“It’s going to be on the test!” How many times did you hear this phrase when you were in school? The culture surrounding testing is emotionally charged for parents, students, teachers, and administrators. School performance scores are a nearly direct reflection of students’ standardized test scores. If that wasn’t enough, the rules surrounding testing keep changing. High stakes; not high stakes; alternative testing; are all scores included? And our children, who soak up our emotions like a tiny sponge, hear and feel what we broadcast about the stress of testing, often leading to them to begin worrying about their own performance in school.
The State of Testing
Surveys suggest that there is an increase of mental health-related issues among students while they are taking tests. Teachers have reported that there’s an increase in fear of failure and depression due to today’s system of testing.
Veteran teacher Layla Dupuy shares, “I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of standardized testing. I have experienced testing meltdowns with third graders who were confused by spending long periods of time filling in tiny bubbles. I have comforted eighth graders as they sobbed uncontrollably when they received the news that they failed the LEAP test, which meant they also failed the eighth grade. I have celebrated with high school students upon learning that they passed their End of Course tests or achieved their personal best on the ACT. Logically, I understand the need for standardized tests for evaluating student performance. Where the problem lies is in the emphasis we put on these results. How a student performs on one test, on one day, should not be the sole measure of his or her potential for future success.”
And unfortunately, that is the current state of testing. Local therapist, Tara Dixon adds, “We are teaching children that high-stakes testing is the most important indicator of academic achievement. What testing cannot and does not measure are skills such as relationship building, communication skills, perseverance, and teamwork–all factors that are valuable skills in successful adulthood. If academic self-efficacy is determined by one score on one test, we are taking the chance of minimizing the importance of traits such as creativity, appreciation for human connection, independent problem solving, and big picture decision making. Are we telling children that testing is the only way to achieve success? When we highlight unique strengths, we give kids the opportunity to succeed in their own story, not just the one laid out for them.”
The Need to Succeed
Wanting to excel in school work can have an impact on every student. Even when a child is doing his absolute best, he can still have moments where he feels his best just isn’t good enough. This can lead to a variety of issues for some, including anxiety and stress.
“We took our son to a therapist because he was experiencing anxiety tied to math,” recalls mom and teacher Megan S. “This took shape in the form of tears that would start at the sight of his math homework. Even after being given a break to play outside, he would still become debilitated at the thought of working on it. This was despite tremendous skill level in the subject. He scored in the 98th percentile of his school in math, but nonetheless, felt pressure from his teachers, who would often make whole-class statements meant to encourage everyone to improve. Testing anxiety can happen to students at any and all achievement levels. To him, the motivation was interpreted as added pressure to continue building upon already impressive scores.” she says.
“Tests don’t cause anxiety,” shares local therapist Star Marks. “They can make you nervous or worried. The conversation needs to start with this as the baseline: Is your child nervous versus anxious? Another factor to consider is the household level of anxiety surrounding test taking and the pressure that is put on the student. Do we have realistic expectations for our children, and are they based on individual strengths vs. universal expectations? A little nervousness is healthy and pushes us to try a bit beyond our comfort levels, but children who have anxiety disorders can be triggered by testing expectations.”
Stress and anxiety can start at an early age and can lead to health problems later in life. Introducing high levels of stress early in a child’s life could be putting him at risk for adulthood depression and anxiety, obesity, heart disease, increased chance of chronic pain, and gastrointestinal problems. Mental health therapist Amanda Morris shares, “There’s more pressure than ever on students to achieve high test scores, and test anxiety is common.”
Testing can exacerbate many underlying issues, but testing cannot, in itself, be the root cause of anxiety disorder; autism; eating disorders; ADD; ADHD; ODD; or other behavioral, health, or mental health diagnoses.
How can a parent know if his or her child is experiencing undue stress because of testing? Dixon explains, “I always ask parents to categorize their child’s symptoms. You are looking for physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. When they are present together is when you know you’re truly dealing with anxiety. And most of the time, you can trace them back like dominos.
For example: John is presented a reading passage, and he immediately experiences fear of failure (emotional). He also begins having racing thoughts and heartbeat (physical), and therefore, begins squirming in his chair excessively (behavioral). Because the behavioral symptoms are easier to notice, children are often scolded for that one symptom. As adults, we tend to focus on the end result of getting the passage read. However, in order to decrease the behavioral component, you must back up and teach the child to address the first emotional one.”
What You Can Do
Trust your gut, and investigate changes in your child’s behavior. Have daily time together to connect without distractions.
Morris adds, “Ideally, there should be mental health screenings on all children at regular intervals throughout the school year beginning in Kindergarten, or even PreK, to both identify issues and monitor them over time. Children don’t yet have the language to say, ‘I’m anxious,’ or ‘I’m struggling with depression,’ but their behavior tells the story. Identifying the signs of emotional distress could be life-changing for a child or teenager. Untreated emotional problems will directly impact a child’s academic performance and social functioning.”
Tirza Fernandez-Brazier, Director of Counseling and Guidance of East Baton Rouge Parish School System, adds, "We must be sure to care for our students. It is very important to ensure students are ‘mentally healthy,’ and that positive affirmations are being reinforced.
We must continue to promote positive self images and cultivate positive environments. Facilitating healthy conversations and fostering healthy relationships, while exhibiting characteristics of care and concern, is vital to the well-being of the students' mental health.”
Morris also encourages you to teach your children mindfulness strategies, such as meditation, to help improve focus and reduce test anxiety and stress.
If your child’s school does not have a mental health professional on staff, consult one who is in your community who specializes in working with children and adolescents.
Louisiana public schools have begun preparing students for the spring Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP 2025) and the Louisiana End-of-Course (EOC) tests.
The content of each test is aligned to the standards adopted by the Louisiana Department of Education and the curriculum taught in each parish. Each test includes multiple choice and open-ended items.
Kindergarten and Grade 1 will take English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics assessments. Students in Grades 2-8 will be tested in the four core subjects: ELA, mathematics, science, and social studies.
Students in Grades 5 and 8 will take LEAP 2025. LEAP 2025 covers ELA, math, science (new for this year), and social studies. Some schools have the option to test students in Grades 3 and 4. The spring testing dates are from April 29-May 3.
Students who are living with disabilities may be eligible to take the LEAP Alternate Assessment, for Science, in Grades 4, 8, and 11, and LEAP Connect in Grades 3-8, and 11. LEAP Connect is given to students through March 15.
Students who are in Grades 9-12, in Louisiana, must take and pass three Louisiana EOC tests. The tests must be in English II or III, Algebra I or Geometry, and Biology or American History. EOC tests measure the knowledge and skills a student is expected to have mastered by the end of a specific high school course. All students must receive a passing grade on each test, or they will not be eligible to receive a diploma. The spring testing dates are from April 15-May 17. ■