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Heightened test anxiety among young children: Elementary school students' anxious responses to high-stakes testing

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This study explored differences in test anxiety on high-stakes standardized achievement testing and low-stakes testing among elementary school children. This is the first study to directly examine differences in young students’ reported test anxiety between No Child Left Behind (NCLB) achievement testing and classroom testing. Three hundred thirty-five students in Grades 3 through 5 participated in the study. Students completed assessments of test anxiety following NCLB testing and typical classroom testing. Students reported significantly more overall test anxiety in relation to high-stakes testing versus classroom testing on two measures of test anxiety, effect sizes r = −.21 and r = −.10. Students also reported significantly more cognitive (r = −.20) and physiological (r = −.24) symptoms of test anxiety in relation to high-stakes testing. This study adds to the test anxiety literature by demonstrating that students experience heightened anxiety in response to NCLB testing.
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Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 50(5), 2013 C2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
View this article online at wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pits DOI: 10.1002/pits.21689
HEIGHTENED TEST ANXIETY AMONG YOUNG CHILDREN: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
STUDENTS’ ANXIOUS RESPONSES TO HIGH-STAKES TESTING
NATASHA K. SEGOOL
University of Hartford
JOHN S. CARLSON
Michigan State University
ANISA N. GOFORTH
University of Montana
NATHAN VON DER EMBSE AND JUSTIN A. BARTERIAN
Michigan State University
This study explored differences in test anxiety on high-stakes standardized achievement testing and
low-stakes testing among elementary school children. This is the first study to directly examine
differences in young students’ reported test anxiety between No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
achievement testing and classroom testing. Three hundred thirty-five students in Grades 3 through
5 participated in the study. Students completed assessments of test anxiety following NCLB testing
and typical classroom testing. Students reported significantly more overall test anxiety in relation to
high-stakes testing versus classroom testing on two measures of test anxiety, effect sizes r=−.21
and r=−.10. Students also reported significantly more cognitive (r=−.20) and physiological
(r=−.24) symptoms of test anxiety in relation to high-stakes testing. This study adds to the
test anxiety literature by demonstrating that students experience heightened anxiety in response to
NCLB testing. C2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
A half-century ago, Seymour Sarason wrote that “we live in a test-conscious, test-giving culture
in which the lives of people are in part determined by their test performance” (1959, p. 26). Since
that time, the educational accountability movement in the United States has greatly increased the
importance that testing has on the educational and occupational outcomes of children. Most recently,
the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB; U.S. Congress, 2002) dramatically increased the
prevalence and stakes of standardized testing for public school children in elementary, middle, and
high school by requiring annual testing of statewide academic achievement assessments in the areas
of reading and mathematics during Grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. NCLB test scores
are publicly reported and linked to rewards and sanctions, such as school funding, administration,
and employment decisions, making this testing high-stakes in nature for educators and communities.
However, little research has been conducted that examines how individual students perceive these
annual high-stakes tests and whether or not students experience heightened anxiety/distress in
relation to them.
Test anxiety comprises psychological, physiological, and behavioral reactions that occur in
association with concern about the negative outcomes resulting from failure or poor performance in
evaluative situations (Zeidner, 1998). Lowe and colleagues (2008) have proposed a biopsychosocial
model of test anxiety that highlights three different processes involved in the expression of test
anxiety, including the individual’s behavior, cognition, and physiology. Behaviors include both task-
relevant (e.g., focusing attention on task) and task-irrelevant behavior (e.g., skimming through items).
Physiological reactions include emotional arousal (e.g., increased heart rate or muscle tightness).
Correspondence to: Natasha Segool, Department of Psychology, University of Hartford, West Hartford, CT
06117. E-mail: segool@hartford.edu
489
490 Segool et al.
Cognitions include worry that interferes with the task (e.g., thoughts about social humiliation or the
consequences of failure).
PREVALENCE RATES OF TEST ANXIETY
Estimates on the prevalence rate of test anxiety among school-aged children have varied widely
(Zeidner, 1998). Traditional measures of test anxiety have not included norms with specific cut-
points for diagnosing clinical levels of test anxiety (Friedman & Bendas-Jacobs, 1997), resulting
in researchers using different criteria to define clinical levels of test anxiety. For example, King
and Ollendick (1989) reported that the prevalence of test anxiety among school-aged children
may range from as little as 10% to as much as 30%. They estimate, however, that the rate of
children who experience clinically significant impairment is likely to be on the lower end of this
spectrum. Similarly, Hill and Wigfield (1984) suggested that between two and three children in typical
classrooms, or approximately 10% of children, are highly test-anxious and experience impairments
in test performance as a result. Alternatively, Turner, Beidel, Hughes, and Turner (1993) found
that the prevalence of high test anxiety among African American elementary school children may
be as high as 41%. Given these widely varying estimates of test anxiety prevalence rates among
young children, there is a need for further research that directly examines rates of elevated test
anxiety among contemporary public school children who are now universally tested through NCLB
legislation.
TEST ANXIETY IN A HIGH-STAKES CONTEXT
Relatively little research has been conducted that directly examines the relationship between stu-
dent test anxiety and federally mandated NCLB achievement assessments. A number of researchers
have examined the perceptions that teachers, parents, and school administrators have about the im-
pact of large-scale testing programs on students. These studies suggest that state testing programs
have resulted in increased student anxiety, increased stress, lowered motivation, increased focus on
test preparation, and increased job stress and lowered job satisfaction for teachers (Abrams, Pedulla,
& Madaus, 2003; Barksdale-Ladd & Thomas, 2000; Jones & Egley, 2004, 2006; Jones et al., 1999).
However, these studies are indirect assessments that may have been influenced by the respondents’
beliefs, concerns, or worries about high-stakes assessments. Thus, although these studies provide
important data about how these stakeholders perceive the impact of statewide testing programs, there
is a need to study the impact of testing programs on children directly.
The few studies that directly examine how students are affected by high-stakes testing are
equivocal. One projective study found that students overwhelmingly felt stress, anxiety, worry, and
isolation as a result of testing (Triplett & Barksdale, 2005). Alternatively, Mulvenon and colleagues
(Mulvenon, Connors, & Lenares, 2001; Mulvenon, Stegman, & Ritter, 2005) found that most students
felt positively about testing based on a brief, researcher-designed questionnaire. Most recently,
Putwain (2008) found that secondary students in the United Kingdom reported higher levels of
test anxiety in relation to low- versus medium- and high-stakes examinations. These contradictory
findings highlight the need for further examination of the relationship between test anxiety and
high-stakes testing among students.
The current study examined how children in Grades 3 through 5, perceived high-stakes stan-
dardized state achievement testing. This population was selected because NCLB requires that annual
achievement testing begin in Grade 3, and research on test anxiety in this population is limited (Hem-
bree, 1988). The researchers hypothesized that test anxiety among students would be significantly
greater for high-stakes testing than for classroom testing. The researchers also hypothesized that
teachers would report that both they and students had more test anxiety about high-stakes testing
than classroom testing. Thus, this study expanded on the existing literature by directly assessing
Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits
Test Anxiety Among School Children 491
Tab le 1
Demographic Characteristics of Student Participants
Sample
Demographic Characteristic n%
Grade
3 119 35.5
4 124 37.0
59227.5
Gender
Male 151 45.1
Female 180 53.7
Race
Caucasian 275 82.1
African American 15 4.5
Latino/Hispanic 24 7.2
Asian 10 3.0
Other 8 2.4
Educational Classification
General Education 289 86.3
Special Education 34 10.1
Total N335
students, as well as teachers, to clarify the nature of the relationship between NCLB testing and test
anxiety among elementary school students.
METHOD
Subjects
School children in Grades 3 through 5 in three elementary schools in a Midwestern state
were invited to participate in the study. A total of 617 children from 25 classrooms were invited
to participate in the study though a written letter sent home with all students. Parental consent
was obtained from 335 children who participated in the study. The majority of the children were
Caucasian (82%), followed by Latino/Hispanic (7.2%) and African American (4.5%). Ten percent of
the students were identified as receiving special education services. Among the 25 teachers invited
to complete teacher questionnaires, 22 (88%) participated in the first questionnaire, and 15 (60%)
participated in the second questionnaire. Table 1 summarizes the demographic characteristics of
student participants; teacher demographics were not assessed. In some cases, the sample Ndoes not
total to 335, indicating that some demographic information was unavailable for participants.
Measures
Test Anxiety Ratings. Test anxiety was measured using two scales. The first scale was the
Children’s Test Anxiety Scale (CTAS), a 30-item self-report scale designed to measure test anxiety
in children in Grades 3 through 6 (Wren & Benson, 2004). The scale includes items that assess
children’s thoughts, off-task behaviors, and physiological reactions to testing. Each item is scored
on a 4-point Likert scale that ranges from almost never to almost always. Scores on the CTAS
range from 30 to 120. On the standardization sample, means (standard deviations) for the total
sample were 61.97 (16.49) on the overall scale, 16.89 (5.14) on the off-task behavior subscale, 15.96
Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits
492 Segool et al.
(5.63) on the physiological reactions subscale, and 29.12 (8.79) on the thoughts subscale. Internal
consistency estimates for the CTAS were satisfactory for the overall scale (0.92) and for the off-task
behavior (0.76), physiological reactions (0.82), and thoughts (0.89) subscales. The second scale was
the test anxiety content subscale of the Behavior Assessment Scale for Children, Second Edition
(BASC-2-TA), which is made up of seven items on the child self-report (Reynolds & Kamphaus,
2004). The subscale measures a child’s irrational worry and fear regarding test-taking, with scores
ranging from 0 to 18. The test anxiety subscale has an internal consistency of 0.81. Normative data
on BASC-2-TA scores for children under the age of 12 were not available.
Teacher Perceptions of Testing. Teachers reported on their perceptions of students’ anxiety
before and during testing, as well as their own anxiety related to students’ expected performance.
Surveys were altered to name either classroom tests or the NCLB assessment. Questions included:
1) How anxious were your students about _________ before they took them? 2) How anxious were
your students about _________ during the tests? and 3) How anxious were you about how well your
students would do on _________? Anxiety was rated on a 4-point Likert scale, ranging from not
at all to very anxious, with higher scores indicating greater anxiety. Teachers also reported on their
perceptions of how well students performed on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from very much below
their ability to very much above their ability, with higher scores indicating higher performance.
Specifically, teachers were asked, How well do you think your students performed on _________?
Test Anxiety Classification. Students were classified as having low, moderate, or high test
anxiety based on the recommended classification system for the CTAS. The CTAS was used to
classify students, as it is the only test anxiety measure that has normative data for students in
elementary school. Students were classified as having high test anxiety if their CTAS score was
1 SD above the mean of the standardization sample (78.46) and as having low test anxiety if
their CTAS score was 1 SD below the mean (45.48; D. Wren, personal communication, March
14, 2008). Students whose test anxiety scores fell within 1 SD of the mean were classified as
having moderate test anxiety. Classifications were conducted to examine rates of students reporting
clinically significant test anxiety.
Data Collection
The researchers administered the CTAS and BASC-2-TA to students immediately following
their completion of the NCLB achievement assessment, which occurred over a 2-week period.
Students were asked to think about their NCLB testing experience while answering questions. One
month later, the CTAS and BASC-2-TA were re-administered to the students who were asked to
think about all classroom tests they had taken over the past 2 weeks while answering questions.
The delay between surveys was designed to help students differentiate between the NCLB testing
experience and the classroom testing experiences. Retrospective reports on test anxiety regarding
NCLB testing and classroom testing were used to assess overall test anxiety across the multiple
days of test administration and due to district concerns that prospective survey completion could
induce student anxiety. During each session, researchers read a set of standardized instructions
explaining how the students should complete the measures, and during the second administration,
the researchers reminded students about the names of all classroom tests administered during the
past 2 weeks. Teachers completed surveys at the same time that students did.
Data Analysis
Descriptive statistics of reported test anxiety were examined, and nonparametric statistics
were conducted because the distributions of test anxiety scores were not normally distributed. The
distributions of all test anxiety measures were positively skewed. Wilcoxon signed-rank tests were
Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits
Test Anxiety Among School Children 493
Tab le 2
Test Anxiety Scores on the NCLB Assessment and Classroom Testing
MEAP Test Classroom Tests
Measure nMd M SD nMd M SD z p
ar
CTAS Total 305 52 55.97 16.33 318 47 52.21 18.21 5.04 <.0005 .20
Thoughts 307 24 25.36 8.12 320 21 23.24 9.24 4.87 <.0005 .19
Off-task 306 14 15.31 5.25 324 14 15.24 5.91 0.08 0.93 .00
Autonomic 307 14 15.35 5.96 322 12 13.80 5.75 5.87 <.0005 .23
BASC-2-TA 309 4 4.99 4.06 322 4 4.42 3.90 2.47 0.01 10
Note. NCLB =No Child Left Behind; MEAP =Michigan Educational Assessment Program; CTAS =Children’s Test
Anxiety Scale; BASC-2-TA =Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children, Second Edition, Test Anxiety Subscale.
aBonferonni correction of p .01 for multiple comparisons.
used to determine whether or not students reported significantly different levels of test anxiety across
conditions, with a Bonferroni correction of p.01 used to correct for multiple comparisons. Mann–
Whitney U tests were used to examine differences in test anxiety resulting from differences in student
demographic variables, including sex, ethnicity, and educational classification. Effect sizes of scores
that differed significantly across test types were calculated, r=z/2n. Chi-square goodness of fit
analyses were conducted to examine whether students’ test anxiety classifications (low, moderate,
high) differed significantly by testing condition, with a Bonferroni correction of p.01. These
analyses were conducted to examine whether or not more students reported clinically significant test
anxiety regarding the NCLB assessment. Ttests were conducted to examine differences in teacher
perceptions. When Levene’s test for equality of variances indicated a violation of the assumption of
equal variance, ttests without the assumption of equal variance were examined.
RESULTS
Test Anxiety Levels
Differences in test anxiety between the high-stakes and classroom testing conditions were
analyzed using both the CTAS and BASC-2-TA scales. Differences are first reported for the total
scale scores, and then differences in CTAS subscales are examined. First, there was a statistically
significant difference between students’ reported CTAS-Total test anxiety scores across the high-
stakes testing and classroom tests conditions, z=−5.04, p<.0005, with a small effect size
(r=−0.20). Students reported significantly greater CTAS-Total test anxiety on the high-stakes
assessment than on classroom tests. There was also a statistically significant difference in students’
BASC-2-TA test anxiety scores between conditions, z=−2.47, p=.01, with a small effect size
(r=−0.10). Students reported significantly greater BASC-2-TA test anxiety on the high-stakes
assessment than on classroom tests.
Next, on the CTAS subscales, there was a statistically significant difference in students’ CTAS-
Thought scores between conditions, z=−4.87, p<.0005, with a small effect size (r=−0.19).
Students reported significantly greater test anxiety on the CTAS-Thought subscale for the high-
stakes testing than for classroom testing. Similarly, there was a significant difference in students’
CTAS-Autonomic scores between conditions, z=−5.87, p<.0005, with a small effect size (r=
0.23). Students reported significantly greater test anxiety on the CTAS-Autonomic subscale for the
high-stakes testing than on classroom testing. There was no difference in students’ CTAS-Off-task
scores between conditions, z=−0.08, p=.93, r=−.003. Table 2 summarizes the differences
identified between reported test anxiety on the NCLB assessment and on classroom tests.
Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits
494 Segool et al.
Tab le 3
Differences in Test Anxiety by Demographic Variables
CTAS-Total BASC-2-TA
nz p
arn z p
ar
Classroom Testing
Sex 315 3.64 <.0005 .21 319 4.59 <.0005 .26
Ethnicity 317 .33 .74 .02 321 .34 .73 .02
Educational Classification 308 .98 .33 .06 312 .37 .71 .02
NCLB Assessment
Sex 301 4.35 <.0005 .25 305 4.09 <.0005 .23
Ethnicity 302 .60 .55 .03 306 1.18 .24 .07
Educational Classification 295 .73 .46 .04 299 .91 .36 .05
Note. CTAS =Children’s Test Anxiety Scale; BASC-2-TA =Behavioral Assessment Scale for Children, Second Edition,
Test Anxiety Subscale; NCLB =No Child Left Behind.
aBonferroni correction for multiple comparisons: p.01.
Student test anxiety on both the NCLB assessment and classroom test conditions were examined
by student demographic variables to explore whether or not there were differences in text anxiety
among students with different demographics. On the NCLB assessment, girls reported more CTAS-
Total test anxiety, z=−4.35, p<.0005, and more BASC-2-TA test anxiety, z=−4.09, p<.0005,
than did boys. The effect sizes of these differences were small, r=−.25 and r=−.23, respectively.
Similarly, on classroom tests, girls reported more CTAS-Total test anxiety, z=−3.64, p<.0005,
and more BASC-2-TA test anxiety, z=−4.59, p<.0005, than did boys. The effect sizes of these
differences were small, r=−.21 and r=−.26, respectively. CTAS-Total and BASC-2-TA scores
did not differ by ethnicity or special education status in either testing condition. Table 3 summarizes
the differences identified between test anxiety and demographic variables.
Test Anxiety Classifications
Using the CTAS-Total scale score to classify students as having low, moderate, or high test
anxiety, we examined the clinical significance of the differences of reported test anxiety across
conditions. There was a significant difference in the proportions of students with low, moderate,
and high levels of test anxiety in the classroom test condition compared with the high-stakes
testing condition, χ2(2, n=318) =27.90, p<.0005. As expected, significantly more students
reported low anxiety and fewer students reported moderate test anxiety in the classroom testing
condition. Contrary to our expectations, similar numbers of students reported high test anxiety about
the classroom testing condition and the NCLB assessment. Figure 1 illustrates the differences in
prevalence rates of test anxiety across high-stakes (NCLB) testing and classroom testing using the
CTAS-Total scores.
Teacher Perceptions of Testing
Teacher questionnaire data were analyzed to examine differences in teachers’ perceptions of
student and teacher anxiety, as well as student performance based on the testing condition. There
was a significant difference in teachers’ perceptions of students’ anticipatory test anxiety, t(34.85)
=2.21, p=.03, with teachers reporting students had more anxiety about the NCLB assessment
than classroom testing. There was no difference in teachers’ perceptions of students’ test anxiety
during the test-taking, t(35) =1.57, p=.13. There was also a significant difference in teachers’
perceptions of their own anxiety about student performance, t(35) =3.15, p=.003, with teachers
Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits
Test Anxiety Among School Children 495
FIGURE 1. Rates of test anxiety by condition.
reporting significantly more anxiety about the NCLB assessment. Finally, there was no difference
in teachers’ perceptions of students’ performance across the test conditions, t(34.90) =−1.93, p=
.06, although there was a trend toward rating students as performing better on classroom tests than
on the NCLB assessment.
DISCUSSION
The purpose of this study was to critically examine how elementary school children perceive
high-stakes testing situations to enhance our understanding of the impact of test anxiety on young
children. Previous research suggests that test anxiety is associated with impaired test performance
and impaired knowledge acquisition in academic skill areas (Sarason, Davidson, Lighthall, Waite,
& Ruebush, 1960; Zeidner, 1998). In the current study, students reported significantly more test
anxiety in relation to the high-stakes NCLB assessment than to classroom tests. There were small, but
significant, differences between students’ self-reported test anxiety regarding NCLB and classroom
testing for both the CTAS-Total scale and the BASC-2-TA scale, effect sizes r=−.21 and r=−.10,
respectively. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that students perceive high-stakes
testing situations as more stressful and anxiety-provoking than typical testing situations that occur
as part of the curriculum. Similarly, students reported significantly more cognitive and physiological
symptoms of test anxiety about the NCLB assessment. When considered within the context of
previous research that suggests worry is more strongly related to impaired test performance than
emotionality in both laboratory and applied-testing situations (Hembree, 1988; Holroy, Westbrook,
Wolf, & Badhorn, 1978; Liebert & Morris, 1967), it is possible that students experiencing greater
cognitive symptoms of test anxiety also experience associated impairments in test performance.
Interestingly, in contrast to a previous study by Turner and colleagues (1993), we did not find an
association between reported test anxiety and student ethnicity on either the testing condition.
This is the first study to establish that elementary school children experience greater test anxiety
about NCLB testing than about typical classroom testing. No previous study has directly compared
test anxiety across both high-stakes and typical testing conditions among young children. The only
study that offers some data for comparison is a study comparing a mock high-stakes examination
taken as test preparation for an actual high-stakes terminal high-school examination (Putwain, 2008).
In contrast to the current study, Putwain (2008) found that students taking the mock or “low-stakes”
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496 Segool et al.
examination experienced more test anxiety than students taking the actual terminal examination. One
possible explanation for the difference in the findings may be that students in the current study had
more experience with classroom testing situations compared with the novel experience of the high-
stakes test, whereas participants who completed the mock examination in the Putwain study were
having a completely novel experience. Although it is not possible to identify a causal mechanism
for the differences in reported test anxiety in either the current study or the Putwain study, young
students may experience greater test anxiety in NCLB testing situations due to the novelty of the
task and the emphasis placed on the test by teachers and administrators.
In addition to examining student self-reported test anxiety, this study also examined teacher
perceptions of student test anxiety, enabling comparisons to be made between teachers’ perceptions
of student test anxiety and students’ self-reported test anxiety. Teachers reported that students
experienced significantly more anticipatory anxiety regarding the high-stakes assessment. This
finding is consistent with multiple studies examining teachers’ perceptions of the impact of high-
stakes testing on children. Specifically, teachers reported that students experience heightened anxiety,
stress, pressure, and worry due to high-stakes testing programs (Abrams et al., 2003; Barksdale-
Ladd & Thomas, 2000; Jones & Egley, 2004, 2006; Jones et al., 1999). In the current study, teacher
perceptions were also consistent with the significantly greater test anxiety reported by students in
relation to the high-stakes testing condition versus the classroom testing condition.
Teachers also reported that they experienced significantly more anxiety about their students’
performance on the NCLB assessment than on classroom testing. Specifically, teachers were more
likely to worry about how well their students would perform on high-stakes tests compared with
regular classroom tests. This difference may have important implications for teacher training, because
research has shown that when teachers experience increased anxiety, stress, and pressure, they
change their instructional patterns to focus on test preparation (Abrams et al., 2003; Barksdale-
Ladd & Thomas, 2000; Jones & Egley, 2004; Jones et al., 1999). Moreover, teacher anxiety may
indirectly influence the manifestation of student test anxiety (Doyal & Forsyth, 1973). Future studies
specifically examining the effect of teacher anxiety about NCLB testing on student test anxiety and
performance are warranted.
Finally, this study examined differences in the rates of students who experienced low, moderate,
or high test anxiety across the high-stakes and classroom testing conditions. Using students’ CTAS-
Total scores, rates of high test anxiety ranged from 9% to 11% across testing conditions, suggesting
that there was no clinically significant difference in the overall rate of children identified as being
highly test-anxious across conditions. This prevalence rate of high test anxiety aligns closely with
King and Ollendick’s (1989) estimate that approximately 10% of students experience clinically
impairing test anxiety. Although the rate of high test anxiety did not differ across conditions, there
were significant differences in the proportions of students classified as having low or moderate test
anxiety. More students reported moderate test anxiety (59% vs. 44%) and fewer students reported
low test anxiety (32% vs. 45%) about NCLB testing versus classroom testing. Overall, 25% of
students reported increased test anxiety about the NCLB assessment and were reclassified into
a higher test anxiety level, with 60% of students remaining stable across testing conditions. The
largest shift in test anxiety classification occurred in the number of students (n=56) who reported
low test anxiety about classroom testing and were then reclassified as moderately test-anxious
in the high-stakes testing condition. It is interesting to note, however, that a subset of students
(15%) reported less test anxiety about the NCLB assessment. Future investigation of patterns of
changing test anxiety across assessments is warranted, especially in regard to how test anxiety affects
performance.
Psychology in the Schools DOI: 10.1002/pits
Test Anxiety Among School Children 497
Clinical and Educational Implications
Several clinical and educational implications related to identifying children at risk for impairing
test anxiety can be gleaned from this study. Perhaps the most important finding is that students in
elementary school report significantly more overall test anxiety and more cognitive and physiological
symptoms of test anxiety about high-stakes testing than classroom testing. More students report
moderate levels of test anxiety about NCLB testing than about classroom testing. By understanding
that students experience more test anxiety about NCLB testing, teachers, educators, and policy
makers may more effectively prepare students to cope adaptively with these different types of tests.
There is some empirical support for cognitive–behavioral, academic skill-building and biofeedback
interventions for test anxiety among older school-aged youth (e.g., Bradley et al., 2010; Egbochuku
& Obodo, 2005; Gregor, 2005; Lang & Lang, 2010; Larson, Ramahi, Conn, Estes, & Gibellini,
2010). School psychologists have the skills and training to provide these more intensive, tertiary
interventions to individual students or groups to the approximately 10% of students with high test
anxiety. In addition, school psychologists also have the expertise in consultation to train teachers
in using relaxation techniques in the classroom. Teachers could be empowered to use relaxation
strategies in their whole classrooms prior to high-stakes testing or when students express or exhibit
negative thoughts, feelings, or anxiety about evaluative situations.
Future Research
Results indicated that elementary school students in the current study experienced significantly
more test anxiety about NCLB testing versus classroom testing. However, there are limitations
related to the current study sample that confine its generalizability. The current study involved the
examination of predominantly Caucasian (82%) students from a Midwestern school district. As such,
the results of this study may not generalize to students of different racial or ethnic backgrounds, or
other states. Caution must be exercised in using the current study results to draw broad conclusions
about the how students respond to NCLB testing in other states. However, the differences found in
the current study call for further replication, given the potential implications of these findings for
students as well as teachers and educators involved in student preparation for high-stakes tests.
Finally, in an educational accountability climate in which schools face difficult choices about
how to use limited resources to maximize student learning, understanding the effect of test anxiety
on students’ test performance and psychological well-being is essential. There is a need for further
research that examines how heightened test anxiety among students affects student performance on
high-stakes tests. Previous research has demonstrated that test anxiety can have a negative impact
on grade point average and that children with high levels of test anxiety are more likely to drop
out of school (Cizek & Berg 2006; Hembree, 1988; Spielberger, 1966). In addition, research has
demonstrated that test anxiety can reduce motivation in students and heighten levels of stress during
exams (Cizek & Berg, 2006; Hembree, 1988, Zeidner, 1998). However, this research has not been
conducted in the context of NCLB testing. Further examination of the effects of test anxiety on
NCLB test performance is essential because these tests can have important implications for students,
teachers, schools, and school districts. Similarly, reducing test anxiety prior to high-stakes testing
may be an important method for maximizing student performance and minimizing student distress.
Thus, there is also a need for future studies that examine the effectiveness of test anxiety interventions
for high-stakes examinations among elementary school students.
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... After these exams, district and school leaders, along with teachers, analyze results, which can have consequences for a school's reputation, funding, and autonomy, as well as teachers' evaluations and students' grade promotion, graduation, and morale. A large body of research over the past two decades has raised concerns about the validity of high stakes testing (HST) and its constraining effects on instruction (e.g., Linn, 2000;McCarthey, 2008;Ravitch, 2010); the emotional toll these tests take on students and teachers (e.g., Gonzalez et al., 2017;Richards, 2012;Segool et al., 2013); and the extent to which they may be culturally biased and thus inequitable (e.g., Luykx et al., 2007). However, little research has examined how teachers and students grapple with these constraints, even though scholars have argued that such work is necessary (e.g., Certo et al., 2008;Davis & Willson, 2015;Dutro & Selland, 2012;Triplett & Barksdale, 2005;Wheelock et al., 2000). ...
... These testing pressures and the instructional practices that they inadvertently encourage also tend to undermine the development of meaningful student-teacher relationships (Elish-Piper et al., 2013;Winter, 2017). Additionally, HST contributes to emotional stress for students and teachers (e.g., emotional exhaustion, anxiety) both in the United States (Berryhill et al., 2009;Gonzalez et al., 2017;Richards, 2012;Segool et al., 2013) and internationally (e.g., Lee & Larson, 2000;Sung et al., 2016). ...
... Considering the impact of these assessments on young people's educational experiences, it is essential to gain a better picture of how adolescents themselves view and understand the testing required of them. While researchers have devoted significant attention to the impacts of standardized testing since the advent of No Child Left Behind, much of this work has dealt with the elementary grades (e.g., Berryhill et al., 2009;Plank & Condliffe, 2013;Segool et al., 2013). Additionally, there is now a sizable number of studies portraying the perspectives of teachers and other school professionals in regard to literacy-related HST (e.g., Dooley & Assaf, 2009;Abrams et al., 2003;Davis & Willson, 2015;Hikida & Taylor, 2020;McCarthey, 2008). ...
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Background/Context High-stakes testing (HST) weaves through the fabric of school life, stretching beyond the test day. Results have consequences for a school's reputation and autonomy, as well as teachers’ evaluations and students’ graduation and morale. Prior research demonstrates the constraining and inequitable effects assessments can have on students’ learning. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study Recently, scholars have called for more research on students’ and teachers’ perspectives on HST. Responding to this call, we conducted a yearlong study in a high school designated as “persistently struggling” by the state. We examined adolescents’ and educators’ perceptions, reactions, and resistance to HST. We traced participants’ interactions with and about testing over the course of a school year as they prepared for, discussed, and eventually participated in test day. Research Design We conducted a yearlong qualitative study in which participants were 15 focal 11th graders and 9 teachers. We conducted 425 hours of observations and 52 interviews, as well as collected assessment data and classroom artifacts. For this article, we used quantitative survey data as a secondary source and analyzed the responses of 425 11th graders. Conclusions/Recommendations Analysis showed that HST served as a dominant context for literacy-related teaching across disciplines. Participants negotiated tension between their beliefs about education and their efforts to boost test scores. Teachers reported that assessments and their accompanying prescriptive curriculum hindered literacy and content area teaching and learning. Students, although they had diverse opinions about HST's usefulness, reported it created emotional distress, which compromised test performance. Testing contributed to a high-pressure environment in which literacy and content instruction were made reductive. Participants’ perspectives, and ways in which they resisted, provide insights into HST effects, as well as suggest promising, alternative routes toward equitable assessment that supports meaningful learning.
... A few studies from the United States have investigated the effects on stress or similar outcomes of testing policies linked to school accountability laws. Comparing stress levels over the school year, Heissel et al. (2021) and Segool et al. (2013) found stress to be higher in periods when such tests are conducted, though neither included a comparison group that was not exposed to testing. Whitney and Candelaria (2017) investigated the staggered adoption of testing policies across US states and found weak positive effects on self-reported anxiety. ...
... Whitney and Candelaria (2017) investigated the staggered adoption of testing policies across US states and found weak positive effects on self-reported anxiety. Results on gender inequalities are mixed, and Heissel et al. (2021) found weaker, but Segool et al. (2013) found stronger effects for girls, while Whitney and Candelaria (2017) found no gender differences in effects. However, tests linked to school accountability laws are primarily high-stakes for schools but not for students because their results typically have no or weak consequences for their future educational careers. ...
... Positive effects of high-stakes testing on stress are consistent with qualitative European studies showing that students report high-stakes testing to be among their most stressful experiences in school (Banks and Smyth, 2015) and also with some quantitative American studies (Segool et al., 2013;Heissel et al., 2021). These results are in line with theoretical predictions. ...
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In this study, we ask if high-stakes testing affects school-related stress among students and if there are gender differences in these effects. Students’ results on high-stakes tests can have long-term consequences for their future educational trajectories and life chances. For girls, who tend to have higher educational aspirations and tend to gain more from higher education, the stakes involved may be even higher. The use of high-stakes testing has increased across Europe, but little is known about their consequences for stress or wellbeing. We combine macro-level data on high-stakes testing with survey data on more than 300,000 students aged 11–15 years in 31 European countries from three waves (2002, 2006, and 2010) of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study. With variation in high-stakes testing across countries, years, and grade levels, we use a quasi-experimental difference-in-differences design for the identification of causal effects. We find that high-stakes testing increases the risk of moving from low to high levels of self-reported school stress by 4 percentage points, or by 12 per cent relative to baseline values. This effect is somewhat larger for girls, though not significantly so. The results are robust to a range of sensitivity analyses.
... It has been found that there is a higher risk of anxiety when children take part in high stake exams such as SAT's and GCSE's in comparison to general classroom assessments, with a prevalence of this anxiety on the rise (McDonald, 2010;Putwain, 2008;Segool et al, 2013). ...
... One of the first studies to consider the effects of test anxiety on younger children was done by Segool et al (2013). It was conducted in the USA and directly examined the differences in test anxiety on 335 children in grades 3-5. ...
... The studies in the field mostly consider the effects of test anxiety on older children with little research conducted on the younger group. The study conducted by Segool et al (2013) is one of the first of its kind to consider the impacts of test anxiety on younger children, but it still only considers the impacts on children from the age of nine to eleven (grades 3-5). Although this is primary school age, the study does not consider the impacts of exams on children as young as six. ...
... Also, Akinsola & Nwajei (2013) [11] reported a coexistence of exam anxiety with depression. This further affects students exam performance and their grades, as established by Putwain (2008) [12] and Segool et al. (2013) [13]. These examples of consequences are already enough to understand that strategies are needed to reduce the anxiety level to a state in which it can be healthy and positively-stimulating. ...
... Also, Akinsola & Nwajei (2013) [11] reported a coexistence of exam anxiety with depression. This further affects students exam performance and their grades, as established by Putwain (2008) [12] and Segool et al. (2013) [13]. These examples of consequences are already enough to understand that strategies are needed to reduce the anxiety level to a state in which it can be healthy and positively-stimulating. ...
... Each year, the target changed, and more schools were labeled as needing improvement. One of the impacts of this legislation was increased scrutiny of school leaders and teachers and increased levels of anxiety among school-aged children over standardized testing (Segool et al, 2013;Wolf & Smith, 1995). ...
... It is also possible that students who have negative emotional responses to large-scale highstakes testing may be at least as distressed by regular internal school testing, and thus state or national testing programs are placing little further emotional burden on such students that they do not already experience in school. Segool et al. (2013) did seek to compare elementary school student anxiety responses to No Child Left Behind tests with their responses to regular in-school testing. This study found significantly higher anxiety among students in response to NCLB tests compared to in-school tests. ...
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The Test Anxiety Inventory for Children and Adolescents (TAICA) is a new multidimensional measure used to assess test anxiety in elementary and secondary school students. The TAICA is a 45-item self-report measure consisting of a Total Test Anxiety scale, four debilitating test anxiety subscales (Cognitive Obstruction/Inattention, Physiological Hyperarousal, Social Humiliation, and Worry), a facilitating test anxiety scale (Performance Enhancement/ Facilitation Anxiety), and a Lie scale. In the present study, the psychometric properties of the TAICA scores are examined with a volunteer sample of 206 children and adolescents. Results of the study indicate that the TAICA scores have strong to very strong internal consistency reliability and temporal stability (1- to 3-week test-retest interval). Evidence supporting the construct validity of the TAICA scores was found.
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