Retaking Tests | Why IEP Teams Should Rethink this Accommodation

Retaking Tests Accommodation

Allowing a student to retake a test is a very common IEP accommodation. And, at first glance, it seems like a reasonable one. Reasonable? Sure. Helpful….mmm, not so sure.

Last week I completed a post about extended time on tests. This accommodation goes with that one, and both are seen together, frequently, on IEPs. Sometimes it has a disclaimer such as “if the student scores less than xx% on a test….” they have the opportunity to retake it.

retake a test accommodation

It goes along with a cliché that we’ve all been told forever. “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” I mean, who can go against that? Well, we all need to dig deeper and ask ourselves if it’s really working or helping the student.

And for the purposes of this post, I am talking about your basic “got a 60%, retake the test in 5 days” accommodation that I see on so many IEPs.

Many students have anxiety and test-taking anxiety, in which case, just the repetition of taking the same test a second time may be helpful. But that’s all it is-taking the same test a second time.

And this practice needs to be scrutinized more.

Let me give another scenario. Yep, back to my 1970 Volkwagen.

1970 vw wagon

In last week’s scenario, I told you that no matter how long you gave me (IE-extended time on tests), I will never ever be able to change a tire. I do not have the skill set to do so.

Now, let’s apply the retaking philosophy. You’re going to let me try to change the tire once. If it’s not correct, I get to try again.

Well, guess what? Same principle applies. It does not matter how many retakes I get, I will never be able to change this tire.

“Well, ok, but we’re going to teach you first!”

And herein lies the problem with sooooo many IEPs.

IEP Interventions are Frequently Inadequate

In order to teach me how to change a tire, I am going to receive 3 things.

  1. Book, with pictures, on how to change a tire
  2. A person will verbally explain to me how to change a tire
  3. I also will have as long as I need to change this tire

Guess what? Reading and being lectured to is not how I learn. You know what I would need? A video tutorial and a step-by-step checklist tutorial, with diagrams. I also would need guided practice with someone taking me through each step, then supervising me as I tried it on my own.

Once I had successfully changed the tire a few times using this process, you could probably pull back on the checklist. Eventually, after practicing many times using these methods, I could probably change a tire.

Oh, but wait!

That’s in the comfort of my own driveway. We haven’t talked about a busy interstate, while it’s pouring down rain, and nighttime.

Those outside circumstances would likely stress me out, and I’d definitely struggle, if I was at all able to successfully change the tire.

Now is it starting to make sense?

Repetition Alone May Not Change Anything

The headline says it all–repetition alone may not help. That accommodation is really only helpful for the student who merely needs repetition. And that doesn’t describe most of our kids.

If the teaching strategy or interventions were not sufficient, the knowledge base just isn’t going to be there. It wouldn’t matter how many times you ask the questions.

The interventions, teaching methods, pedagogy and curricula needs to be in a format that our kids understand. They need accommodations and teaching to build up their working memory, in many cases. If the knowledge cannot be accessed from their working memory, it won’t matter how often you test the child.

For the kids who need and use this accommodation, by all means continue it.

But, parents, before you just read over and agree to the accommodations, you must carefully dissect and inspect whether or not each one is actually what your child needs, and whether it’s helpful.

There are lots of great reasons to allow all students, not just IEP students, to retake tests when they perform below expectations. We just need to make sure that they have the tools to achieve those expectations, besides repetition alone.

Is it “won’t” or “can’t”

Allowing students to retake tests or fix their incorrect answers on tests does a lot of good things–like discouraging cheating.

But it also puts the onus on the child, in that the thinking is “this child was not prepared for the test.” Well, ok, let’s start there.

Who prepared them? And was it in a method they could understand? Most parents will tell you that it’s not for lack of trying. I see our kids work twice as hard as other students to get half as far.

Retaking tests puts blame on the child and the student, in that “you were not prepared so I’ll give you a second chance.” And kids, being kids, do not think “well Mr. Teacher, this is not how I learn.”

What they think: “I suck. I’m so dumb. I’m the only person who has to retake tests in the entire class and I still cannot pass this test.”

How is that helpful?

What is the Goal?

What is the goal of the test? Is it to test knowledge? If so, is a test the only way this can be done? What end result are we hoping for, how can a child demonstrate skills, knowledge, mastery of a topic? Those are the questions that IEP teams need to be asking.

And then giving the child the tools to get there.

Tests, grades…all of this framework was set up by a patriarchal society that rewards those who are not different. Those without learning differences or other barriers to learning (food insecurity, etc.).

I don’t expect to upend the system with one blog post. But, if it helps just one kid, because their parent demanded different on their IEP, then I’ve done my work here.

If you have any further questions, or would like to share your solutions that you’ve applied in this situation, please join our Facebook group.