Doctors. Lawyers. CPAs. They get re-dos. Our students don’t?


Flickr photo: Jose Kevo

A tweet from Rick Wormeli (@RickWormeli) has been swimming around in my mind for the better part of a month.

During a standards-based grading Twitter chat, here’s what he wrote:

Rick Wormeli on re-dos

(Note: If you don’t participate in education Twitter chats, they’re great for resources and inspiration. Learn how to Twitter chat in this article or in this video.)

He’s right. Some “real world” assessments that allow re-dos:

  • Lawyers must pass the bar exam.
  • Doctors must pass their “boards” (National Board of Medical Examiners).
  • Certified public accountants must pass a battery of tests, including the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination (UCPAE).
  • Graduate school candidates must pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
  • Pilots must pass several exams and a cross-country solo flight to earn a private pilot’s license (PPL).
  • Truck drivers must pass a written and driving exam for a commercial driver’s license (CDL).
  • Even teenagers who want to drive must pass written and driving tests for a standard operator’s license.

Lawyers take the bar multiple times. Doctors retake their boards. CPAs often account for “if I don’t pass this test.”

But students across the country are stuck with poor test scores if they don’t get it right the first time.

Even worse, those struggling students are left behind as the rest of the class forges forward with new content.

Stuck. Left behind. Something doesn’t make sense here.

A doctor doesn’t have to eschew his years of education if he bombs his boards once. Teenagers don’t have to plan what they’ll do about transportation for the rest of their lives if they don’t pass their driver’s test the first time.

For decades – more than a century, even – tests in schools have been high-stakes.

[RELATED: Homework: to assign or not to assign?]

Get it the first time. If you do: great, let’s move on. If you don’t: figure out a way to catch up.

This sounds so counterproductive in an institution whose primary job is to promote learning.

There is a better way. It’s called the re-do.

Set a new deadline. Work with the student individually to gain understanding. Use different techniques from previous instruction. Then try it again.

And re-weighing the cow doesn’t help:

Wormeli: weighing cow

I’ve wrestled with the concept of re-dos on and off for my entire teaching career. One part of it has kept me from becoming a re-do convert.


It’s the mantra of countless teachers. We have to teach responsibility. Students must be accountable to meet deadlines and complete work on their own.

That’s true. But most of all, it’s our job to make sure that they learn. The educational experiences in our classrooms far exceed the responsibility lessons we teach them. We must focus on what’s most important.

If school were all about that kind of responsibility, it would be made up of mindless tasks with little relevance that are all about compliance.

Wait a second. Education already looks like that in a lot of places.

We can do better. We can ditch the textbook mentality about assessments and create true learning.

Maybe the first step could be allowing students a second chance to learn so, you know, they’ll actually learn.

Should students be able to re-do assignments and/or assessments? How does responsibility play in? Please leave your thoughts in a comment below.

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  • Rachel says:

    And for all of those tests that aspiring professionals take, they pay per test. This means that there is incentive for them to do well, and also that there is incentive for the governing organizations to give retakes. They have the time/resources (the luxury) of being able to give their “clients” retakes. This is the what public school teachers do not have. And this is why many do not give retakes. There is no time, and there is already too much work.

    • Seems like we need a total shift in the way that schools are done/organized so we can have that luxury. Plus, they value knowing that their clients passed. I think we are too focused on moving forward and getting to the next unit/chapter. A better method of “learn the content and then let’s move on” is necessary, in my opinion. Great idea. Keep them coming! 🙂

  • Chris says:

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Matt. Our nation’s education system is heading down a path where it relies to heavily on test scores to inform itself on how our students are doing. In the process, we are narrowly defining success as achievement on these assessments and focused too narrowly on performance as it pertains to a test. This limits the way we view student development; and as a result, we marginalize the education experience.

    The tests do, however, provide students valuable feedback, which they need. If only, they could receive it more often and in a more qualitative fashion. Moreover, students do need authentic learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. The classroom is no longer a insular 4-wall space, it needs to involve the world. Our students’ success depends on their ability to function in a 21st century globalized world. Let’s focus on this kind of assessment and development. Interested to hear your thoughts, Matt.

    • I think you hit it, Chris. Qualitative feedback. The rigid tests students are taking — and the rigid teaching methods employed to prepare students for those tests — sap the classroom of creativity. It becomes a culture of gathering points, doing only what’s required, simplifying the learning process to multiple choice and worksheets. Real, meaningful learning doesn’t happen that way. And if kids don’t learn, they should get chances to learn again. That’s how learning is in the real world: learn it, and do it at your pace. If you don’t get it, try something different, try harder, work til you get it right. Great comment. I appreciate it and the retweet on Twitter. Please do stop by again and weigh in on other posts. — Matt