Stress mounts for children around testing time

Ohio Achievement Assessments results can be affected by students' test-taking skills and ability to work under pressure.
MCT Regional News
May 6, 2014

Districts across Ohio are in full testing season for spring state assessments that measure how much a student’s learned over the course of a year.

But the tests, including Ohio Achievement Assessments being taken this week, are only a “snapshot in time” and can be affected by a student’s test-taking skills and ability to work under pressure, school officials said.

“There are some (students) you can definitely tell get nervous and have testing anxiety,” said Kristi Joseph, a fifth-grade teacher at Creekview Elementary in Middletown.

Joseph said she passes out “OAA survival kits” to her language arts students in order to provide encouragement and tips for success. She also sets up “review stations” around her classroom for students to brush up their skills in the months leading up to the tests.

At Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Liberty Twp., there’s also a spike in the demand for child psychologists in the weeks leading up to the tests, said Beverly Smolyansky, clinical director of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology at Cincinnati Children’s in Liberty Twp.

“This time of year, after spring break, it’s a tough time for the anxious kids,” Smolyansky said.

Smolyansky said she deals with anxiety disorders in children from preschool to 18 years old. Those issues can include outbursts in behavior, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and school-related stresses such as social pressures and standardized testing.

Smolyansky said stresses on children from school include having a hard time focusing in group settings, relationships with peers, sports and parents’ expectations. She equips students with relaxation strategies such as breathing techniques and “positive self-talk.”

“These kids over-think it; these kids obsess on this for weeks, not just the day or night before,” Smolyansky said, which can affect the child’s sleep and diet patterns.

Terrecc Richardson, a fifth-grade student at Creekview Elementary in Middletown, said he knows all too well what the OAAs mean.

“We always have to hear the words ‘OAA … OAA,’ and we get sick of it because we know the OAA is around, we just have to hear it often,” Richardson said.

Richardson, who was part of a field testing group for next year’s online assessments, said he prefers the online setup because it’s less confusing than the paper and pencil version that requires students to fill out answers on both the bubble sheet and the question sheet.

Classmate Hunter Herrell, also a Middletown fifth-grader, said he also likes the online tests better. The computer software lets students flag questions to revisit later and displays all unanswered questions at the end.

“It doesn’t hurt your hand as much; you’re always writing on the OAA and typing doesn’t take as long,” Herrell said. “It’s hard to remember stuff from the beginning of the year, so you think hard and answer what you think is best.”

Richard Ross, superintendent of public instruction at the Ohio Department of Education, said he compares the gamut of standardized tests to that of taxes because there’s a sprinkling of both state- and local-mandated tests required of students.

“That’s what really compounds the issue a little bit,” Ross said. “I do hear the testing issue and I’m sensitive to that. … As we work and try to ascertain accountability and performance, we know we haven’t done great everywhere and need to do better.”

Ross said he encourages principals and teachers to “never talk about the test.”

“If we hype it up as a scary thing that’s kind of wrong,” Ross said. “It’s just something that if we do a good enough job on instructing and preparing, it’s just gonna be something that happens. We never overemphasize the assessment, we always overemphasize instruction.”

Farrah Henes, a mother of three in Hamilton, said she has children enrolled in both public and private schools in Hamilton. She’s also been a substitute teacher in recent years and said in the height of testing season “you can feel the stress.”

Henes said when it comes to standardized tests, her children in private school at St. Peter in Chains School have a much different experience than her son at Wilson Middle School.

Henes said that while public schools will “teach to the test” and emphasize the end-of-year standardized tests every day, the private schools keep the environment more casual by just reviewing the curriculum.

“The language needs to change, teaching to the test needs to change,” Henes said. “It’s more stressful on the teachers.”

Henes said with implementation of the Common Core, the curriculum inside schools is getting tougher and her children are learning topics she never touched on until reaching college. Her fifth-grade student is in a class described by her teacher as “pre- pre- pre-algebra.”

“They cover topics at a higher level each year,” Henes said. “No Child Left Behind opened Pandora’s box.”

Henes said there’s more communication between teachers and parents within the private-school setting. She said her daughters, in second and fifth grades, have to get their assignment book signed nightly by a parent.

“(In public school) it’s such a mass education and so many different cultures of children, it can be hard to assimilate to that for some students,” Henes said. “It’s not just the teacher’s job.”

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By Hannah Poturalski - Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)

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