Thursday, May 01, 2008

Still Stressed by the Test

We're into Day Three of the TAKS testing marathon this week, and this was the kind of thing that greeted us on the front page of the paper this morning:
A quiet campaign is afoot in Texas schools to scrap a key part of the state accountability test: the pressure.

Educators say some students have become so nervous at test time that they vomit before the exam, cry at their desks or become so unglued that their parents turn to professional help.

The pressure doesn't bode well for their psyches or their scores: Stressed-out students who freeze at the sight of a bubble sheet can sink scores as much as children who don't know the answers, school officials say.
And as was noted the other day, this test is being given to kids as young as the third grade.

So how are school districts helping the students cope?
Districts that are on the hook for those scores are trying everything from the sublime to the scientific: In Coppell, an elementary principal plays soothing music – during this week's tests, it was "Don't Worry, Be Happy" – over the loudspeaker.

Irving officials created a game show to help high school students relax. This spring, Plano officials will study how the jitters affect test scores.
Will any of this work? What would you propose to help ease test anxieties? (You already know my answer--make the test an assessment, not tied to promotion, or scrap the whole thing completely, but that's not coming anytime soon.)

It's definitely a serious problem:
Test anxiety strikes the best and worst of students from all backgrounds, researchers say. About 20 percent of students in upper elementary grades are hamstrung by testing stress, according to University of North Carolina researcher Gregory Cizek.

[...]"Once a student can understand the ramifications of passing or failing, that's the point where the anxiety kicks in," said Charles Crews, a licensed counselor who studies testing stress at Texas Tech University. "If you can't go to fourth grade because you can't pass the third-grade TAKS, the kids know that. It's at that point that I think it becomes pretty bad for them." Dr. Crews said teachers and principals don't help matters when their own stress trickles down to kids. In schools with consistently low test scores, failure can cost educators their jobs.

"I've observed teachers where they have a cup of coffee and they're just shaking because some of them know it's that intense," he said.
I have an idea: I've always been a big fan of the "people in charge" being able to actually do the things they're making other people do (administrators must teach, managers must work, legislators must live under the laws they pass, etc.). How about we make the people who require this test--i.e. state and federal lawmakers--take the exit-level TAKS test? It doesn't matter if they haven't studied the subjects in a while; as I said the other day, the science TAKS requires junior-year students to be tested over one subject (biology) that they may not have studied since freshman year, and another (physics) that they may not have taken at all. We could post the legislators' test scores online the way they do now with the schools, and those scores could affect their ability to be reelected in the future. One can only dream...

But back in the now, I'll close with a wise quote from an elementary school principal:
Mark Lukert, principal of Lakeside Elementary School in Coppell, does his best to settle nerves. He held a school assembly last Friday specifically to tell children to relax.

"We don't want to over-emphasize the test," he said. "That one-day snapshot definitely does not judge what kind of year that kid had."
Amen, brother. If only Those In Charge could be so wise...

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my good buddy Jordan in Wisconsin, as well as to my former student Jonny O.

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