Implementing strategies to assist test-anxious students.
With the increase of testing in our schools, teachers need to recognize the role test anxiety plays in student performance and then implement effective strategies to assist students who are overshadowed this trait. Teachers are responsible to enhance and measure student learning within their classrooms; they are also responsible to prepare students for testing, whether it is high-stakes testing (state-developed) or low-stakes testing (teacher-developed). The federal legislation, No Child Left Behind, "requires states to administer reading and mathematics assessments at least once a year to students in grades 3 through 8 (and once more in grades 10-12) by 2005-06. In addition, science assessment must be administered at least once in each of three grade spans by 2007-08" (Lissitz & Huynh, 2003, p. 1). While states scurry to submit their plans and proficiency levels, "researchers discover the impact of test anxiety on students' performance is often influenced by the evaluation practices of the classroom teacher" (Hancock, 2001, p. 1 ; Stipek, 1998; Pintrich & Schunk, 1996). Testing of students is occurring at a time when schools are being scrutinized by federal and state policy makers based on student scores (Snyder, 2004). Therefore, teachers must examine, develop and implement strategies to help students obtain educational gains that may increase their test scores. Strategies to assist students are: (1) ascertainment of test anxiety, (2) formative factors, (3) habitual prudence, (4) purposeful learning experiences, and (5) test-wise guidelines.
Ascertainment of Test Anxiety
Students of all levels of academic achievement and intellectual abilities can be affected by test anxiety (Sarason et al., 1960). Test anxiety occurs in varying degrees and is characterized by emotional feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension. It can be exhibited differently by individuals (McDonald, 2001). As students progress through the educational system with additional testing required by states, abundant pressures can negatively impact their performance.
To facilitate higher levels of performance, Nitko (2001) urged teachers to be cognizant of three types of test-anxious students. The first type is one who lacks the proper study skills and the ability to organize or comprehend the main ideas for the content being taught. Perhaps the fear of testing results from a lack of competence. The second type of test-anxious student possesses proper study skills, but also possesses "fears of failure" (p. 309) when experiencing assessment. The third type believes he or she possesses quality study skills but, in reality, does not. Hence, this type continues to be anxiety ridden when assessments are administered. Furthermore, at-risk students and ESL (English as a Second Language) may have even higher levels of test anxiety. Beidel et al. (1994) ascertained that test anxiety existed in similar prevalence between African American students and white school students.
Teachers need to consider how they will address the competence levels of these types of students before implementing an assessment. When teachers determine the existing competency level of test-anxious students, they become more aware of strategies they can develop or modify when implementing their assessments. Moreover, with this knowledge they can assist their students, of all types, to attain higher levels of performance and achievement.
Teaching encompasses various forms of assessment. To diminish test anxiety, teachers are encouraged to implement a stronger base of formative factors.
A factor is defined as "any circumstance that influences the course of events" (Webster, 2002, p. 137). These formative factors can occur by implementing a broad array of both traditional tests (essays, multiple choice, binary, completion, matching, etc.) and performance-based assessments (project-centered instruction, rubrics, oral presentations, and journal writing), to name a few. Formative factors include procedures before, during, and after the assessments. The emphasis is that teachers use continuous means of assessment throughout, not just at the end of chapter or course exams. Discussing the likely test content, marking procedures, and working with both individuals and small groups is most effective when conducted prior to the assessment sessions.
As formative factors are used with students, teachers should urge students to take notes so they see the value of note taking to enhance their learning. As students take notes, review material, and use graphic organizers (visual representations that show relationships of the content) they are assisting themselves tremendously. Marzano and his colleagues (2001, p. 48) state that while "summarizing and note taking are mere 'study skills,' they are two of the most powerful skills students can cultivate." These authors encourage teachers to recognize the following generalizations about note taking to help students. They are: "(1) verbatim note taking is, perhaps the least effective way to take notes, (2) notes should be considered a work in progress, (3) notes should be used as study guides for tests, and (4) the more notes that are taken, the better" (pp. 43-44). Teachers should allow time for students to review their notes and assist them in the format of note taking. Having a 'notebook check' often verifies whether or not the students achieved attainment of the key concepts.
Likewise, completing a student profile of assessment obstacles and having students examine their own obstacles are good ways to help students. Having students recommend and submit their own strategies on how to better their performance can be effective.
Implementing formative factors can assist in preparing students for multiple types of assessment, so they are comfortable when testing occurs. Further, this provides the teacher with a broader view of students' abilities and how they can design appropriate learning opportunities for diverse learners. All of these efforts assist in obtaining more meaningful results while working towards reducing anxiety for students.
Teachers possessing habitual prudence are acutely aware of their conduct when teaching, preparing tests for students, and when administering their assessments. The physical conditions of adequate space, lighting, and room temperature are considerations. Distractions may be kept to a minimum by placing a sign on the door. Students are prepared for test taking by having two writing instruments. Confidentiality about the test results is maintained for each student. Respect for test-anxious students occurs by not using red pens for the scoring process.
According to Linn and Gronlund (2000, p. 357), "excessive test anxiety" occurs when teachers: (1) threaten students with tests if they do not behave, (2) warn students to do their best "because this test is important," (3) tell students they must work fast in order to finish on time, and (4) threaten dire consequences if they fail. Teachers with habitual prudence inform their students that the assessment results are to assist them with their learning, and they use a positive approach throughout the learning process.
In addition, prudent teachers take steps to prevent cheating. Make sure the directions are clearly written and legible (typewritten), and do not talk or interrupt the students during the assessment process. Prudent teachers avoid walking around the room, looking over students' shoulders. They provide reassurance and acceptance.
Cooperation is emphasized over competition. These teachers provide feedback about the learners' performance in a specific, positive way--not just the exam grade. Most of all, these teachers collect the test, correct it quickly (if it is a classroom assessment), and then analyze the results of the test. The corrected test papers are returned to the students and positive feedback is provided. Teachers know to discuss and/or re-teach specific test items that may need further clarification. It is suggested that by returning the test to the students in a timely fashion and going over the content, students learn what they need to do to increase their achievement. This strategy is much more effective than just reporting an exam grade to a student. Learning occurs through the review of the test taken, and helps reduce anxiety for the next test.
Purposeful Learning Experiences
When the testing frenzy becomes fever pitch, particularly with high-stakes testing, teachers may have difficulty motivating students to explore content or subject areas that interest them. In essence, teachers begin to serve and focus on a limited curriculum because of the state-imposed tests. They focus on using practice guides and released items derived from their state's department of education test banks. Some teachers often begin teaching concepts that are similar to the state-imposed tests the very first day of school. The classroom becomes the drill and practice room where they 'practice test' the life out of students. All this does is increase stress and perhaps increase the number of dropouts-those who dropped out of learning and are waiting for a chronological date to leave the once meaningful educational system.
Teachers need to value other avenues that show mastering of content--through class discussions, lower-pressure quizzes, and plans for projects, reports, and essays.
Balance needs to be the key to learning. Teachers must deliberately look for better solutions to engage students in purposeful learning experiences. Teachers know how their "curriculum is broken down into a set of subskills, which are then ordered in a hierarchy of instructional objectives. For each step in the instructional hierarchy, a criterion-referenced test is designed, and a performance criterion indicating mastery of the subskill is specified. The teacher starts at the lowest step in the hierarchy, pretests, teaches the objective, and posttests on the material. If the student does not demonstrate mastery, the teacher uses corrective strategies"(Fuchs 1999, p.2). These corrective strategies are purposeful, meaningful and reduce test anxiety because concept attainment and task mastery are achieved.
According to Airasian (2001), what "a teacher can do to prepare pupils for formal classroom achievement tests is to provide them with good instruction" (p.159). This is accomplished by clearly stated objectives, content reviews, guided practice, content emphasis, and other meaningful learning activities. Objectives, instruction and assessment should be woven together while teachers exhibit ethical and appropriate behaviors for test preparation exercises. Areas he urges teachers to be cautious are: (1) focus instruction only on the formats used on the test, (2) use identical test items during instruction, and (3) give pupils practice taking actual test items. Linn and Gronlund (2000, p.356) recommend the following guidelines to prepare students for test taking:
* Suggest ways of studying.
* Give practice tasks like those to be used.
* Teach test-taking skills.
* Teach how to write well-organized essay answers.
* Stress the value of tests and assessments for improving learning.
* Relieve anxiety by using a positive approach in describing the test or assessment and its usefulness.
Various websites are available (included in the further reading section) that provide tips for students to help them overcome their test anxiety. There is a plethora of resources for teachers to assist students, including articles written specifically for students.
Collins (1999) recommends anxiety management training as one of the best ways to help students who are test-anxious. She suggests teaching students relaxation exercises, introducing them to the anxiety hierarchy, and using methods to desensitize their anxiety.
Teachers can implement effective strategies to help test-anxious students. By ascertaining test anxiety, they become more aware of the types of students with test anxiety. By being aware of these types, they can develop, modify, and implement new repertoires in their assessment procedures. By using more formative factors in their assessment processes, teachers lessen the anxiety levels for their students and enhance the instructional process as well. Habitual prudence from teachers occurs prior, during, and after the assessment process. Providing purposeful learning experiences and test-wise guidelines help students obtain maximum performance. When teachers implement and students experience the aforementioned strategies, aspects of test-anxiety can be significantly diminished.
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Dr. Viola Supon, Professor, Bloomsburg University, Bloomburg, PA.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Viola Supon, Associate Professor, 3206 McCormick Center in Bloomsburg, PA 17815: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Publication:||Journal of Instructional Psychology|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2004|
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