How State Testing Affects Students

Within the past two decades, standardized state testing in schools has come under more scrutiny than ever before—and for good reason. With the implementation of new policies in 2002, standardized tests are being used to not only monitor student achievement but also gauge the performance of teachers, administrators, and entire school districts as well.

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, children in grades three through eight and high school are required to undergo standardized proficiency tests in math, English, and language arts. The results of these tests are calculated using an “adequate yearly progress” (AYP) gauge. If schools don’t meet their AYP achievement targets over a certain length of time, they can lose their district funding or even be closed for good.

These circumstances have led to heightened concerns over the effectiveness of these tests as well as concerns over whether or not the tests impose unnecessary stress upon teachers and students alike.

About State Tests

Currently, many states in the U.S. are using the Smarter Balanced assessment tests, which examine skills in English, language arts, and math for children in grades three through eight and high school.

A recent report shows that average test scores in English and language arts have fallen in most grades (particularly fifth grade) while math scores have dropped for secondary grades but risen for primary grades. The study also showed that, in spite of these lower scores, the new test questions were thought to be easier than previous test questions.

Are Standardized Tests Causing Added Stress?

While critics ponder whether these results are due to faults in the testing system or failures in the classroom, one fact remains clear: standardized tests are raising stress levels in America’s schools. Because of the high stakes involved for schools, a great deal of classroom time is now spent in preparing for these tests, and students as well as teachers are feeling the pressure. With the advent of the April testing season each year, reports show more incidences of sickness and emotional anxiety among teachers and students—to the point where some parents actually refuse to let their children participate in the tests.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, at least 25 percent of students aged 13–18 will experience anxiety disorders nearing testing time—a number that’s 30 times higher than two decades ago. According to medical professionals, symptoms range from headaches, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting to depression, insomnia, and low self-esteem. Kids are also asking to stay home from school more often—and while a few days’ rest can bring a respite, the symptoms often reappear as soon as the child returns to school.

Students aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure. According to a study from the National Education Association, 72 percent of teachers say that, because of these standardized tests, school administrators are putting added pressure on them while 45 percent have even considered leaving the profession. Likewise, 52 percent say that there’s too much classroom time being spent on the tests while 42 percent say that the tests have a “negative impact” on their classrooms.

Coping with Stress

If you’re wondering if parents can do anything to help their kids cope with state testing season, the answer is yes, you can offer plenty of help and support at home. For example, consider these strategies:

  1. Encourage your kids to take a break from studying. Movie nights and family outings can help recharge their batteries.
  2. Make sure your kids get 8–10 hours of sleep every night.
  3. Reward your children. Plan a fun activity once tests are over such as a trip to a theme park or a party.
  4. Talk to your children and encourage them to do well, but put everything in perspective and remind them that the world doesn’t revolve around these tests.

While testing season will naturally bring more stress, there’s no reason why your child should suffer from the symptoms of anxiety. With a good amount of nurturing, mentoring, and compassion, you can help your kids get through testing season with a minimum of worry and stress.

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