Report: Student test anxiety greater on state than local exams
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Peter Faustino, NYASP
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FOR RELEASE: November 20, 2015
Report finds student test anxiety greater on state than local exams;
study also finds adults have a significant impact on student test anxiety
Joint School Board-School Psychologist Research Report Examines Test Anxiety
About three-quarters (76 percent) of school psychologists in New York say their students experience greater anxiety over state tests than for local assessments, according to a new research report issued jointly today by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) and the New York Association of School Psychologists (NYASP).
Test anxiety appears to physically affect a minority of students overall. When asked what percentage of students in their caseload exhibited adverse physical symptoms during the most recent state tests, school psychologists most often said that fewer than half experienced adverse physical symptoms. This is consistent with previous research studies, which found that about 25 percent of students experience test anxiety, with a range of 10 to 40 percent of students.
One explanation for the increased anxiety is the implementation of exams linked to the state's new learning standards. Six in 10 school psychologists say the level of anxiety has increased since the state aligned its grades 3-8 assessments with the Common Core Learning Standards.
The report found that test anxiety is more common at the elementary levels, and that students displayed "internalized" symptoms of test anxiety – such as excessive worry and withdrawal – about twice as often as "externalized" symptoms, such as heightened levels of irritability, frustration and acting out.
The report, entitled "Anxious for Success: High Anxiety in New York's Schools," is based on a survey of school psychologists conducted in September 2015. A total of 1,672 school psychologists were asked to respond to the survey, and 222 submitted completed responses, for a response rate of 13.2 percent.
Main sources of text anxiety
The report identifies several factors that contribute to test anxiety in students. The greatest factor appears to be the expectations of teachers and parents. Nearly 90 percent of school psychologists believe teachers' expectations contribute at least somewhat to test anxiety. Eighty-eight percent say that parents' expectations contribute to student test anxiety.
Students' awareness of the so-called "high stakes" nature of the state exams is also a factor. Two-thirds (66 percent) of school psychologists believe that the impact of state test results on teacher/principal performance reviews and on school ratings cause test-related stress among students.
The report recommends that beginning right now, mental health professionals share information on assessments and testing protocols with parents and talk to classroom students about good test-taking strategies, what the tests mean, and how to have a healthy outlook about them, rather than waiting until actual state testing begins in the spring. School boards can also ensure that school psychologists have adequate training in the strategies and skills needed to help students cope with test anxiety.
"Tests are a part of the academic experience. This report should make all education stakeholders – from state policymakers to local teachers to parents – aware of the profound impact that they can have, both positive and negative, on student test anxiety," said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. "No student should ever suffer from needless or excessive anxiety. By teaming up with the New York Association of School Psychologists, we can offer practical recommendations that everyone in the school community can implement to reduce test anxiety."
Past President of NYASP and NYS Delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists, Dr. Peter Faustino shared, "This collaborative effort between the New York State School Boards and School Psychologists is a framework for educational problem solving. After last year's outcry from parents over high stakes testing, NYSSBA and NYASP investigated the issue by collecting data as a context for intervention decisions, with an eye toward offering practical solutions." Dr. Faustino highlighted the report's focus on a multi-tiered system of support. "Better understanding that anxiety can be prevented, identified and treated is a huge step toward ensuring that all students enter the school ready to learn." He suggested that even things as simple as the language we use to describe state assessments could go a long way to combating test anxiety. "Let's encourage students to be proud to 'show what they know' when assessments are being administered," he said.
The report is available at http://www.nyssba.org/news/2015/11/20/reports/anxious-for-success-high-anxiety-in-new-york-s-schools/ and www.nyasp.org.
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