Every year, students in public schools across the United States are subjected to the pressure of standardized testing. From elementary to the high school level, school districts administer some form of statewide testing that usually causes our children and students to panic.
In the state of Connecticut, elementary students take the Connecticut Mastery Test, more popularly known as the CMTs. During the test, students are handed a fat booklet of questions that they must answer under strict time constraints. “My daughter is in the third grade and she’s taking the CMTs for the first time this month. She’s been worried about it for weeks, and today she is pretending to be sick. This testing sucks! She is way too [young] to be worrying about a test!” remarks Leslie Colon-Lebron.
Why does a third grader become anxious about a test? Is it because of teacher pressure? Are school principals to blame? Parents, teachers and even school administrators all ask these questions.
“I don’t like that I’m rushed and timed. I feel that there are students that are smart and know how to do things, but they may fail CAPT (Connecticut Academic Performance Tests), because they don’t know how to take tests. They feel nervous and forget what they have learned in the classroom,” complains a female Dominican-American high school teenager.
WHY DO STUDENTS GET ANXIOUS ABOUT TESTING?
“With the stakes so high, not doing well can be mortifying. To handle the pressure, middle school and high school students tend to adopt the opinion of their friends, that either testing is worthless or testing is an important indicator of worth. The accompanying standards and expectations to fit in and also do well, naturally promotes anxiety,” says Nicholas Strouse, clinician and Director of Westport Family Counseling in Connecticut.
“For middle and [upperclassmen], testing is one of many dynamic experiences related to mastering a sense of self in relation to one’s peers, and in the eyes of the world (parents and teachers,” Strouse adds.
Read Related: How to Help Your Kids Overcome School Test Anxiety
ONE EDUCATIONAL CRITIC’S TAKE
Labeled. Judged. Categorized. Perhaps that’s the reason the anxiety level is so high for our children. Alfie Kohn, in a 2002 article titled Standardized Testing: Separating Wheat Children from Chaff Children, argues against high-stakes testing and its negative effects, “The whole standards-and-accountability movement is not about helping ALL children to become better learners. It is not committed to leaving (sic) ‘No Child Left Behind,’ but just the OPPOSITE: it is an elaborate sorting device, separating wheat from chaff. And don’t ask what happens to the chaff.”
TEACHERS’ & ADMINISTRATORS’ THOUGHTS
“Testing is long, stressful, boring, and it puts teachers in a box,” states Cvetelina Ivanova, a teacher who has administered the CAPT (Connecticut Academic Performance Tests), to children learning English as a second language. The CAPT is challenging for students whose first language is English, so just imagine what it’s like for a non-native speaker. Students whose native language is not English are tested in mathematics and science during their first year in Connecticut public schools. During their second year, they’re tested in all components: reading, writing, mathematics, and science.
Olga I. Muñiz Tosado, a recently-retired elementary school principal comments, “Our kids are over tested! There is too much value and emphasis placed on standardized tests, so now we are teaching to tests, rather than educating our students.”
HOW DOES TESTING AFFECT PARENTS & TEACHERS?
As a teacher of English as a second language, I remind my students that testing, in the grand scheme of things, will not make or break them. If anything, they will have the opportunity to recap on what they learned in the classroom in a formal, standardized manner.
“It allows you to see what you are capable of and it reminds you of what you need to improve upon,” adds a student who admits to feeling the pressure of testing, but not minding it too much.
“Parents are often in the role of helping teenagers regulate their emotions. Being a sponge, a buffer, and a caretaker for anxious middle and [upperclassmen] creates enormous anxiety for parents,” continues Strouse.
SURVIVAL TIPS FOR YOUR CHILDREN
- Stick to a routine. Continue with the normal routine at home. Most children will have lighter homework loads during testing periods and shorter classes.
- Monitor their bedtime. Students need to be alert. They need a good 8-10 hours of sleep every night to perform optimally on standardized tests.
- Mind their nutrition. Make sure that your child eats a nutritious breakfast that includes protein, whole-grain cereal, and orange juice. Some teachers allow their students to eat fresh fruit and drink bottled water in between testing sessions.
- Encourage them. Parents may notice an attitude change in their children; allow them to be a little cranky at home, testing is tedious! A word of encouragement or a warm hug tells them that you care, and that their personality and future endeavors are not determined by a test score.
- Remind them they are more than their test results. Remind your child that their test scores are a small part of their academic performance. Grades and tests matter, but their unique gifts, talents, and personality go way beyond the academic setting and are far more important.
- Reward them. After a week or more of testing, get outdoors and celebrate the studying and testing hours they put in. College professor Eva De Lourdes Edwards, believes that kids should take the time to relax in a park or go on a hike with family and friends. Clinician Strouse concludes with this advice for parents and their children: “Exercise. Play. Create.”