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Dear IC

Dear IC: Reassessing When Students Fail

**Each week we’ll run our “Dear IC” Question and Answer series. Be sure to submit your classroom questions in the comments. You may recieve an answer from a TE Instructional Coach on future blog posts.**

Dear IC,

I recently gave a unit exam in my class. One of my students earned an “A” and another earned a “B.” The issue is, almost all of the other students in my class failed! What do I do?

Best regards,

Needa Reteach


Hi Needa,

First off, you really have two options here:

We recommend the first option. Second, be sure to loop in your Instructional Coach or another support person on your campus, as they will be able to provide even more direct guidance and really help you set things straight. They truly have a strong foundation in these types of things. With a situation like this, you will really want to consider what you did in order to prepare students for the exam. While it can be all too easy to focus on what your students didn’t do, that will not get us to our goal of achieving higher levels of mastery.

Things to Consider:

Did you backwards plan the unit?

Backwards planning ensures that you have a solid idea of the end, before you even begin teaching. The ideal is that you have the unit exam created and aligned to your unit objectives before you give your first lesson. Then, as you give your daily lessons, you can be certain that students are mastering the content/skills/objectives that are outlined in your test (You can place these summative assessment questions in your TE lesson plan template in the designated box at the top of the template).

Did you teach your students the concepts and expect daily mastery on those objectives like you assessed them on the exam?

It’s also important to ask yourself continuously if you taught the material as you are assessing it. It can be easy to teach content, concepts, and skills in a “vacuum.” Then, when students go to complete the more rigorous processes on an exam, they fail to make all of the connections. Ensure that you are teaching your students at the “level” that you will eventually test them. This means that students should be completing similar/identical processes with correlating formative assessment (e.g. exit ticket) questions leading up to the exam.

Was the exam too rigorous?

This is a difficult question and one you will need to be honest with yourself about. If you justify failing scores with the fact that many students didn’t master the concepts, you run the risk of not assessing students in the future to the level needed to master the skills/knowledge necessary for college. You want to push your students, but it is important to be mindful of their current developmental stage. Teach and assess your students at a level that is just a little bit above their current mastery level. Doing so will push students towards higher levels of mastery without leaving them defeated when they fail. Mastery must be accessible and feasible; otherwise you run the risk of your students feeling they will never be able to achieve their goals.

In final, it’s truly about planning ahead and balancing students’ current understanding of a concept and where you want them to be in the end.

But your question was about what to do now, and while being proactive is the best way to keep this from happening again, I’m sure you also want to know how best to proceed with the current failures.

What now?

You will want to start by re-teaching the failed concepts on the unit test in some form or another. You might consider spiraling the objectives into your next two units, teaching and assessing them over a long period of time, or you might want to “borrow” days from other parts of the instructional calendar to ensure that your students have a firm grasp on the misunderstood concepts as you move on. It will largely depend on the topics themselves and a great many other variables. With that being said, your Instructional Coach or campus support staff can can help you assess your current situation and devise a plan to address the current gaps.

And as a final note, the most important piece of this goes back to my first point. You need to keep calm. While you may think you’re the first teacher in the history of teaching to get less than stellar scores back from a unit or common assessment, the reality is that at some point we all get data back that makes us contemplate our effectiveness in the classroom. Ultimately, it is the way we respond to that instance that answers the question for us. Stay reflective, stay asset-based, and forge forward.

Best regards,

Calvin, TE Instructional Coach

What advice would you give Needa Reteach?

Don’t forget to leave your classroom questions in the comments to see the answers featured in our Friday “Dear IC” series.



2 thoughts on “Dear IC: Reassessing When Students Fail

  1. Thanks for this post, Calvin!

    I like all the points provided here. It is so critical to analyze student performance after each touchpoint. That feedback allows for us to grow as teachers in the way we set students up for success and then determine how we close the gap. TEach ’em up!

    Posted by Nella Garcia | October 5, 2012, 11:51 am
  2. I like the emphasis on ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ When I would worry about this in the classroom, someone gave me an analogy that really made me feel better about adjusting my calendar to accommodate reteaching. She told me to imagine that I am a school bus driver and I’m running behind schedule. If I’m worried about staying on time (sticking to my calendar) I could start skipping stops and not picking up students in order to arrive on time. BUT, if I do that, I arrive at the destination without any students. The preferable option is to make all my stops and make sure I get all the students to the destination, even if it’s off schedule. After that I felt empowered to make changes to my unit plan if I knew they were in the best interest of my kiddos.

    Posted by Petra | October 17, 2012, 10:37 am

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