Test Anxiety in Middle School Students

The call for accountability in the educational system has led to the application of standardized testing to determine the assessment of students in the middle school setting. The standardized test administered to middle school children in Massachusetts is the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS). Increasing stress in the testing process has created stress-related behaviors in young children, including test anxiety, a problem that has required considerable attention by guidance counselors. Existing research shows there is a direct correlation between the emphasis on standardized testing as a component of assessment policies and increased testing anxiety in young learners. As a member of the team of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers developing a research agenda involving standardized testing, I have included three studies about this important issue.

Original data was collected to answer if standardized tests cause anxiety in middle school children. Results concurred with existing research to show that yes, standardized tests cause anxiety in the learner population of middle school children. Guidance counselor intervention at the middle school level may have preventative as well as therapeutic effects, preventing the correlates of test anxiety (poor self-concept and attenuated academic achievement) from further impacting the social, emotional, and academic development of young children.

The first study is a Descriptive Study. It is a report from the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE, 1983: Augustine, 1997). In the early 1980s, the report, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, suggested that the rising levels of educational mediocrity in the United States public educational system was a major concern for the coming decades. More and more at-risk learners are entering public education and there is no need to consider the necessity for programming changes and changes in the criteria for assessment to improve student outcomes in this population. In recent years, it has become evident that there is a necessity for comprehensive and widespread improvements in public education that not only reflect fiscal responsibility, but also create challenging standards while also demonstrating an understanding of the needs of the student populations and the concerns of parents, teachers and students (Augustine, 1997).

As a result of this study, it was argued that improvements in public education must come from a administrative-initiated focus on improvements that are comprehensive, that address each aspect of the educational system, and that consider both public policies, individual school operations, and classroom practices (Augustine, 1997). It has also become evident that schools must not simply teach for the sake of testing, but that testing should be developed and improved to allow for the setting of standards and goals and to give evaluative insights into how well students are doing and what can be done to improve student performance. This system should hold students, educators, and their communities accountable for educational results, much like the different departments of a business are held accountable for aspects of operation and specific segments of production or operational outcomes. The research topic in this study is to suggest the use of alternate modes of assessment.

The research problem of this study is based on claims made in the (NCEE) report suggested that the increasing expansion of the global network and the necessity for addressing the educational needs of an increasingly varied population were just symptoms of a bigger problem: a basic lack of effective accountability in the educational process, ineffective standards, and failing literacy (NCEE, 1983). This report not only demonstrated the initial premise of this problem, but also underscored the fact that the problem will only continue to worsen until a response is made on a national level to address the inefficiencies in public education. “The people of the United States need to know that individuals in our society who do not possess the levels of skill, literacy, and training essential to this new era will be effectively disenfranchised, not simply from the material rewards that accompany competent performance, but also from the chance to participate fully or in national life” (NCEE, 1983, p. 7).

The research question is whether single test performance can accurately determine the academic level from grade to grade. The call for improvements in the educational process and in accountability determined the directive in many schools to create policies based on educational performance. This rationalization led to the development of graduation policies based on national standards set by standardized testing. Tests like the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) provided a basis from which these policies could extend, and determined the criteria for assessment policies in middle school education. The increasing application of tests like the ITBS in policy development has led to an increase in the emphasis placed on these tests and their importance for learner populations, and many students have demonstrated considerable concern over the impact of a single test in determining academic levels from grade to grade.

The relational study concerning standardized tests is a study researching the relationship between assessment and student performance. In the past, educational assessment was generally considered to be a relatively dry and format-oriented process by which simple calculations could reflect successes or gains for a student or a student population. By testing, and then providing the cumulative outcomes of a student or a student population, educators were able to compare numbers and determine if students fit within a given range for aptitude in a subject or improvement in a content area. Assessment was often based on grading systems and standardized testing, but did not necessarily reflect the complexities of the educational design or the decision-making processes of educators, especially as school reform calls for a greater degree of complicity between student outcomes, educational goals and directives, and the assessment process, has inherently determined the need for assessment reforms (Cizek, 1995). These principles have also been at the heart of the development of objective-based directives and have been used to reshape the view of educational standards.

In general, assessment can take on a number of different forms. Some of these may include things like:
�¸ 1. preparation, administration, and grading of weekly spelling tests;
Ã?¸ 2. recording students’ teamwork and leadership skills during a group project in social studies;
�¸ 3. administering a test covering district mandated learning objectives in math;
�¸ 4. compiling portfolios of student work in the language arts,
Ã?¸ 5. planning a performance assessment of students’ lab skills in science;
Ã?¸ 6. observing one student’s behavior for possible special education referral, or attend an IEP (individualized education plan) meeting for a student at which intelligence test scores are discussed;
�¸ 7. writing a note on a student project, commenting on the great effort the student put into it;
�¸ 8. draft a letter to send to parents regarding the norm-referenced, standardized test to be administered in the coming week;
�¸ 9. attending an in-service presentation on the newly implemented state-level proficiency test;
Ã?¸ 10. reviewing a homework assignment that reveals – discouragingly – that students did not generate many responses to a brainstorming activity (Cizek, 1995, p. 246) .

The research topic is new forms of assessment, which include: new school reform initiatives, a growing number of mandated assessments, and the necessity for assessments of non-cognitive outcomes, and other processes. Accountability has been applied within the classroom setting, creating a complex web of factors from which educators must derive some composite of student performance (Cizek, 1995) . This inherently creates what has been deemed “assessment chaos” which is determined by not only from the difficulties in applying different assessment protocols, but also in allowing for a significant level of educator objectivity to infiltrate what was once perceived as a relatively standard process of evaluating student development.

The research problem is whether or not accurate assessment outcomes can ever be achieved under current administration of standardized tests. Cizek (1995) also demonstrates the different levels at which influence on the assessment process can be asserted, from the administrative level to that of district personnel who can be involved in evaluating portfolios, constructing tests, and conducting statistical analysis of student outcomes and scoring processes in assessment. In the past, assessments have been left up to educators and to the standard testing systems, but the emerging trends are towards the administration of assessment criteria and clear leadership that can underscore the attainment of accurate assessment outcomes.

The research question in this study is whether alternate assessments are effective and if they judge overall performance better than standardized tests? Authentic assessments, outlined by earlier, appear to be one of the emerging processes that allow for the evaluation of proficiency while also demonstrating the overall capabilities of students, providing a more complex determination of the learning process than standardized testing. But educators and researchers alike have been drawn to ask the question: “Is this kind of assessment fair?” If assessments are learner-based, if they reflect the subjectivity of the educator, are they an accurate judge of overall performance? But these types of assessments require that teachers define a program-based directive within the assessment process, an element that clearly defines a more significant correlation between the assessment and the educational design.

Lastly, a third study involving cause and effect, commonly referred to as “causal” study, involves the cause standardized testing has on increasing levels of anxiety in children. Since the application of standardized and outcome-based (testing-based) protocols for assessment, increases in test anxiety have been noted in the educational setting. Archibald (1999) recognized that the use of standardized testing for determining things like retention and assessments of overall performance often determined response anxiety to the testing process, and both parents and students can demonstrate a sense of anxiety over the tests being applied. It is not uncommon for parents to place a significant emphasis on the testing process that can cause anxiety both for the student and parent as a result of the application of the test.

The research topic is whether or not standardized testing causes increased anxiety in children. The research problem is evaluating students who experience anxiety and attempt to correlate this symptom with test taking. The research question is whether or not standardized testing causes anxiety in children.

I am hopeful the United States Department of Education will be satisfied with the team we have compiled today. The team of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers has developed this research agenda in hopes of addressing the issues surrounding current student assessment procedures. It is the hope that this research lends its small hand in the improvement of public school education.

Archibold, Randall. (1999, January). As Parents Sweat, 4th Graders Cram for New Test. New York Times, v148 i51397, p. A1.

Augustine, Norman. (1997, Spring). A New Business Agenda for Improving US Schools. Issues in Science and Technology, v13 n3, pp. 57-62

Cizek, Gregory. (1995, November). The big picture in assessment and who ought to have it. Phi Delta Kappan, v77 n3, pp. 246 (4).

National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE). (1983). A nation at risk:
The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: United States Department of Education.

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