Bruno: School-Inflicted Test Anxiety
With testing season coming up for many students, now is a good time to read Annie Murphy Paul's report on reducing test anxiety. She highlights three research-based methods of mitigating that anxiety: having students put their feelings on paper, affirm their values, or engage in relaxation exercises.
Those are all good suggestions both because anxiety is unpleasant for kids and because anxiety is known to reduce test performance.
Left unsaid, though, is something that strikes me every year at about this time: schools and teachers often seem to go out of their way to increase student test anxiety.
Schools routinely hang banners and hold rallies emphasizing the importance of state tests. They may send home flyers about how to prepare and elaborately modify the school schedule on testing days.
At the classroom level, teachers frequently give kids "pep talks" about upcoming standardized tests and dedicate instructional time to teaching "test-taking strategies".
Individually and taken together these practices send a signal to students - sometimes explicitly - that the tests are "a big deal" even when they are low- or no-stakes for the students themselves. It would be surprising if this didn't increase student anxiety on average.
Needless to say, that's unfortunate for the students. Ironically, it's also probably bad for school test scores since most content-free "test preparation" probably does little to actually increase test scores anyway.
It is probably true to some extent that any sort of testing is going to generate anxiety among students. At the same time, a significant amount of test anxiety is probably caused completely unnecessarily by counterproductive practices implemented by well-meaning teachers and administrators. Reducing test anxiety is good, but avoiding it in the first place would be even better. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)