Managing Test Anxiety
Help your teachers make the most of standardized tests
How do you feel about the amount of time your students spend on standardized test-taking?
Who is more anxious about test-taking — students or teachers? QED asked more than 8,000 elementary-school teachers their views on standardized testing as part of our research for our study, Teacher Buying Behavior & Attitudes 2001-2002. Here is what we found:
- Over a quarter of the teachers surveyed report spending more than an hour per day preparing students for standardized tests.
- More than 43 percent of teachers believe standardized tests negatively impact student learning.
- More than three-quarters of teachers report being evaluated based on student test scores. However, teachers rank this method last in terms of effectiveness.
These perceptions present a challenge to district and school administrators.
As instructional leaders, administrators must help their teaching staff cope with the new realities of high-stakes testing in ways that improve the performance of both students and teachers. The following tips, culled from conversations with school leaders, can provide a good starting point.
Make sure standardized tests are correlated to the curriculum. Your district's testing program should be integrated into ongoing instruction, not an add-on. Principals can help by giving teachers time to plan and deliver a testwise curriculum. Administrators should provide helpful staff development when needed.
Use standardized testing to re-examine your teaching staff's instructional strategies. Tests can motivate school staff to take a second look at established instructional practices, says Jennabeth Bogard, an elementary math coordinator at Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas. Her district's math teachers initially didn't like the state's standardized test, because its focus on math applications did not match the district's primarily skills-based math teaching strategy. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends applications-based math instruction, but many teachers resist it because it's harder to teach using this method. With the advent of the standardized test, however, the teachers at Cypress Fairbanks had an incentive to change their approach — and they did. As a result, the district's teachers increased the amount of time they were spending on problem solving from about 20 percent to 50 to 60 percent.
Build ongoing assessments into the instructional process. "One of the benefits of technology-based learning is that it can provide teachers and school administrators with real-time data on the success of a program," says TestU President and CEO Len Elmore. "This not only helps drive ongoing success, but also actively involves the educator in the process." With more information and better feedback, teachers and students alike are better able to perform.
Learn how to read and analyze the assessment data. Educators should be trained to look at the patterns that analysis of assessment data may make visible, says Ferdi Serim, an educator and editor of MultiMedia Schools magazine. Data from tests, Serim says, "give a picture as different from a portrait as an X-Ray or CAT scan, and learning to see patterns is a literacy none of us have been prepared for."
Many administrators believe the increased focus on assessment has helped bring many positive changes, including new programs for low-income children and a renewed focus on tutoring programs.
Jeanne Hayes is the founder, president, and CEO of QED, a leading organization tracking education technology trends and data.