Although standardized testing has changed, and a recent bill signed by Governor Rick Scott now limits the number of standardized tests Florida children will take, they are still causing anxiety and stress in kids. According to the American Test Anxiety Association, as many as 20% of kids taking tests have high test anxiety. This anxiety can actually cause kids to score lower on tests, and cause a whole host of other problems including a loss of appetite and loss of sleep.
Research has some simple and fascinating things to say about how we can boost student performance on standardized test scores. As a parent, it is important to understand what causes this anxiety so that you can learn how to help your child boost their scores and lower their anxiety.
What Causes the Stress?
Unfortunately, with the mounting pressure to increase standardized tests scores, many educators and administrators are unknowingly creating classroom environments that are not conducive to student success. According to educator Kumar Sathy, teachers are increasing test anxiety by resorting to the use of some pretty controversial statements in the classroom:
· If you don’t pass this test, I might lose my job.
· This test will go on your permanent record.
· The school might be shut down if you don’t do well on the test.
· You’re going to be held back if you don’t pass the test.
There is growing concern about testing and some groups have even gone as far as boycotting the tests around the country. The test is not the problem. The way we talk to children about it is the problem.
Students as young as 8 say they are worried their teachers will get fired if they don’t pass the test. They tell me they are embarrassed already because they know other kids will make fun of them if they don’t pass. Another cause of the anxiety is simple adrenaline, according to Teenshealth.org. Creating a calming environment for learning is key.
We have to change the conversation for kids to start succeeding.
Change the Conversation
The Department of Education suggest that parents should talk to their children about testing. Listen to them without interrupting them. Ask them what they feel and what their concerns are. Don’t correct any misconceptions or succumb to the urge to interrupt until they have let it all out. Let them vent. Let them know they don’t have to bottle up their worries with the cork of optimism and positive thinking. Then work to correct the misconceptions.
If it seems like someone at your child’s school is issuing empty threats or creating a hostile learning environment for your child by being threatening or not encouraging, make it a top priority to talk with that person at the school. Understand, though, that what your child fears may not necessarily be a reflection of what her teacher or administrator is actually saying. It could just be the way your child is processing the situation. Kids have very creative ways of interpreting the world around them. The positive slogans, constant reassurance, discussions, pressure and practice with the big test could just be leading your child to misinterpret what it all really means.
How to Soothe Anxiety
The Washington Post suggests that parents who want to help their kids with test anxiety should let them unload on paper, and should start practicing breathing exercises. Engage in expressive writing. There is quite a bit of research demonstrating that engaging in simple expressive writing exercises about the test and writing about the things those students’ value and are grateful for in life can actually decrease a major source of test anxiety and lead to a boost in student performance. This simple writing activity helps kids vent and then redirects their focus to the things they love and pour their hearts into. Doing the latter portion of the writing exercise in a varied manner, as often as possible, will ensure that students spend more time thinking about the things they are grateful for than on things they are worried about (like how they will do on the test).
Breathing exercises can be as simple as teaching your child to take in a deep breath when they are feeling anxiety and to slowly release that breath. Taking long breaths can slow your heartbeat and give you a few seconds to think so that you can answer correctly. You can incorporate soothing or calming music as well as breathing exercises into study sessions to help reduce anxiety.
Remember, over-emphasizing a test can only increase anxiety in your child. Once they are able to lower their anxiety level you will see a boost in their test scores.
Another great way to lower anxiety is to connect with other families that are experiencing the same issues. The Children’s Board of Hillsborough County has incredible Family Resource Centers that can give your child and you the resources and connections you need to get through testing season. They also support mentorship programs that will connect your child or teen with adults that can help them put their test anxiety into perspective.