Test Stress

let-stress-begin

The previous blog post called “E.O.G. Testing” was written movingly and vividly by sydneymitchell17 about the experience of taking EOG (End of Grade) tests as a student.  I’d like to add my experience of working with students and teachers in a public elementary school and witnessing a lot of EOG test stress over the years.  EOGs are administered to students beginning in the 3rd grade, and as sydneymitchell17 wrote, there is an enormous pressure on students, teachers, and administration alike to do well.

EOGs are treated with utmost seriousness.  The test pressure and mystique about this particular series of tests begin building much earlier than the 3rd grade: the entire structure of a school day changes for everyone from pre-K on up.  At my school, classes are not allowed onto the playground for recess and the school library is closed until the end of testing is announced every day; extreme silence is mandated for everyone moving in and out of buildings and down hallways; and smaller children are involved in making encouraging cards and banners for older test-takers.

All available staff undergo training to act as proctors and test administrators.  Every year, I served as a test proctor in the school library for “overflow” testing for those children who needed more time to complete the test.  Some children got on with it, finished their tests, turned in their test booklets and answer sheets and pencils, and returned to class.  But every year, I witnessed a child break down in tears over the test.  Some children sat for hours in front of their bubble sheet and test booklet, unable to focus after such a long time at the task.

Sometimes overflow testing was not finished until close to the end of the school day.  That means an entire school full of children, including pre-K to 2nd graders who were not taking the test, were unable to go outside for recess, or visit the school library, or even make a normal amount of noise for an entire day, and sometimes for a number of days in a row.

If children did not complete their testing by lunchtime, I escorted children to and from the school cafeteria.  They were not allowed to discuss the test, or sit with their classmates to eat; instead, I found an empty classroom (as long as it had no informational posters or other potential test-breakers on the wall) or a picnic table outside, away from everyone else.  I sat with them. I kept a log, to the minute, of the time each child was allotted and spent on the test; and exactly when each child arrived in the library or was escorted to and from the bathroom and lunch; and when they returned their test materials and went back to their classrooms.

The rules for testing are explicit, and all EOG test administrators and proctors undergo stern training on protocols.  I, as a proctor, was not allowed to distribute or collect test booklets, or handle them in any way; only test administrators were allowed to do that.  I had to observe that the test administrator was acting properly, and vice-versa.  It was clear that any reported noncompliance or breach of the rules would lead to grave consequences.

The outsize importance of EOG tests for children and for adults at schools leads to an atmosphere of tension and a burden of stress that young children should not have to shoulder–and we should not ask them to.  Some teachers do a good job of keeping their students optimistic and confident in the face of the challenge, but others, as sydneymitchell17 noted, do not: the culture of high-stakes standardized testing puts pressure on the administrators and teachers at schools, which in turn leads to performance pressure placed on the children.

This culture of testing has taken on a life and momentum of its own, and as we are caught up in that culture, stressing children out becomes the default mode.  Perhaps what we end up testing is as much the ability to withstand psychological stress as academic knowledge or growth.  In this high-pressure, high-stakes environment, it seems less like testing is something that we are doing for the benefit of children, and more like something we are doing to them.

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3 Responses to Test Stress

  1. sydneymitchell17 says:

    This is such a great post! Thanks so much for providing a different perspective! It was really interesting to hear what this testing culture is like for a test proctor. I, being a student that took these tests, found it interesting to hear from the “other side.” Overall, I think that this type of test prep culture and testing stress culture, are too extreme. I feel like there has got to be a better way to administer these tests without all of the stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Annie says:

    Thank you for sharing your viewpoint! As a recent high school student, it is very interesting to hear the perspective of a proctor. I can still remember the stark white walls and the bright fluorescent lights of standardized tests. Your description of how “the entire structure of a school day changes for everyone from pre-K up” during EOGs was very similar to my experience with end of year exams. I particularly remember in high school noting the similarities between test days and school lock-downs. My first year of high school I attended a school where gang violence was a monthly problem. Whenever there was a threat of a suspicious figure on campus, the school would go into lock-down. No one would be allowed in or out of rooms, the lights would be turned off, and we would have to be completely silent. On test days, I had an eerily similar feeling to those lock down days. We were not allowed out of the room, nor could anyone enter. If a student was late to their exam, they were locked out for the entirety of that day. The room was completely silent, any noise louder than a pencil scraping paper was a threat to the entire classroom. Once a student finished their exam they could do nothing more than put their head down on the table. No one could leave or doing anything other than sit there. Even when the entire class was finished, if there were still students taking their tests within the school, the class had to sit there silently. I remember my teacher getting up to turn the lights off as most of us dozed at our desks. These parallels exist because we are told that our actions on the day of an exam will determine our survival. Our ability to survive in high school, in college, and in our careers beyond. We shouldn’t have to go into lockdown mode every time we take a standardized test, nor feel the same stress and threat to our future that comes with a physical danger. I think your point about the psychological stress students are facing is an incredibly important view and one that should be emphasized more so in the standardized tests debates. The link below cites an article that highlights reports by psychologists, arguing that state tests are causing greater anxiety than local assessments. Perhaps psychologists should have a bigger voice in the standardized test debates in the future.

    http://www.lohud.com/story/news/education/2015/11/20/common-core-anxiety/76114566/

    Liked by 1 person

    • juniperonjupiter says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, sydneymitchell17 and Annie. Annie, what a vivid and frightening story–ugh, lockdowns! I don’t think my stress as a test proctor could begin to match the stress of the students taking the tests. I can’t think of one good reason to place such stress on young children, or teenagers for that matter. No tests should be that high-stake. Perhaps big tests could be replaced with a series of small ones that each count less but could still make an accurate picture overall. Or perhaps we could stop testing so much at all. Something has to change: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to go further down our current path, except maybe the giant testing companies.

      Like

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