the new grade replaces the old grade. The third, and final attempt is done in blue and I have set-up a comment in the grade book that says “final grade.” In order to make a correction the students have to indicate that they have taken steps to improve. Typically this is done orally, but sometimes I have them write a “correction letter” that explains what they have done. Other times we corresond via e-mail.

    If there are any other questions I can answer for you, I’d be happy to do that at cannon dot chris at mail dot fcboe dot org.

    I have not read your blog yet, but intend to in a bit!


  4. Pingback: When Students “Fail” Should They be Allowed Do-overs? « Educational Technology for Teachers

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  6. teachermrw

    I agree with the premise of this blog post. in recent years, having done my own reflecting and reading on assessments and “do-overs”, I support students improving their learning and understanding through not only test corrections, but also homework corrections. My students appreciate the opportunity, and I appreciate their willingness and initiative.


  7. Pingback: Is motivating students a hard goal to achieve: learn from Educational Leadership? | Center for Teaching

  8. robertgarcia19

    I got all the relevant information through this blog and as a law student my perceptions are also that if, for any reason, I mess up with my law assignment, essay or dissertation then there must be an option for me to get the things fixed before it gets too late.


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  10. Peter Marik

    Unfortunately, these concepts do not hold over into the real world very well. In business, the idea of a do over doesn’t really happen. If you have a sales presentation competing against other companies for a multi-million dollar contract, does the client say…oh, no worries, you can do your presentation over again if you mess up….No, they drop you like a sack of potatoes. I find it interesting regarding his examples….farmers mess up, they can resow…..of course they can, at a very large loss of income and added expenses….so not really a cost-effective redo…..airplane pilots can abort and re-do…..not always successful there either, as air crash investigations have shown us. I get it, the teaching world seeks to alienate parents more and more from their children’s education by using these tactics……The sad news is that when they get to college, my colleagues and I shake our heads most of the time because we have to teach our students the skills such as spelling, vocabulary, reading, logic….supposedly the things that those in high school and below claimed to be teaching them and reteaching them on. Turning our youth into snowflakes, denying them opportunities to be motivated and be challenged and to take away accountability and responsibility in education from students….that all needs to stop now. All you are doing is contributing to making us worse and worse as a nation when it comes to education rankings.


    • Peter:

      While I understand your point-of-view, I also don’t fully agree with you. There are do-overs in schools, non-profits and corporations. I think you are not looking wide and far for examples of employees getting second chances or prototyping something to learn, then iterating the prototype (a do-over) to try and get it right…get it better. At First Data, there were plenty of prototypes and do-overs when they launched the first credit card reader. They collected lots of data for some of the early prototypes…prototype to learn…and used what they learned to launch a successful and ubiquitous product. This is only one of many examples. Sorry to say, the world is moving in the direction of encouraging employees to take risks (Google), make mistakes along the way, learn from the mistakes and try again. Finally, I wouldn’t blame your frustration on not having students come to you 100% prepared according to your standards on previous teachers or schools. One option is just take responsibility for where they are and teach them to write, spell, etc. I mean, isn’t that your job. I wouldn’t think Mike Krzyzewski blames his potentially talented player who struggles dribbling, working off a pick, or playing defense on his high school coach. He just teaches him. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and while I do understand your perspective I don’t full agree with your logic.


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