Monthly Archives: February 2009

Test Anxiety

When I talk to prospective parents and family members about our school, one of the things I always bring up is test anxiety.  I want families to know how important it is for us, both on an individual student and team/school level, that each student succeeds on the state assessments, but that we have an approach that views state tests rationally and calmly.  My personal view is that standardized tests are a useful snapshot of how well a student and a school is performing; they are here to stay, and succeeding on them entails a set of skills that will serve students well for the rest of their lives.  However, they are only a small part of any complete assessment picture.  
 
When I tell families our formula [Good Curriculum + Sensible Test Prep - Test Anxiety = Success] and I get to the part about test anxiety, there are nods all around.  Test anxiety happens because adults are complicit in heaping unnecessary insecurity on children.  The pressure felt and expressed by school leaders, parents, and teachers inevitably trickles down to children. 
 
One of our teachers, who taught at a different elementary school last year, went back to visit his old colleagues and students prior to the state English Language Arts exam.  He had a good time visiting, but noted the tension everyone felt, from teachers to administrators to students, with the test looming.  “How calm everyone is at Harlem Link,” he realized, but not for lack of care.  
 
Most people who don’t spend a lot of time in public schools probably intuitively sense that school should be serious and about learning, but should also have an element of fun and joyfulness.  But they probably don’t understand how much test anxiety can be an unseen menace.   This year, despite our efforts to the contrary, a third grader who wasn’t otherwise ill vomited on the day of the state test – both on the school bus and then again at school.  She was so nervous that she had to go back home that day, and was able to take the test during the make up period with fewer students around and less pressure.
 
Think about how hard it is for some adults to demonstrate their skills under pressure.   It’s my view that, from elementary school tests to SATs to professional competency exams, test anxiety threatens to hold all of us back from showing what we know best.  With the right attitude and confidence, we can all achieve more.

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