Test anxiety is real: What should we do about it?

The post below was written by Kathleen Muthler (Mom and Teacher in Pennsylvania)

My Son is Back!!

Just three years ago when my son was in 3rd grade, I started to notice some anxiousness in him right before he took his very first PSSA test.  The night before the test, he second guessed himself on whether he was prepared to take it.  He didn’t feel that he knew everything he needed to know for the test.  We were up until the wee hours reassuring him that it would be okay, that these tests do not mean anything to him, and that he would still be allowed to go to 4th grade regardless.  However, he knew that his teacher and the school were relying on him to do well.  He felt the pressure on him to succeed for others, not just himself.  This happened every year afterward as well.  However, it had gotten worse in 4th and 5th grade.  The anxiety toward what he felt he knew and did not know in preparation started much earlier with every passing year.  By 5th grade, he was worried about every assignment, every lesson, and every new concept.  The night before each test was sleepless for the child, therefore, sleepless for the mother.

Fast forward to today.  My son is now in 6th grade, and I have officially decided to opt him out of all testing now and in the future.  No more PSSA’s and no future Keystone Tests.  His attitude towards learning is so different these days.  He does not have the anxiety leading up to the tests, because he knows that there is no pressure to perform and do well (mostly for the approval of others).  It is wonderful as a mom to know that I have my son back, the son that loved school and learning in the years prior to PSSA testing.  I can see the littlest changes in him and his attitude toward learning.  When he doesn’t grasp a concept right away now, we discuss it and work through it without panic and anxiety.

I am also a teacher, so I know the pressures placed on the school, the teachers, and the students to perform and do well.  I know that my son’s school will miss counting his (and his older brother) advanced scores in the quest to achieve AYP.

However, as a mom, I know that I am doing what is best for my children and their future.

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Comments

  1. I’ve been looking around on the internet and it seems you cannot opt out Keystone exams?

    • Negotiating this is a little tricky but as of now the Keystones are being used to measure AYP in place of the PSSAs. In 2017 they are set to become part of the graduation requirements for PA. However, they are not now and anybody saying they are is not telling the truth. Since the Keystones are being used in place of the PSSAs you can opt out.

  2. I knew you could opt out of PSSA tests, but I was not aware you could opt out of the Keystone exams. My nephew is in 10th grade and my sister is under the impression that he is required to take and pass these exams to receive his diploma. Is this not true? He has an IEP and his teachers feel he will not pass the exam, but have said nothing to her about opting out.

  3. Kathleen, you say that you have “officially” decided. Forgive me if I’m being too literal, but since my son also gets extreme anxiety and has assorted learning disabilities and neurological issues, I would like to find out if I have a choice in the testing. Did you have a choice, or will you simply keeping your son home during testing? If the latter, I also have to deal with a truancy law that says 3 consecutive absences = truancy!

    • Kate Muthler says:

      Konni, in Pennsylvania we have a right to opt out of standardized testing by viewing the test at hand, signing a confidentiality statement, and then writing a letter to the Superintendent. I just did this last week for one set of exams (the Keystone Algebra 1 exam). When the school has the PSSA tests in their possession, I will schedule another appointment, view the test, sign their paperwork, and then give letter to superintendent again. Using religion as a reason is what they say is the reason, but you can also say ethically or philosophically disagree with the test and opt out. The school will then have to supply my children and any others an alternate activity during the time of testing. I do not plan to hold them out of school. You shouldn’t have to either. Look into your state’s policies and your school policy. Good Luck!!

  4. Kudos Kate for doing what is right for your kids. Thanks to your help I am now looking into doing the same for my 6th grader.

    • Kate Muthler says:

      Thanks Kecia. We are so much happier of a house because of it. If you run into any problems or questions, let me know.

  5. Wow. This really hit home for me. I am also an (elementary) teacher and *my* son is in 6th grade. He has been dealing with these same anxiety issues since the third grade (imagine that-when all the testing nonsense begins). I’ve been sitting on the fence about opting him out this year (we are in western NY state area). I think you may have tipped me in the right direction.

    Watching my third grade students take these ridiculous test breaks my heart every year. It is breaking me down as well. I am NOT the same teacher I was years ago. The moral is low all around.

  6. It’s refreshing to hear this perspective from a teacher! The idea of testing is engrained into the heads of educators and students, along with fear of reprocussion, should they not comply! Kudos to Ms. Muthler for standing up for what she believes in – the welfare of her child!!

  7. Ask your child. Wait till you have an opportunity to talk your child in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably with friends of the same age group and innocently ask what they think. Also, get the big picture. What is going on in your community is part of a major struggle for power in the world. Those who have it want to keep it but they are afraid because everywhere they look people are growing up to think it is possible for them to have something other than the dismal life they have been living as slaves to put crumbs on their table. So. revolution is in the air; climate change is rumbling over the water. So, these ‘haves’ are worried. They opened ‘Pandora’s Box’ and now they are struggling to close it again. Religion is losing its hold or leading us to to the inevitable war between those of the Judaic-Christian belief and the Muslims. So the Westerners are seeking to establish a kind of control over the masses as the Eastern Islamic faiths seem to have over their people. It is not that simple a picture as I paint it to be but you need to think about it and make your own conclusions. I mean, this whole war we started ‘terrorists’ — who in hell are they anyway? They are mostly fictitious except for the groups trained by our CIA to foment trouble. Whatever, you have to learn to tell fact from fiction and begin to get together with your neighbors and figure out how you are going to resist whats coming down the pike and you need to prepare your children or else sit back, have a few beers, turn on the TV, and watch them get sucked up into more wage-slavery, prisons, or having to serve in the armed forces or something.
    Good luck.

  8. This is out of context to the issue at hand. Try not to make so many connections at once. We can’t solve all of the worlds problems. Think of what Mother Theresa taught through her actions. Take care to do small things, with great love. That means love of humanity. Focus on the good first. Try to shore it up, give it more space for success to build on.
    Look toward creating happier healthier families. Just don’t judge everything bad if it is not perfect. That is also part of the human condition.

  9. Not all people are competitors. (Or they may not feel like competing yet…maybe one day. ) It should be okay to not compete until you really want to compete. I completely agree that “test anxiety” is a type of performance anxiety, and it can severely affect a student’s ability to do well. Taking that anxiety away many students could begin to develop an intrinsic love of learning. I’m a teacher in Southwestern Florida. I believe in assessing to see where students can be helped to improve their comprehension and problem solving abilities. It doesn’t have to be formal assessment. Not all assessment should be formal with data collection. We don’t all learn at the same rate. Some students may seem to be hibernating and all of a sudden they make learning gains. Teaching and learning involve patience, not constant scrutiny. There are far too many tests and they are used as judgments; evaluations of students, teachers and schools. That mindset, it seems to me, is the real problem.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] In this era of high-stakes standardized tests, a subject that gets short shrift is test anxiety and how it affects young students, the Washington Post reports. Text anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, and it can severely affect a student’s ability to do well. Here is one mother’s story of how test anxiety affected her elementary school son and what she did about it. Written by Kathleen Muthler, who is a teacher in Pennsylvania, this appeared on the website @thechalkface.com… [...]

  2. [...] Text anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, and it can severely affect a student’s ability to do well. Here is one mother’s story of how test anxiety affected her elementary school son and what she did about it. Written by Kathleen Muthler, who is a teacher in Pennsylvania, this appeared on the website @thechalkface.com. [...]

  3. [...] Text anxiety is a type of performance anxiety, and it can severely affect a student’s ability to do well. Here is one mother’s story of how test anxiety affected her elementary school son and what she did about it. Written by Kathleen Muthler, who is a teacher in Pennsylvania, this appeared on the website @thechalkface.com. [...]

  4. [...] Test anxiety is real: What should we do about it? The post below was written by Kathleen Muthler (Mom and Teacher in Pennsylvania) http://atthechalkface.com/2013/01/18/test-anxiety-is-real-what-should-we-do-about-it/ [...]

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