Monday, February 28, 2011

An expert breaks down ISTEP+ and "Test Anxiety"
This is a must read for parents.

Jerrell Cassady
We all experience anxiety – and anxiety does play a positive role in our lives. For more than 100 years, psychologists have recognized that some level of arousal or anxiety is needed to spark motivation to perform at our best. 

Feeling nervous before a big meeting, presentation or athletic contest helps us to energize and focus our attention on the task. However, too much anxiety has a negative influence, drawing our attention away from performing well and focusing on the anxiety itself. Such is the case with academic anxieties.

Academic anxiety is a new concept, proposed in the past year as a way to help us consider the anxiety that learners experience in academic settings. 

Common examples are math anxiety, science anxiety, computer anxiety and, of course, test anxiety. One way Test anxiety affects performance by pulling our attention away from the test and turning it toward the worry, tension or fear imposed by the test. Sometimes we avoid the test – including studying for it – in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety we feel. In both situations, the end result is obvious: we don’t do as well as we could if we weren’t distracted.

So . . . ISTEP+. Feel anxious yet? The term alone raises heart rates of children, teachers and parents around Indiana. When I was in high school in the 1980s, ISTEP was just being introduced and the level of tension about it was much like a standard classroom test. That is, some did not worry about it and just did their thing; and some paid it no attention, making patterns out of their bubble sheets, marking C for all the answers or sleeping; and some kids were anxious and uneasy about the mere presence of a test. There are always a few in a room who fit in the latter group. Our research at Ball State University shows that they suffer even when the test will not be scored and used in grades. The mere existence of a test sparks the anxiety.

Today, we have a whole different situation. ISTEP+ is now a “high-stakes” test in every sense of the term. Student scores can affect school credentials (even school closure and may eventually affect teacher pay and employment. That’s a lot of pressure tied to a test. My work, however, focuses on how to help learners cope with test anxiety.

Tips to make sure our kids do their best on ISTEP+:
  • Help your child see that ISTEP+ (or any test) should be taken seriously, but it is not life and death. Encourage him to get “up” for the test, but not see it as something that will ruin his life if he doesn’t do great.
  • If your child expresses concern over the test, build her confidence by reminding her of how well she has done on other things. If she did well on ISTEP+ last year, remind her of that. If she has improved in an area of academics, point that out.
  • Help your child prepare for the test – not in the ways you normally think. I don’t recommend a “cram session” before your third grader runs out the door for ISTEP+. But I do recommend that he get a good night’s rest, have a healthy breakfast and doesn’t carry any “baggage” to school with him before the test.
  • Reward your child’s positive attitude or performance. I don’t recommend raising anxiety unnecessarily with discussions about the big-picture effects of ISTEP+ scores, but it is useful to let her know that you value when she does her best. The reward, like all things, depends on the child. Recognize her effort, improvement over last year, meeting a certain standard or strength in a particular area of the assessment. You won’t know outcomes right away so, particularly with younger children, reward their attitudes and positive behavior during the testing week itself.

by Jerrell Cassady

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1 comment:

Jim D. said...

Good tips!

It seems like it important to give positive reinforcement and avoid any specific pressure to perform.

Thanks

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