April is Stress Awareness Month. When it comes to stress in education, one thing that comes to mind is standardized testing season and the impact it has on both students and teachers alike. Months of emphasizing high-stakes, practice tests, formats, and review can take its toll. Research shows that teens are already experiencing a high level of stress. In a 2014 study from the American Psychological Association, 83% of teens ages 13-17 reported school as a source of stress. Also in 2014, the Center for American Progress reported that students in grades 3-8 spend the most time testing than the other grades, averaging 15-16 hours per year, including benchmark, district, and state assessments. Teachers have also been concerned that valuable instructional time is taken for reviewing test content and preparing students to feel comfortable with test formats through rehearsal of test scenarios and released tests. In a research report from Harvard University, evidence shows that student testing stress manifests itself in ways such as stomachaches, headaches, anxiety, sleep problems, depression, truancy, and misbehavior.
How to Help Students
There are various ways teachers can help students reduce their stress and anxiety during standardized testing season. We’ve pulled some resources to help!
Prepare students to be familiar with the test: In addition to ensuring students have been taught all of the necessary content and reviewing the material, make sure students are familiar with the test format and expectations. 12 Powerful Words is a powerpoint presentation of 12 words common in test questions including predict, compare, contrast, analyze, formulate, and more. When students are familiar with these words, they will be more prepared and empowered to know what questions are asking and how to answer them. Teachers can make sure they include these words and types of questioning in general assessments for their content to familiarize students throughout the year.
Include methods for reducing stress into your classroom day: Stress can impact a child’s physical health. One of the easiest ways to help promote balance is to offer brain breaks, especially during the time frame right before and during test season. This can include deep-breathing, meditation, dancing, stretches, cheering or mantras, or any physical activity that removes focus from testing pressure. These activities will all help break tension that may be building up periodically throughout the child’s day.
Help students identify where their fear is coming from: Make sure you validate student’s feelings and emotions. They should know that it is perfectly normal to be feeling nervous about the upcoming test and that these emotions may be impacting them in multiple ways. The Crash Course video: Test Anxiety is part of their study skills program It walks students through tips for beating test anxiety and feeling refreshed and confident on test day.
Support parents and students with literature resources: Here is a list of books on reducing stress in children.
Advice from Curriki Teachers
Members of our Curriki community shared their classroom-tested tips and strategies for helping reduce test anxiety in their students.
“Extra recess or exercise, movement or dance and focused mindfulness or quieting (reading, meditating,etc.) for calming.” -Anonymous, elementary teacher
“We set up a simulation of a test day. We talk about feelings, how to recognize when our brains or our bodies are shutting down and what we can do at that point. We look at the released test items and go through them. We talk about how what we do, what we wear, what we eat impacts how we do on test day.” -Anonymous, elementary teacher
“Pep talks/assembly.” -Anonymous, middle school teacher
“Do a meditation before starting. Stress that one’s worth and ability cannot be defined by a standardized test but by ongoing learning so see this as a fun challenge….give it a go.” -Noeleen Pomeroy, high school teacher
“Finding resources to support academically. Validate concerns and look for resources in and out of school. “ -F. Y. Prioleau, high school teacher
The Influence Of Teachers
Teachers can suffer from stress and anxiety during test taking season as well. With legislation often tying student performance to teacher evaluation, stability, and directing what teachers teach, teacher stress towards testing is reaching an all-time high. Teachers who are early in their career may especially exhibit negative symptoms. The American Psychological Association offers tips and strategies for reducing stress for new teachers.
On the flip side, teachers may be inadvertently influencing the stress on students regarding testing. Teachers can best model confidence and assurance towards testing situations to students. They should avoid language that might put pressure or fear in students, this includes emphasizing the high-stakes of the test on their futures over the quality mastery of content.
Any efforts made to recognize and address the stress of high-stakes testing impact on students can be helpful. What matters is educators and parents be mindful of signs of distress in children during standardized testing season. What do you do in your classroom or school to ensure students are emotionally and physically healthy during testing season?